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Language of Images

Visualization and Meaning in Tantras

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Sthaneshwar Timalsina

While Indian visual culture and Tantric images have drawn wide attention, the culture of images, particularly that of the divine images, is broadly misunderstood. This book is the first to systematically address the hermeneutic and philosophical aspects of visualizing images in Tantric practices. While examining the issues of embodiment and emotion, this volume initiates a discourse on image-consciousness, imagination, memory, and recall. The main objective of this book is to explore the meaning of the opaque Tantric forms, and with this, the text aims to introduce visual language to discourse. Language of Images is the result of a long and sustained engagement with Tantric practitioners and philosophical and exegetical texts. Due to its synthetic approach of utilizing multiple ways to read cultural artifacts, this work stands alone in its attempt to unravel the esoteric domains of Tantric practice by means of addressing the culture of visualization.
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Chapter 3. Better than Real: Imagining the Body in Tantric Rituals

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Chapter 3

BETTER THAN REAL: IMAGINING THE BODY IN TANTRIC RITUALS

Transforming the Image of the Body

I have addressed in the previous chapter that the role of imagination is crucial to ritual visualization and that these have been associated since the early days of carving deity images. The issue at hand is, how is this cognitive aspect of imagination used in the ritual practice of visualization for transforming one’s own body image? Besides the body schema that actively organizes and modifies sensations to give bodily awareness, we also have a body image. Being the witness of our own body, we project ourself outside and observe our embodiment. The objective of this chapter is to explore the ritual dimension of Tantra and to analyze this projected body image.

Tantric visualizations,1 similar to various other yogic meditations, are instrumental in facilitating the mind’s entry into varied forms of absorption, eventually allowing the mind to liberate from its habit patterns (saṃskāras). While the goal of these diverse contemplative practices can be identical in the sense that they all aspire to cultivate the experience of the ultimate reality, their approaches vary. Grounding their arguments on this distinctive nature of meditative practices, some scholars have maintained that the experience derived through these approaches is simply a cultural or linguistic construction.2 While these yogic approaches rely on some or another form of construction, they are in fact de-constructing the existing cultural and linguistic frameworks...

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