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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 6. Surplus of Imagination: Images with Multiple Arms

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Chapter 6

SURPLUS OF IMAGINATION: IMAGES WITH MULTIPLE ARMS

Imagination and Meaning

Meaning and imagination are interwoven. In the absence of imagination, there is no meaning to discrete perceptions. Meaning is essential for giving life to imagination. When an image ‘means’ something, our power of imagination has given referentiality to something opaque. Through images, one sees meaning. The objective of visualization lies not on barely seeing the presence of an image but in understanding what they mean when viewing the gestures and arms of a deity. This perception of meaning is something unique to the practice of visualization, as it brings the abstract synthetic process of sign and reference to the fore of the mind. Not only that the pictures begin animating or becoming alive, they are seen against the background of a broader philosophy, as every posture or gesture the image has meaning — the arms and weapons, the seats and the background, the colors and garments — all stand for, and thus express something. The practice of visualization does not come to fruition as long as images are not ‘directly encountered’ (sākṣātkāra), and the subjective transformation does not occur. The experience the subject has transforms his perception of himself and the surrounding world, and he recognizes reality interwoven with his perception and the external stimulants.

Deities with multiple arms are the best example of showing how the synthetic process works in giving rise to abstract meaning by borrowing aspects...

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