It should be noted at this point that techniques employing language and rational deliberation are not necessarily the opposite of techniques that transcend language and rationality. Two examples will suffice. The first example can be found in Zen Buddhism. In certain forms of Zen (especially forms taught in Korea and that taught by the Japanese master Hakuin), one is to meditate on a kind of spiritual riddle called a koan. The typical example of a koan is the question, "What did your face look like before your mother and father met?" This kind of question does not have a rational solution and yet the practitioner is to meditate on the question as if it had an answer. The strenuous application of deliberation on the koan produces doubt. The practitioner is to cultivate and hold onto this doubt until it becomes an all-consuming "great doubt." Finally, when it seems that all hope is gone, the practitioner somehow breaks through to the other side of the question and achieves a standpoint in which all things appear as they really are. The final experience may be "beyond words and letters," but the path to that experience was paved with words. A similar process can be found in Christianity and Pure Land Buddhism. The meditations on sin have two purposes. The first, of course, is to become aware that one has done wrong and to generate a resolve not to sin again. The second purpose, which receives greater or lesser emphasis depending on tradition, is to prepare the soul for the experience of grace. When one realizes the magnitude and pervasiveness of one's own sinfulness, one stops trying to deserve grace. Only then does the true experience and meaning of grace become apparent. In Protestant forms of Christianity, the experience of grace after having realized the extent of one's sin is called the "conversion experience." In Pure Land Buddhism, this is called the experience of the "other power" (tariki) of Amitabha Buddha.
FOCUS ON THE DIVINE
Visualization Other meditation techniques that involve the constructive activities of the mind include visualization. We all dream, daydream, and fantasize. Visualization uses the same mental function that produces fantasies and turns it toward a productive end. Instead of letting the mind wander wherever it will, the meditator uses visualization to construct a particular image, usually strictly guided by tradition. For example, Pure Land Buddhism holds that there is a Buddha named Amitabha who lives in a faraway Western Paradise. The meditator is to mentally create a picture of that paradise in detail, starting from its outer rim and proceeding to the center where Amitabha teaches. If the meditator works long enough at this visualization, then she may either go to that paradise in a dream or Amitabha will visit her in a dream. Furthermore, if one does this practice for long enough, Amitabha will come to the meditator at the time of death to take him or her away.
There are similar visualizations in Christianity. A good example of Christian visualization techniques can be found in St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. Just like the Buddhist practitioner, Loyola teaches the Christian practitioner to visualize Christ in a certain setting, such as at the resurrection, in the synagogue, and so on, and to put himself in the picture. Names and the Power of Words For many religious traditions, the words of scripture or the names of divine beings become the objects of meditation. The classical Hindu tradition held that gods have at least three bodies. The first body is what the god is in itself. Only rare humans can have any knowledge of this. The second body of the god is a body made of sound. This sound is not the temporary sound that we hear for a moment and is gone. Rather, it is a transcendent sound that is heard with the mind. This sound is made more concrete as it becomes embodied in the Sanskrit alphabet. The sound is finally made physical when one utters it with the physical mouth as a mantra. The more times that one utters the mantra, the more manifest the god associated with the sound becomes. In Hinduism, the practice of repeating the mantra of a particular deity is called jappam. The belief that the essence of a deity is somehow contained in a mantra or in the name of that deity is also found in Buddhism.