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Blended images in Tantric visualization

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The scope of this chapter is an exploration of Tantric images in light of the cognitive theory of ‘conceptual blending.’1 After briefly introducing the key concepts and technical terms, I will introduce three sets of Tantric images (Yoginı-s,2 Kubjika-,3 and Siddhalaks.mı-4) and initiate the discussion. This analysis does not apply only for reading the examples offered here. The Buddhist Tantras, for instance, utilize the same mechanism of conceptual integration in the construction of images. In this chapter, I have limited analysis only to examples from the S´aiva S´a-kta traditions in order to not overshadow the arguments. The main argument here is that the cognitive approach can inform the analysis of opaque and complex images of Tantric deities with their many heads, arms, and weapons that often puzzle viewers. This approach is not intended to reduce these images to a mere cognitive mechanism, but to explore new ways to engage the visual culture. Inspired by Arthur Koestler (1964), Fauconnier and Turner have advanced

the theory of ‘conceptual blending’ as a general theory of cognition. Following the proponents of this theory, conceptual blending is an evolutionary trait and is common to our everyday language, art, rituals, myths, and various other human transactions. Soon after its introduction, this theory inspired many scholars, and in addition to a number of dissertations, it has been applied in diverse areas such as semiotics, education, language, culture, and emotion studies.5 This essay is not about evaluating the cognitive theory. Instead, the objective here is to explore how this theory that is still in the making can be applied to read the complex visual culture of Tantraswhere the deities have multiple hands and heads. Deities in poly-anthropomorphic forms from diverse cultures have perplexed viewers and have often been subject to misunderstanding. This application of cognitive blending rests on the underlying assumption that cognitive mechanisms play a role in the development of complex imagery. Although Fauconnier and Turner have explored the role of the cognitive mechanism of integration in analyzing human creativity, the application of this theory to understand the opaque Tantric culture is original to this author.6 While images from any culture demonstrate various cognitive

mechanisms at play, engaging Tantric images in particular introduces a different approach to the existing trends of historical and comparative studies. Blending different images from various inputs can be found in any culture and is visible in earliest arts of humankind.7 That being said, Tantric images provide the viewer with the opportunity to decompress various traits of any given image from within the Tantric system, and analyzing Tantric images in particular allows us to explore the ways contemplative practices are enhanced by their visualization techniques.8 The practice of visualization vividly describes this process. The central deity in the man.d.ala is first viewed as emanating the circles of deities surrounding her and constituting the man.d.ala, and then visualized as returning back to the primordial form with the central deity reabsorbing the emanations. I will demonstrate with three examples how the cognitive model of conceptual blending applies in analyzing Tantric images. The deity images explored here, those of Yoginı-, Kubjika-, and Siddhalaks.mı-, manifest in clusters, and the manuals detail how the images of these deities integrate various other deities as their complex forms evolve. Conceptual blending thus helps us theorize one of the most perplexing issues of Tantric visual culture. Psychologists have established that conceptually generated images and

the perception of real objects are similar in multiple ways. Various studies have demonstrated that regardless of the way we rotate mental imagery, assume distance within an image, or make decisions regarding its shape, we nonetheless respond to mental imagery the same way that we respond to external stimuli. An essential concept key to advancing this study of Tantric images is the paradigm of the cognitive map, which is a mental representation of the external surroundings. Although this map resembles reality, the mind’s task of selection and projection is already at play in remembering those maps. It is common to have verbal description elicit mental images, and those images lead to verbal description. It will soon be clear in this discussion that these Tantric images function as cognitive maps to suggest specific thoughts to the practitioner in the course of meditation. Cognitive scientists have identified that integration of various inputs is at

the core of conceptualization. It is not only humans but also pigeons that are seen to have concepts. In various experiments, pigeons have demonstrated the ability to recognize the pictures of fish, landscapes, or even the distorted images of the cartoon character Charlie Brown.9 Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 6-15) credit the evolutionary cognitive mechanism of conceptual blending for our ability to identify entities experienced in two different times and places. Imagination plays a vital role in this process. These three skills of drawing a cognitive map, establishing identity, and imagination, following the theory of conceptual blending, integrate two different physical spaces or times, multiple causes and effects, and/or other vital relations. The basic idea is that common elements inherent to different inputs integrate in one image, and what is represented refers to many different particulars. Limned meanings from different inputs are compressed in this process that gives rise to a single

image. The emergent structure shares commonalities, and what arises as a new structure borrows nuances from its different sources. Turner describes this process of compression in the example of the Hall of Bulls in the Lascaux Caves (Turner 2006: 99) and makes the case that the integration of different cognitive modalities has been occurring in art since the Upper Paleolithic era. One of the particular abilities of the mind is its capacity to integrate its contents over time.10 Addressing this cognitive phenomenon, Turner (2006: 93-113) details the process of conceptual integration in art.11 As will be explicit, reading Tantric images in light of this framework allows us to unravel hitherto unknown dimensions of opaque forms. Students are sometimes given the assignment to imagine what they would

do if they were the president. In this hypothetical scenario, the child has to see in his mind his present self (auto-noesis) and project himself as the president in his mental space. Fauconnier and Turner define mental space as “small conceptual packets constructed as we think and talk, for the purposes of local understanding and action.”12 In conceptual integration, we fuse different mental spaces. In the example of the child imagining himself as the president, two different inputs are mentally mapped: 1) the child’s subjective state mirrored in his mental space, and 2) the president (or what it represents to the child). These are called input spaces. What applies in conceptual blending is a crossspace mapping, where different inputs are blended into one. In this example, the child imagines himself sitting in the Oval Office. A generic space maps onto each of the inputs (human agency for instance in the above example). Following the theory of conceptual integration, the ‘blend’ is the fourth mental space wherein two different spaces are mapped in the generic space (third space), and an emergent structure rises in the mind, one that was not existent in the inputs. In this way, when our mind integrates various concepts, we are establishing new mental spaces, analyzing similarities and differences across spaces, projecting particular aspects from different inputs to a blend, and carrying out various operations in the blend, constantly giving rise to new structures. What is consistent in conceptual integration is the compression of vital

relations. In the example of the child’s assignment, what the child would do if he were the president, he identifies himself as the president in the blended space. Situational change is vital in this imagined presidency. In addition to change, something else keeps different inputs bound together, and that is the identity or the shared ground. Other vital relations include time, space, cause and effect, part and whole, representation (where a sketch represents the person), role (an element can be linked, as a role, to another element that counts as its value), similarity, uniqueness, etc. Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 119-35) introduce four types of networks to

describe the cognitive mechanism: simplex, mirror, single-scope, and doublescope. When two entities are linked with each other, the relation is made through the simplex network. Relating two entities requires an additional cognitive process besides simply knowing two discrete entities. A mirror

network describes a more complex cognitive process. In this, both input spaces share the same organizing frame, and this frame is also shared by the blend.13 When one single agent is depicted performing multiple tasks in the blended space, that reflects the mirror network. Here, different inputs mingle and do not demonstrate a clash. However, when this is not the case, the integration network becomes even more complex. The single-scope network consists of the blend where the inputs from one organizing frame are projected onto another.14 This type of projection is common to source-target metaphors where distinct properties inherent to A are projected onto B, and due to the clash resulting from the imposition of characteristics from source to target, one thing provides insight to the other. In the case of the doublescope network, there are different organizing frames where the emergent structure borrows elements from different inputs. However, what sustains this network is the clash between the given inputs. In a complex structure, the mechanism of ‘megablend’ depicts the structure where one pre-existing blended space merges with another input (which in itself can be a blended space) and gives rise to a new blend. This mechanism of blending more than two inputs is also found in our everyday language.15 Blending various images is quite common in Photoshop. The analysis of various Tantric images demonstrates that Tantrics exploit innumerable possibilities in creatively giving rise to different conceptual structures. Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 123) argue that the “organizing frame for a

mental space is a frame that specifies the nature of the relevant activity, events, and participants.” One of the factors that leads to conceptual integration is the mirroring of aspects of other inputs that constitute the generic space. Among the examples discussed in this chapter, the weapons of any deity reflect this mirror network when various aspects are integrated into a single image that represents particular functions or different roles played by the same deity in different mythical times. In contrast, the conventional source-target metaphors are considered to be ‘single scope’ networks, where, between two inputs with different organizing frames, only one organizing frame is projected into the blend. Rather than giving rise to a third image by blending two distinct sources, this mode of integration displays the projection of select aspects pertinent to one image onto another. Deities borrow select weapons, gestures, or postures from others in various Tantric visualizations in order to display their integrative nature. This process can be analyzed by applying the single-scope network. Conceptual integration exploits factually contradictory connections between

inputs; they develop structure not intrinsic to the source, and in so doing, they rely on conceptual structure (Ruiz de Medoza Ibáñez 1998: 259-74). After a blend, the blended space may constitute an input for future blends. In the case of Tantric images, one emergent structure appears to be in flux, intermingling with other forms, borrowing properties from other inputs, and essentially evolving into more complex forms. Conceptual blend depends upon information derived from different inputs.

In an image, there are more than two domains from which the inputs are

derived. Coulson and Oakley (2005: 1515) argue that if the information in each of the inputs is very different, the integration can produce an extremely novel result. They give credit to two factors for this: 1) it presents a clash of competencies, and 2) it accommodates the viewpoint of the speaker (ibid., 1517). Mental space in blend can be anything found in the agent’s perceived, imagined, or remembered scenario. They can be prompted by belief, images, or situations. In this process, radically different types of domains collectively constitute a mental space. What is unique to the blend is that it always requires imagination and mental imaging. Besides the integration of properties from different inputs that occurs in the blend, disintegration appears to be an equally prominent cognitive feature that allows us to analyze the elements of synthetic concepts. The plasticity of visualized images, supported by myths that allow the deities to emanate from different sources, gives rise to different deities with their multiple sets of arms and heads, and makes this disintegration easier. Here, since bodies are in flux, they can interact and disintegrate for future shaping. Prior to concluding this introductory passage on the cognitive framework,

a few additional notes are pertinent. One, Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 56-60) point out that most of our concepts are partially understood in terms of other concepts. This statement is crucial for our analysis, as the images that we explore here are horizontally spread in a sense that rather than one image emerging out of the other and some being really basic images, there is a greater fluidity among images, with each deity affecting the form of the other when the complex imagery arises. The practice of visualization demands compression of multiple thoughts into a single image. These images are consciously preserved in memory, brought alive through mental projection, and are manipulated in the mental space in accordance with the system of visualization. Another essential concept from Johnson (1987) is that our imagination has a bodily basis and our cognitive process relies on our embodied experience. Johnson gives the example of the body as a container, where we organize our daily experiences in container terms such as ‘in’ and ‘out.’ The body of the deity ‘contains’ particular aspects, and when the deity displays multiple weapons and gestures, this signifies a reservoir of the qualities attributed to those symbols. Finally, cognitive scientists disagree about the nature of concepts. While some consider them to be logogens that resemble the spoken language, others maintain that concepts are actually imagens that resemble images (Paivio 1971, 1986, 1991). The image that is generated in visualization combines multiple concepts, and while being an image, these are also equated with mantras. In this way, these images display the properties of both language and image. Tantras consider images and mantras as interchangeable, and the blending of an image occurs in the same way that mantras are constructed, by combining complex seed mantras (such as hrı-m. , saum. , phrem. , etc.). All images have the potential to depict multiple relations and complex,

related concepts. This process can be understood in terms of mirror networks. A deity seated in a particular vehicle or a seat depicts her association to

another deity or concept. Ka-lı-sitting atop a corpse in the cremation ground depicts both her relation to death and time, and in essence, her transcendence to time. The chopped head or the sword that she carries indicates a specific role that she plays or a particular act that she accomplishes. Even the most basic image with two hands describes two different roles, and in consequence, two concepts. Thus, the concept of mirror network has relevance to a fruitful exploration of Tantric images. Single-scope networks, as discussed earlier, are prototypes of source-target

metaphors. In the case of this network, rather than having a new blended structure, properties of one are imposed upon the other. When a deity, without changing her name, incorporates the properties of other deities and thus their functions, the new image can be analyzed following this network. Often times, the shift in weapons and gestures or an inclusion of new properties from other sources indicate that this process is at work. Tantric images most commonly display the double-scope blend and multiple

blends. In the case of Ardhana-rı-s´vara, for instance, the images of S´iva and S´akti merge in a single image with clearly distinguishable properties. The deity image incorporates the characteristics from both, while the ritual or mantras give the deity a distinctly unique status. In other words, the new structure becomes an entity in itself that cannot simply be reduced to the two sources. Another example is that of Lokapurus.a, where the cosmos is depicted within the human body. Two sources, the world and the body, are compressed in a single structure, giving rise to this imagery. The very term loka-purus.a or the ‘cosmos-man’ vividly illustrates the two constituents that comprise the image, with loka referring to the world, and purus.a identifying the individual. In the blend, the two domains of the body and the world are integrated, with all cosmic planes depicted within the body. While an individual is confined in space and time, the world, the total extent of time and space, is mapped within the body. What makes this integration powerful is the disparity between the finite body and the infinite cosmos. The generic space is the embodiedness, as the worldview supports the premise that the world is the divine body. This double-scope blend is the most common among the conceptual frameworks that are at play in giving rise to Tantric images.16 Another example that vividly illustrates this is the image of Vajrasattva who represents the integration of two different polarities. The two attributes the deity carries, the lightening bolt and the lotus, depict wisdom and compassion. Stemming from the basic symbolism of two genders, these attributes incorporate conceptual metaphors to signify distinct meanings shared within the communities of the practitioners. Besides the double-scope blend, other conceptual mechanisms that are at

play in giving rise to a myriad of Tantric images are the frameworks of megablend and multiple-blend. In the first case, a preexisting blended structure merges with a new form, resulting in a new structure. In the case of multiple blends, different network-scopes merge and give rise to a new image. The most popular image of Durga-with eighteen arms demonstrates multiple blends. In

the myth, all the gods defeated in battle with a demon distill their energies that then turn into flame and consolidate in the form of Durga-. The weapons she carries in her eighteen arms represent aspects from each of the deities.