The stages of spiritual death and spiritual rebirth on the Buddhist path are represented in our system of meditation by two practices which people take up at the time of ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order: reflection on the six elements and visualisation practice. These are described as ‘vipassana’ or ‘insight’ practices, though it is true that the Mindfulness of Breathing and Metta Bhavana meditations both contain the potential to be insight practices themselves, if practised over a long enough period and with the intention to reflect on the nature of reality.
Ordination is a ritual common to many religious traditions and represents a significant moment of spiritual death and rebirth – symbolised by the giving of a new name as one makes a public commitment to ones practice. In Triratna, the point at which someone is felt to be ready for ordination is when they are considered to have developed sufficient integration and positive emotion truly to be able to make an effective commitment to placing the three jewels at the centre of their lives.
The six element practice supports the attenuation of one’s identification with a fixed self. In order to do this and not fall into eternalism or nihilism, it is essential to build on a firm basis of samatha practice. Visualisation practice involves bringing to mind an ‘illumined image’ which engages one’s heart-mind with the essence of the Buddha’s teaching. This is done very much in dependence on an awareness of Sunyata, or the open dimension of being sometimes called emptiness. Without this, said Yogi Chen, one of Sangharakshita’s main teachers, visualisation practice is simply ‘vulgar magic’.