Thought for the weekend

Who has access to your imagination??

Few weeks ago Margaret alerted me to a radio show she heard on BBC R4 where the presenter said that the technologies we use allows tech companies to access and influence our imagination.
As Buddhists who understand and therefore respect the power of imagination we were both quite alarmed by it – this could be a serious obstacle for people’s mental health and spiritual development.
I requested Margaret to write something about this.
I hope you enjoy her post.


I am interested in imagination. As a writer, I use it all the time. But my imagination is not visual. I don’t see pictures. I am more inspired by voices, sounds and words. Despite the fact that I am trying to create worlds with my imagination, people, places, situations, this is ordinary imagination.

Buddhist imagination is different. It may start in the same place, as a mental activity, but it is motivated by Buddhist aspirations- for the benefit of all being; and it has a Buddhist goal- realisations, liberation from samara and ultimate enlightenment.

We might call it controlled imagination.

Controlled imagination sounds like an oxymoron (a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms). But in Buddhism there are no contradictions. What appears as a contradiction, if we don’t throw up our hands and walk out, is rather a gateway to a more nuanced understanding.

Why control our imaginations? You might well ask. Isn’t imagination supposed to be free, unencumbered, unconfined? You might think so. But in Buddhism, imagination, especially within meditation, is a method, a technique, a tool we can use to develop our minds and gain realisations. As Geshla says in The New Eight Steps to Happiness, ‘… all Dharma realisations, even liberation and enlightenment, are developed in dependence on imagination.’

Like our minds, our imagination, which is an activity of the mind, can be controlled, shaped, developed. Working with our imagination, whether it is visual, aural, tactile, or just vague, actually strengthens it, improves and evolves it. Imagination is the precious start-up, bedrock, wellspring. ‘Everything starts with imagination,’ as Geshela tells us.

If we value our imagination in this way, we must also be cautious and vigilant. Recently on BBC Radio 4, Start the Week (February 4, 2019, ‘Who’s Watching You?’) Harvard Professor Shoshana Zuboff discussed the ways in which new technology, Google, Facebook, Allegra, and the rest, are digging deep into our imagination. She calls this ‘surveillance capitalism,’ which claims our imagination, our intentions and wishes for the marketplace, selling this information on in the form of predictive patterns.

Defend your mental health, train in Buddhist imagination!

Understand how important, powerful and beneficial correct imagination can be. Practice both Sutra and Tantra to build, nourish and sharpen your imaginative expertise. In this way, you will gain mental peace, stability, strength, and finally accomplish all attainments.