I'm having some trouble with the concept of (tantric) visualizations and would like to get some input from other folks with more experience and wisdom than I.
(I should first point out that I have been meditating for about two years, going to Buddhist classes and services at Sakya Monastery in Seattle for about a year, and am planning to take refuge officially next month. I don't yet have a teacher.)
I'm trying to understand
a) how abstract concepts like prajnaparamita, for example, become human-like figures with four arms and yellow skin?
b) how imagining a specific figure in detail helps us on the path?
I'd also like to share some of my attempts at answering my own questions. Please let me know if I'm on the right track or if there's something I'm missing:
1. Thinking about abstract concepts like compassion or wisdom or prajnaparamita are difficult for most people, so having a human shape to anchor one's meditation can be helpful.
2. It's a form of mind training to learn to keep multiple details in mind at once, such as what each of four different arms are holding, the color of the diety's skin, the shape of his/her seed syllable, etc. One can develop one's powers of concentration by doing this sort of exercise.
3. There's perhaps a sort of morphic resonance with meditation on the same thangka as others. (Morphic resonance is a Rupert Sheldrake concept, where by for example, learning a task comes easier to people if they are supported by the resonance of all the accomplished people in the past who have done the same thing in the same way).
4. There is also what I could call "associative sense conditioning" whereby you learn to associate specific shapes, colors, letters and so forth with specific feelings. Just like if every time you visited your loving, compassionate grandma, she was wearing yellow and had red roses on her table, then years later whenever you see yellow clothing and red roses, you sense the love and compassion that she expressed and that which you felt for her. Likewise, associating a specific diety's characteristics with a certain color or seed syllable can help you more easily generate certain feelings/understandings the next time you are exposed to those colors/shapes/etc.