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Entries for month: July 2011

Je Tsongkapa with the Yogachara & Madhyamaka Lineages

July 31, 2011 ·

Lama Tsongkapa, Lobzang Dragpa, also known as Je Rinpoche (1357-1419): founder of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism. Tsongkapa established the Ganden Monastery in central Tibet in 1409 which became the principal seat of the Gelug School. Beginning with Tsongkapa, each of the successive Throne Holders of Ganden Monastery are considered the heads of the Gelug Tradition. In these early compositions Tsongkapa is portrayed as the principal figure along with the two most important disciples standing at the right and left, accompanied by the two most important groups of lineage teachers from India known as the Yogachara and Madhyamaka philosophical lineage traditions.

The subject of the composition of these paintings is not unique although somewhat rare. At least seven other paintings are known from the 15th and 16th century time period that depict this same subject of Tsongkapa accompanied by the Yogachara and Madhyamaka lineages. The Yogachara and Madhyamaka philosophical traditions are the highest and most advanced teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, recognized by all Tibetan Buddhist schools, and paintings such as these re-enforce the importance the Gelug Tradition placed on such teachings as opposed to the Tantric teachings emphasized by the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Jonang traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

The general style of composition in these and other similar paintings was discontinued after the late 17th century with the development of the compositional style known as the Gelug 'Field of Accumulation' created by the 1st Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662). The new Field of Accumulation composition (sometimes known as a Refuge Field) included both important Yogachara and Madhyamaka lineages along with the principal lineage of the Gelug school known as the Stages of the Path. A further elaboration in the new composition was the addition of three groups of religious figures and objects representing the all important Buddha, Dharma (represented by books depicted in a Tibetan style) and Sangha (represented by the Sixteen Arhats and the Eight Great Bodhisattvas). Further additions to the composition format were the most important Tantric deities of the Gelug school along with the three principal protector deities: Shadbhuja Mahakala, Yama Dharmaraja and Vaishravana Riding a Lion.

Tags: iconography · art

The Earliest Confession Buddha Painting on HAR

July 29, 2011 ·

The earliest Confession Buddha Painting on the HAR website, from the Guge Kingdom of West Tibet (14th - 15th century), depicts Shakyamuni Buddha as the central figure accompanied by the two principal students Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. The Thirty-five Buddhas (less Shakyamuni) are arranged in the registers at the top, two vertical sides and along the bottom of the composition.

Tags: iconography · art

Confession Buddhas - Outline Page

July 28, 2011 ·

The Sutra of the Three Heaps, in Sanskrit the Triskhandhadharma-sutra, or briefly the Triskandha Sutra (phung po gsum pa'i mdo), is a Mahayana ritual text used primarily by monks and nuns for the purpose of confession of downfalls which means transgressions against the vinaya and bodhisattva vows. The central object of worship is the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas, including Shakyamuni Buddha. The name of the sutra follows from the three principal sections of the text: 1) homage, 2) confession, and 3) and dedication. There are other texts on confession found in the various Mahayana Sutras however none of those appear to have any representations in Himalayan and Tibetan art.

Only two of the thirty-five Buddhas are depicted or worshiped separately from the larger group. They are Shakyamuni Buddha and Nageshvara Raja Buddha. However, it is doubtful that there is any relationship between the Nageshvara Raja Buddha of the Confession Sutra and the meditational deity Nageshvara Raja popularized by Jowo Atisha. It is most probable that these two Buddhas became conflated over time because of the similarity in name. Regardless of that, it is generally believed that these two Buddhas are the same single entity.

There are at least three different iconographic systems for depicting the individual Thirty-five Confession Buddhas. The principal authors of commentaries and ritual texts were Arya Nagarjuna, Sakya Pandita and Je Tsongkapa.

In Sakya Pandita's text Pungpo'i Sumpa'i Do Dontab Shug (phung po gsum pa'i mdo 'don thabs bzhugs [volume NA, pages 450-452]), he describes the thirty-five Buddhas as divided into five groups of seven Buddhas each. The five groups of seven follow the appearance of the Five Symbolic or Tantric Buddhas: Vairochana, Amitabha, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava and Amoghasiddhi. This means that the first group of seven are white and each with the same gesture of Dharma Teaching. The second group of seven are red and with the gesture of meditation, and so on for the remaining three Tantric Buddhas and the remaining three groups of seven. (See a painting that follows the Sakya Pandita description).

Jonang Taranata discusses the various systems for depicting the thirty-five Buddhas and states that he has a doubt that some of the systems of depicting the Buddhas with various hand objects (attributes such as a sword, vajra, tree branch, Mount Meru) that these originate in India or from Indian source texts.

Paintings depicting the Buddhas without hand attributes.

Paintings depicting the Buddhas with hand attributes.

Tags: iconography

Nageshvara Raja Buddha - Outline Page

July 27, 2011 ·

Buddha Nageshvara Raja, also known as Nagaraja (Tibetan: sang gye lu'i wang chug gyal po [bcom ldan 'das klu'i dbang phug rgyal po]. English: the Enlightened One, King of Nagas). This unusual buddha form has the unique blue body colouring and a face white in colour. He holds the two hands at the heart in a special gesture and the head is adorned with a hood of seven snakes. It is very easy to confuse Nageshvara Buddha, Arya Nagrjuna and some forms of Shakyamuni Buddha. (See a comparison of these three figures).

Nageshvara Raja is a meditational deity in the Vajrayana system of Buddhism. In paintings he can be depicted either alone or with four accompanying bodhisattva figures: Nivarana-vishkambhin white in colour, Maitreya red, Manjushri yellow and Avalokiteshvara white. A Buddha with the same name, Nageshvara Raja, is also included as one of the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas.

However, it is doubtful that there is any relationship between the Nageshvara Raja Buddha of the Confession Sutra and the meditational deity Nageshvara Raja popularized by Jowo Atisha. It is most probable that these two Buddhas became conflated over time primarily because of the similarity in name. It is also possible that this conflation is a convention established by Je Tsongkapa. The vast majority of Gelug Tradition paintings that depict the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas portray Nageshvara Raja Buddha in the same appearance as the meditational deity. Whereas most if not all Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma Tradition paintings do not depict Nageshvara in the unique appearance of the meditational deity from the lineage of Jowo Atisha.

Lineage: Buddha Nageshvara Raja, Arya Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Dipamkara Atisha (982-1054), etc.

Forms of Nagaraja Buddha:
- Nageshvara Raja (The Sutra of the Three Heaps) form #1
- Nageshvara Raja (The Sutra of the Three Heaps) form #2
- Nageshvara Raja (The Sutra of the Three Heaps) form #3
- Nageshvara Raja Accompanied by Four Bodhisattva

Tags: iconography

Vajrayana Buddhism Represented in Tibetan Art

July 25, 2011 ·

In the Vajrayana Buddhist system of Tibet and the Himalayan regions there are two principal divisions, the Nyingma (old or ancient ones) and the Sarma (new ones). For the Nyingma Tradition Vajrayana is principally represented by the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra (kuntu zangpo) followed by Padmasambhava accompanied by the Twenty-five Principal Disciples.

For the Sarma Traditions, made up of the Kadam, Sakya, Dagpo Kagyu, Shangpa Kagyu, Jonang, Gelug and others, Vajrayana Buddhism is represented by the primordial Buddha Vajradhara accompanied by the Eighty-four Great Accomplished Ones (mahasiddha). There are at least five known systems of enumerating the names of the mahasiddhas. Only two of these five are commonly represented in paintings or murals - the Abhayadatta and Vajrasana systems.

Beginning in the 18th century the new convention of painting Field of Accumulation compositions began. This started first with the Gelug Tradition followed by some Nyingma and Kagyu lineages in the 19th century and the remaining Tibetan traditions in the 20th century. This form of art represents an entire Tibetan tradition in a single composition with an emphasis on the Vajrayana while still inclusive of the Hinayana and Mahayana.

Principal Figures:

Nyingma
- Samantabhadra Buddha
- Padmasambhava
- Twenty-five Principal Disciples

Sarma
- Vajradhara Buddha
- Eighty-four Great Accomplished Ones (mahasiddha)

Tags: iconography · art

Mahayana Buddhism Represented in Tibetan Art

July 25, 2011 ·

In Himalayan and Tibetan painting and sculpture the Mahayana path is generally represented by either Shakyamuni Buddha or Amitabha Buddha as the central figure surrounded by the Eight Great Bodhisattvas - the realized students of Mahayana Buddhism. Representing the historical students are the Six Ornaments & Two Excellent Ones of the Southern Continent. This last group also represent the principal scholars of the Madyamaka and Yogachara philosophical traditions.

In addition to the two Buddhas mentioned above the future Buddha Maitreya and Bhaishajyaraja Guru (Medicine Buddha) are also representative of Mahayana Buddhism. The Eight Bodhisattvas can also be expanded to include an additional eight making it the group of Sixteen Great Bodhisattvas. Although the sixteen are not so commonly represented in art. In recent times the Six Ornaments and Two Excellent Ones of the Southern Continent have been expanded with nine additional Indian Mahayana scholars making a group of seventeen - known as the Seventeen Great Scholars of Nalanda Monastery.

Principal Mahayana Figures:
- Shakyamuni Buddha
- Amitabha Buddha
- Maitreya Buddha
- Bhaishajyaraja Guru (Medicine Buddha)
- Eight Great Bodhisatvas
- Six Ornaments & Two Excellent Ones of the Southern Continent

Tags: iconography · art

Hinayana Buddhism Represented in Tibetan Art

July 25, 2011 ·

Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhism is generally described as being composed of the three 'Yana' or vehicles, or paths, of Buddhism - the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. In painting and sculpture the Hinayana path, the foundation of the other paths, is represented by Shakyamuni Buddha as the central figure surrounded by various students and followers most notably the Sixteen Great Arhats.

The full group, unique to Himalayan and Tibetan style art, has twenty-five figures: the Buddha Shakyamuni, together with the two foremost disciples - Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, the Sixteen Great Arhats, the attendant Dharmatala, the patron Hvashang and the Four Guardian Kings of the Directions: Vaishravana, Virupaksha, Dhritarashtra and Virudhaka. In all an extensive set of paintings would comprise twenty-three individual compositions. The two foremost disciples are generally portrayed in the same painted composition with Buddha Shakyamuni. In sculpture sets the total number of pieces is twenty-five. Early paintings of the group prior to the 14th century generally do not include Hvashang - who was added to the group later.

Twenty-five Figures:
- Shakyamuni Buddha
- Shariputra & Maudgalyayana
- Sixteen Great Arhats
- Dharmatala (attendant)
- Hvashang (patron)
- Four Guardian Kings of the Directions

Tags: iconography · art

The Three Basic Figurative Forms in Tibetan Buddhist Art

July 11, 2011 ·

In the Tibetan tradition of training young artists there are three basic figurative forms that must be learned. The student is first taught how to draw the form of the [1] Buddha. Here the Buddha represents the basic human form. The second figurative form is that of [2] Green Tara, peaceful with jewelry and ornaments, a slight curve to the body and head, with the right leg extended. The third figurative form is [3] Wrathful Vajrapani with a fierce countenance, thick limbed, adorned with wrathful ornaments, or a combination of peaceful and wrathful, and in a standing posture surrounded by flames. Working with colour is only taught after the basic skills of drawing have been mastered.

From the basic forms of these three figures of Buddha, Tara and Vajrapani all of the various figurative depictions in Tibetan iconography can be created simply with the addition of extra heads, arms and legs, ornaments and attributes.

Tags: iconography · art

Gesar Outline Page - Added

July 11, 2011 ·

An Outline Page listing the most important topics and characters for the subject of Ling Gesar has been added. The Outline still requires additional work and more images will added to the Gesar Main Page.

Tags: iconography

Vajrabhairava Faces Outline Page

July 09, 2011 ·

Vajrabhairava is a complex meditational deity found in all of the new (Sarma) Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. There are two different iconographic traditions for depicting the nine faces. Knowing how the faces are depicted is important in identifying the lineage or Buddhist tradition of a painting or sculpture.

Tags: iconography · outlines