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Entries for month: September 2011

Tara Main Page - Updated

September 29, 2011 ·

According to Vajrayana Buddhism Tara is a completely enlightened Buddha that typically appears in the form of a beautiful and youthful woman sixteen years of age. By category and hierarchy Tara is a Meditational Deity (yidam) and her appearance is that of a peaceful deity which is synonymous with Devi and Bodhisattva Appearance - one of the Eleven Figurative Forms in Tibetan art.

Tara made a promise in the distant past that after reaching complete enlightenment she would always appear in the form of a female for the benefit of all beings. She especially protects from the eight and sixteen fears and has taken on many of the early functions originally associated with the deities Avalokiteshvara and Amoghapasha. Practiced in all Schools of Tibetan Buddhism Tara, amongst all of the different deity forms, is likely second in popularity only to Avalokiteshvara. Meditational practices and visual descriptions for Tara are found in all classes of Buddhist Tantra, both Nyingma and Sarma (Sakya, Kagyu, Geliug).

The most common forms of Tara are the green which is considered special for all types of activities, white for longevity and red for power. The different forms of Tara come in all colours, numbers of faces, arms and legs, peaceful, semi-peaceful and wrathful. There are simple meditational forms representing a single figure and then there are complex forms with large numbers of retinue figures filling all types of mandala configurations. There are likely to be close to two hundred different meditational forms of Tara.

Five Principal Forms, Types & Categories of Tara:
1. Green Tara
2. White Tara
3. Twenty-one Taras
4. Eight Fears, Tara
5. Miscellaneous Taras

Tags: art · iconography · updates

Samaya Tara Yogini - Updated

September 26, 2011 ·

Samaya Tara Yogini (Tibetan: dam tsig drol ma nal jor ma): from the mandala of twenty-five deities from the Sanskrit root text Samajaparamartha-sarvakaramodaya-nama-tarayoginitantraraja and the samajaparamarthasarvakarmodaya-uttaratantraraja [Toh 448, 449].

Dark green in colour, semi-peaceful and semi-wrathful, she has one face, three eyes and eight hands. The four right hands hold an arrow tipped with a utpala flower, a double-sided damaru (hand drum) and curved knife. The lowest hand with the palm facing outward performs the mudra of generosity. The left hands hold a blue lotus blossom with the stem held to the heart, a bow constructed of utpala flowers, a trident and blood filled skullcup supported on the thigh. An ornate katvanga staff rests against the left shoulder. Adorned with a tiara of five skulls, gold earrings, bracelets and anklets of bone, she wears a necklace of fifty freshly severed heads and a lower garment of tiger skin tied about the waist with a sash. On a sun disc and lotus seat with the right leg pendant, the foot resting on a flower blossom, she sits in a relaxed manner surrounded by the brightly burning flames of the fires of pristine awareness.

Lineage: Jaya Vajradhara, Bhagavani Arya Tara, mahasiddha Tailo Prajnabhadra, mahasiddha Lilavajra, Rahulagupta, Lord Dipamkara, Bum Sengge, Tatva Shrimitra, Sanghashri, Ratnadvaja, Nayakashri, Dharmashri, Shakya Rakshita, Sujata, Buddhashri Mitra, Jnana Ratna, Jnana Vajra, Ratigupta, Shantigupta, Buddhagupta Natha, Taranatha (b.1575), etc.

Tags: art · iconography

Tara & the Eight Great Fears - Updated

September 26, 2011 ·

Tara, a meditational deity in either her typical green or white form, is also associated with the Eight Great Fears originating with the early literature of Avalokiteshvara and Amoghapasha. The Eight Fears are: (1) water, (2) lions, (3) fire, (4) snakes, (5) elephants, (6) thieves, (7) false imprisonment and (8) ghosts are meant literally, but also have a deeper significance. Tantric Buddhism commonly presents an interpretive model having three and sometimes four levels of meaning: 1. Outer, 2. Inner, and 3. Secret.

The outer meaning of the eight fears are exactly as described above which are real fears experienced in ancient times and even now in the present day world. They all relate to the physical person and the fears presented in a physical material world. The inner meaning relates to passions, ego and negative emotional characteristics. The inner meaning relates to the mental world. The secret meaning has to do with tantric techniques and philosophies to transform these negative mental states into enlightened, or realized, states.

From Indian sources Tara is a completely enlightened buddha who had previously promised to appear, after enlightenment, in the form of a female bodhisattva, a peacful deity, goddess-like, for the benefit of all beings. In one Tibetan tradition, based on the apocryphal text called the Mani Kabum, Tara is described as emanating as a tear from an eye of Avalokiteshvara in his form with eleven heads and one thousand hands.

Practiced in all Schools of Tantric Buddhism Tara in her various forms are found in all four classifications of tantra, both Nyingma and Sarma. Her ten syllable mantra and the short tantra text known as the Twenty-One Praises of Tara spoken by the buddha Samantabhadra are memorized and popularly recited by all Tibetans from the time of early childhood.

Tara & the Eight Fears: Types & Compositions:
- Single Composition (this page - below)
- White Tara Single Composition
- Green Tara Set 1
- Green Tara Set 2
- Green Tara Set 3
- Green Tara Set 4
- Block Print Set
- Others....

Tags: art · iconography · Sets

Twenty-one Taras of the Atisha Tradition - Updated

September 26, 2011 ·

From the tantra known as the 'Twenty-One Praises of Tara' spoken by the Buddha Samantabhadra arises the system of practice with Twenty-one Tara emanations - one for each verse of praise. Each form of Tara has a specific colour and accomplishes a specific activity. Based on that, there are three well known and distinct lineages for the different sets of Twenty-one Taras: Pandita Suryagupta, Lord Atisha and from the compendium of practices called the the Sadhanasamucchaya. The three lineages do not share the same iconographic forms. In the Atisha system all the Taras appear in the same basic appearance and only differ in the colour of the body. Green is considered the primary colour of Tara based on other teaching lineages describing Tara in solitary form or with the accompanying deities Marichi and Ekajati. However green is not included in the enumeration of the Twenty-one Taras of Atisha. There are four red Taras, six white, three yellow, four orange, two maroon (red-black) and two black Taras for a total of 21.

The Twenty-one Taras according to the tradition of Atisha is one of five Twenty-one Tara Sytems current in Tibetan Buddhism. The oldest system is likely that of Suryagupta. The Atisha system depicts all of the Taras with the same single face and two arms, in a sitting posture. The variations are in the Atisha system are in colour only. Each of the individual Taras holds a vase in the outstretched right hand. The vase is the same colour as the body colour of that Tara. Some of the Taras are described as being slightly fierce meaning they may have an open mouth with slightly enlarged canine teeth and furrowed brow above the eyes.

The Atisha system of Taras is probably the most commonly found in Tibetan painting. It is interesting to note that there is no Green Tara or a White Tara of Long-life (Chintachakra). These two forms of Tara originate with separate lineages of transmission and different Indian and Tibetan teachers. Also, the Tara known for removing the eight great fears is not associated with any of the five systems of Twenty-one Taras. Tara and the Eight Great Fears is a separate and distinct system. (See the list of colours & functions for the Atisha Twenty-one Taras).

Types of Composition:
- single composition with all twenty-one #672, #1049, #50952, #65257, #74081, #88656, #94461, #58870
- single figure per composition (twenty-one painting set) Panchen Lama Set
- three figures per composition (seven painting set) #66298, #48954
- others....

Tags: art · iconography · Sets

A Special Message for Educators & Academics

September 22, 2011 ·

It is now well into September and most schools, colleges and universities have been in session for at least a a couple of weeks.

It is time again to remind educators to submit subject requests to the HAR staff.  Or let us know if there is a particular area of study where we are not providing enough information. Is there an Outline Page or Thematic Subject Set not fully represented, an area completely missed?

Let us know your needs so that we can prioritize our work with you and the students in mind. Contact us at info@himalayanart.org. (See the About Us page and view a list of educators that not only use the website but have been kind enough to write about it).

Tags: updates · Testimonials

An Historically Important Painting: Je Tsongkapa Life-story

September 20, 2011 ·

This composition of Je Tsongkapa with the surrounding life-story is likely to be the earliest and most important painting known to exist on the subject of Tsongkapa. The painting is dated, based on style and iconography, to just after Tsongkapa's death in 1419.

The importance of the painting rests with the life-story surrounding the central figure on four sides. There were many early biographies of Tsongkapa in the 15th and 16th centuries, but over time some of them were considered unorthodox and many subsequently banned by the mid to late 17th century. Even now some of these early banned biographies have not been located despite ongoing efforts to find them in the last half of the 20th century by such orgainizations as the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC).


The unique characteristics of the visual narrative in this painting are fascinating because they do not appear to follow precisely the chronology or events as told in the later orthodox biographies such as that of Jamyang Shepa - popularized in the early 18th century.

Aside from the important biographical narrative, to the left and right of the head and upper body of Tsongkapa are the Yogachara and Madhyamaka lineages which were to become a standard compositional trademark for later depictions of Tsongkapa in the 15th and 16th centuries - later modified and updated by the invention of Gelug Refuge Field paintings in the 17th century - inspired by the writings of the first Panchen Lama, Lobzang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662).

Currently this painting is the earliest know visual biography with extensive inscriptions detailing the life story of Tsongkapa. It is also the earliest known painting depicting the Yogachara and Madhyamaka lineage composition which was to become standard for Tsongkapa paintings for the next two centuries.

Tags: Tibet · art · iconography · portraits

Detail Images of Shantarakshita of the Lamrim Lineage

September 20, 2011 ·

This subject page contains detail images of the Indian Buddhist teacher Shantarakshita, founder of Samye Monastery and included as a teacher of the Gelug Lamrim lineage.

Tags: art · iconography · Sets

Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara - Updated

September 20, 2011 ·

Red Avalokiteshvara, Ocean of Conquerors (Tibetan: chen re zi gyal wa gya tso. Sanskrit: Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara): a special meditational deity of the Karma Kagyu (Kamtsangpa) School (Five Deity Jinasagara), originating from the 'Revealed Treasure' tradition of the Nyingma School. In the 17th century the Mindroling Tradition of Nyingma popularized a form of Jinasagara known as the Minling De Kun. In the later part of the century Lelung Zhepa'i Dorje popularized an entire cycle of meditations and teachings focusing exclusively on the female deity from the retinue - Guhya Jnana Dakini. A beautiful painting from this Lelung tradition is known to exist in a museum in Poland.

Tags: art · iconography

Tsang Nyon Heruka Main Page - Updated

September 19, 2011 ·

Tsang Nyon Heruka (1452-1507), author, teacher and yogi, in mahasiddha appearance.

Tsang Nyon (gtsang smyon he ru ka), be it painting or sculpture, typically appears as a Tantric yogi holding a vajra scepter in the extended right hand, or alternately raised, and a skullcup in the left hand with a katvanga staff leaning against the left shoulder. His robe is generally white as is the custom of those following the tradition of Milarepa and Rechungpa. As ornaments he wears a skull headdress and bone earrings, necklace, long and short, bracelets, anklets, all modelling the appearance of the semi-peaceful and semi-wrathful deities like Hevajra and Chakrasamvara of the Anuttarayoga class of Buddhist Tantra. This is known as Mahasiddha Appearance. This peculiar and anti-social manner of dressing, copying a Heruka deity, is called the second level of the Application of the Vow in the Hevajra Tantra. The Chakrasamvara and Hevajra Tantras principally, along with similar instructions in other Tantras, are the textual source for all of those teachers and practitioners in India and Tibet who wear bone ornaments, animal skins and hold Tantric implements.

Tsang Nyon is famous for his appearance and his writings. After extensive retreats he insisted on wearing the Heruka attire as stipulated in the Chakrasamvara and Hevajra Tantras. He is however more well known for writing and compiling the One Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa along with numerous biographies of early Kagyu teachers. In the 15th century he set about to revive the old Marpa Kagyu traditions of extensive retreats in isolated locations following after the conduct of Milarepa.

Tags: iconography

Painting Set: Birds (Dalai Lama Set)

September 18, 2011 ·

A page of detail images of the various birds from the seven painting set depicting Dalai Lamas and previous incarnations.

Tags: Sets · art