Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Indian Teacher - Asanga

རྒྱ་གར་གྱི་མཁས་པ། མཁན་ཆེན། 印度的祖师
(item no. 358)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Buddhist
Size 61.60x41.91cm (24.25x16.50in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1996.20.6
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Monastic

Gender: Male

TBRC: bdr:P6117

Interpretation / Description

Asanga, Arya (Tibetan: tog me, pag pa): the 4th century founder of the Mind Only School of Buddhist Philosophy. This composition belongs to a set of nine paintings depicting the Six Ornaments and Two Excellent Ones of the Southern Continent. (See the story of Asanga in the For Kids section of the web site).

Gazing downward and to the side he holds the two hands at the heart in the mudra (gesture) of Dharma teaching. Attired in the orange patchwork robes of a monk he also wears a pandita (scholars) hat. With the legs forward, the left supported by a footstool, he is seated atop an elaborate snow lion supported throne, the head surrounded by a dark green aureole.

From early youth until mid-life Asanga lived and studied in a monastery (middle left), then he withdrew to a cave retreat (upper right) with the determination to actually see the bodhisattva Maitreya. After three years without results, discouraged, he left the cave. Upon meeting with a patient man who was engaged in making a needle by rubbing a large piece of iron with a small piece of cotton cloth (middle right), Asanga resolved to go back to the cave and persevere. After another six years had passed he again became discouraged and left the cave. Again seeing a man with a small spoon slowly digging away at a mountain that was blocking the light from shining on his house (lower middle right), Asanga renewed his resolve and returned to the cave. After another 3 years, thoroughly discouraged, he left the cave to return to the monastery.

Along the way near the town of Achinta meeting upon an old mangy dog with a back covered in sores and a host of maggots feeding on the wounds (bottom left). With thoughts of compassion he cut a piece of flesh from his own body and began to remove the maggots with his tongue to place on the substitute meat, suddenly the dog vanished and the bodhisattva Maitreya appeared in front. Asanga immediately asked where he had been all these years and Maitreya responded that he had been by Asanga's side all this time and if he didn't believe him, then he should hoist the bodhisattva onto his shoulders and carry him through the town. When Asanga did this, amongst all the townspeople, only an old pious beggar woman was able to see a mangy old dog on Asanga's shoulder (bottom right). No one saw the form of the bodhisattva Maitreya.

After this, Maitreya and Asanga flew into the air and up to the Tushita heaven (top right) where the bodhisattva taught Buddhist principles to Asanga for 50 years (top left). When Asanga finally returned to earth he brought back with him the famous Five Texts of Maitreya.

Jeff Watt 4-2000

Numbered Image:
1. Asanga make aspirational wishes to meet Maitreya
2. Asanga meditating in a cave
3. Removing a mountain
4. Making a needle
5. Licking maggots from a dog
6. Seeing Maitreya
7. Parading Maitreya on the shoulders
8. Flying to Tushita Heaven
9. Learning from Maitreya

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Subject: Life Story Paintings (Literary Genre)
Subject: Indian Scholar (Buddhist)
Indian Scholar: Asanga (Set Copies 1)
Indian Scholar: Asanga Main Page
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 5
Subject: Six Ornaments (Misc., Situ)
Indian Scholar: Asanga (composition 1)
Subject: Greyscale - Figurative & General Composition
Subject: Dog Imagery Page