Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Teacher (Lama) - Karmapa 3, Rangjung Dorje

བླ་མ། 喇嘛
(item no. 57024)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1300 - 1399
Lineages Karma (Kagyu) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Monastic

Gender: Male

TBRC: bdr:P66

Interpretation / Description

Footprints of the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339): belonging to the Karmapa incarnation lineage of the Karma Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The footprints are accompanied by the early Marpa Kagyu lineage, predecessors to the Karma Kagyu (Kamtsang) lineage, along with Buddhas, protectors and wealth deities.

The main subject of the painting is the large pair of footprints in the center of the composition. They are both painted in gold and adorned with an eight-spoked wheel, symbolizing the teachings of the Buddhist religion, at the hollow of the foot. The two feet situated on the heels stand atop a moon disc adorned with flowers and vines and multi-coloured double lotus seat. Below that is a very small thin horizontal plane signifying a throne. Again below that is the stem of the lotus seat springing forth from a golden vase atop a multi-coloured vishva-vajra attended by two naga figures with the lower bodies in the shape of a coiled snake.

Between the two feet is an ornate stylized column in the shape of vines and flowers unfurling at the top as a blue utpala flower supporting the central figure and lotus seat of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje.

At the left and right of the two feet are the Eight Auspicious Symbols entwined in a vine motif: (1) Parasol, (2) Golden Fish, (3 ) Treasure Vase, (4) Lotus, (5) Right-turning Conch Shell, (6) Glorious Endless Knot, (7) Victory Sign and (8) Wheel. Another painting of a Karmapa and footprints in the collection of the Rubin Museum of Art has a very similar composition with the placement of the feet, central column topped by a figure wearing a black cap, and the Eight Auspicious Symbols decorating the sides framed in a vine and flower motif. It is very likely that the Rubin painting is also of the 3rd Karmapa and created at a similar time to the painting above.

The custom of having drawings done based on the physical outline of a teachers feet appears to be an oral instruction coming down from Gampopa Sonam Rinchen. The most famous early text describing this practice was written by Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo - a direct student of Gampopa. Dusum Kyenpa, the 1st Karmapa, was also a direct student of Gampopa. Currently there are only four paintings known - in the East or the West - depicting a Karmapa and footprints. (See the Handprints and Footprints Main Page and Outline Page).
In the top register starting on the far left is blue Vajradhara, yellow Shakyamuni Buddha followed by the Five Symbolic Buddhas of Vajrayana Buddhism: yellow Ratnasambhava, blue Akshobhya, white Vairochana, red Amitabha and green Amoghasiddhi.

In the 2nd register, again from the left, are: the mahasiddhas Tilopa and Naropa, Dusum Kyenpa the 1st Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje the 3rd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi the 2nd Karmapa, Marpa Chokyi Lodro and Milarepa Zhepa Dorje. The prominent figure in this register is the 3rd Karmapa centrally placed and looking forward in the composition. He is also slightly larger than the other figures. Each of the other figures gazes either to the right or the left. It is because of this centrally placed larger 3rd Karmapa that an identification of the footprints can be made as well as dating the painting to the latter half of the life of Rangjung Dorje.

Descending on the left are two unidentified Tibetan teachers, followed by orange Manjushri, in the appearance of Arapachana or Stirachakra, holding a sword upraised, red Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara with four hands and black Bernagchen Mahakala wearing a thick cloak. This form of Mahakala is the special protector for the Karmapa incarnation lineage and the Karma Kagyu Tradition in general. Beside Mahakala at the right is the wealth deity yellow Jambhala holding a bijapuraka fruit and a mongoose.

Descending on the right side are two unidentified Tibetan teachers, white Chaturbhuja Avalokiteshvara, red Vajravarahi standing in a dancing posture, and below that, a male donor figure wearing monastic robes. Beside him to the left is the black female protector deity, Shri Devi, riding a donkey.

The back of the painting has three basic inscription types. (1) First are the three letters, OM, AH, HUM, written in black for each of the figures depicted. The three represent the enlightened body, speech and mind of the religious teacher or deity. They are written in Tibetan but represent Sanskrit seed syllables (bija). This is followed by (2) the middling and short mantras of Shri Chakrasamvara followed by the middling and short mantras of Vajrayogini. The third (3) inscription is known as the 'Ye Dharma' mantra or Mantra of Dependent Arising, written in Tibetan letters but the words remaining in the Sanskrit language: Ye dharma hetu prabhava hetum tesham tathagato hyavadat tesham cha yo nirodha evam vadi maha shramanah svaha.

All three inscriptions are quite standard for blessing or sanctifying a painting. The only difference between paintings such as this and others would be the Chakrasamvara and Yogini mantras. These would be replaced with something more specific to either the central subject of the composition or to the tradition commissioning the artistic work. If the central subject were a Shakyamuni Buddha then it would possibly have Shakyamuni's mantras or perhaps a Tara subject then the back would often have Tara mantras.

Numbered & Greyscale:
A. Shakyamuni Buddha
B. Ratnasambhava Buddha
C. Akshobhya Buddha
D. Vairochana Buddha
E. Amitabha Buddha
F. Amoghasiddhi Buddha
1. Vajradhara
2. Tilopa
3. Naropa
4. Marpa
5. Milarepa
6a Teacher
6b Teacher (Gampopa?)
7. Dusum Kyenpa, 1st Karmapa
8. Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa
9. Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa
10. Tibetan Teacher
11. Tibetan Teacher
12. Manjushri
13. Chaturbhuja Avalokiteshvara
14. Jinasagara Avalokiteshvara
15. Vajrayogini, Vajravarahi
16. Bernagchen Mahakala
17. Yellow Jambhala
18. Shri Devi
19. Donor Figure

Jeff Watt 12-2010

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Subject: Footprints & Handprints Masterworks
Teacher: Karmapa (Masterworks)
Subject: Karmapa (Early Paintings)
Collection: Christie's, Painting (March, 2011; NY)
Teacher: Karmapa 3rd, Rangjung Dorje
Incarnation Lineage: Gyalwa Karmapa Main Page
Subject: Footprints & Handprints Main Page
Subject: Footprints & Handprints (Kagyu)
Teachers: Early Paintings of Teachers (Indian Style)
Subject: Footprints & Handprints (Footprints Only)
Incarnation Lineage: Gyalwa Karmapa Art History
Subject: Footprints & Handprints Iconography
Incarnation Lineage: Karmapa (Handprints & Footprints)
Subject: Footprint Paintings (Early Works)