Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Teacher (Lama) - Karmapa

བླ་མ། 喇嘛
(item no. 65554)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Kagyu, Karma (Kagyu) and Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Interpretation / Description

Karmapa (unidentified) of the line of incarnations known as the Black Hat Karmapas of the Karma Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. (See Karmapa Main Page and Outline Page).

At the center of the composition is Karmapa wearing the identifiable black hat a gift of the Yongle Emperor of China - given to the 5th Karmapa. Wearing the yellow, orange and red robes of a Buddhist monk, Karmapa has the right arm extended across the knee and the left in the gesture of meditation, seated in the cross legged posture atop an ornate throne with a canopy above.

At the top left corner is Milarepa and at the top right is Padmasambhava. In the middle of the composition, on the left side, is Heruka Chakrasamvara embracing the red consort Vajrayogini. At the middle right is the single form of red Vajrayogini in a dancing posture.

At the bottom of the composition surrounded by cemetery scenes are the three special protector deities of the Karma Kagyu School. In the center is Shri Devi with Damchen Garwa Nagpo riding a goat on the right and Bernagchen Mahakala wearing a heavy cloak on the left.

The most fascinating aspect of this painting which is more of a drawing than a painting is the number of small figures populating the remainder of the composition. Aside from the large central figure and accompanying two somewhat large figures at the top there are an additional thirty-eight figures in the composition (41 in total). Some figures are recognizable such as the heavenly gods at the very top, deities, mahasiddhas and protectors. The majority of the figures are not readily known or identified.

The Karmapas are a line of successive teachers acknowledged as the first lineage of reincarnating lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. The main seat of the Karmapa is Tsurpu Monastery, north-west of Lhasa, and the specific tradition is known as the Kamtsang Kagyu (Karma Kagyu). It is believed by some scholars that Rangjung Dorje (3rd Karmapa) recognized himself as the rebirth of Dusum Kyenpa and posthumously named Dusum Kyenpa and Karma Pakshi as the 1st and 2nd Karmapas. According to the history of the Karma Kagyu tradition the fifth Karmapa Dezhin Shegpa (1384-1415) was presented a gift of a black hat by the Chinese emperor Yongle. However, according to Mongolian history the first black hat was a gift of Mongke Khan to the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi. This hat has become the principal identifying characteristic and iconographic attribute in the depictions of the Karmapas.

Named & Numbered List:
- Karmapa
- Milarepa
- Padmasambhava

1. Heruka Chakrasamvara
2. Vajrayogini
3. Bernagchen Mahakala
4. Shri Devi
5. Damchen Garwa Nagpo

There are thirty-three additional figures highlighted in yellow.

Jeff Watt 8-2011

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art (RMA): Main Page
Subject: Canopy/Parasol in Painting
Incarnation Lineage: Gyalwa Karmapa Main Page