Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Vajradhara Buddha

རྡོ་རྗེ་འཆང། སངས་རྒྱས། 金刚持
(item no. 903)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Karma (Kagyu) and Buddhist
Size 50.80x45.72cm (20x18in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1999.27.2
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Interpretation / Description

Vajradhara, Buddha (Tibetan: dor je chang, sang gye. English: the Enlightened One, Vajra Holder): surrounded by the lineage teachers of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Sanskrit: Vajradhara Tibetan: Dor je chang

There are eleven black hat Karmapas depicted in the composition with three in the top register, two in the 2nd, two in the 3rd, one in the 4th, two in the 5th, and one in the 6th register. The final Karmapa - chronologically - in the composition is the 8th, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554) found in the 5th register on the viewer's left hand side. Each figure in the painting is accompanied by a written name inscription.

The inscriptions that are found with each of the Tibetan teachers do not follow chronologically or sequentially. For example the 8th Karmapa is found in the 5th register on the left side and the 6th Karmapa is located in the 6th register on the right hand side of the painting. This may just be a scribal error and the Karmapas were possibly meant to follow sequentially.

In the 7th register beginning on the left are Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja, Black Cloak Mahakala, Vaishravana Riding a Lion, Yellow Jambhala, Shri Devi, and a multi-coloured Goddess.

In the 8th register (bottom of painting ) starting at the left side are Heruka Chakrasamvara, Heruka Hevajra, followed by six Goddesses each having a different colour.

The painting is curious in two ways. First, in the top register are three Karmapas that are not the living Karmapa. These three represent the highest spiritual characteristics of a Buddha - the three Buddha bodies. Buddha Karmapa represents the Dharmakaya. Vidyadhara Karmapa represents the Sambhogakaya. Mahasiddha Karmapa represents the Nirmanakaya.

The second unusual aspect of the painting are the name inscriptions. They are rife with spelling mistakes - generally of a Khampa style and reflecting a Khampa accent. Also the names of the Karmapas and how they are placed in the side registers, after Dusum Kyenpa and Karma Pakshi, do not follow a normal order or even a sequential chronological order. It is possible that the scribe who wrote the names of the figures - especially for the Karmapas - wrote them out of order.

Jeff Watt 11-2000 (See HAR #11400).

Numbered & Greyscale:
A. Vajragarbha
B. Nairatmya
1. Chaturbhuja Avalokiteshvara
2. Buddha Karmapa
3. Amitabha Buddha
4. Vajrasattva
5. Padmasambhava
6. Vidyadhara Karmapa
7. Mahasiddha Karmapa
8. Gampopa
9. Dusum Kyenpa, 1st Karmapa
10. Tilopa
11. Naropa
12. Marpa
13. Milarepa
14. Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa
15. Chodrag Gyatso, 7th Karmapa
16. Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa
17. Vajrayogini, Varahi
18. Rolpa'i Dorje, 4th Karmapa
19. Mikyo Dorje, 8th Karmapa
20. Deshin Shegpa, 5th Karmapa
21. (unknown)
22. Tongwa Donden, 6th Karmapa
23. Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja
24. Berngachen Mahakala
25. Vaishravana Riding a Lion
26. Yellow Jambhala
27. Shri Devi, Chag Pur
28. Multi-coloured [devi]
29. Heruka Sahaja Chakrasamvara
30. Heruka Sahaja Hevajra
31. Green [devi]
32. Yellow [devi]
33. Red [devi]
34. White [devi]
35. Black [devi]
36. Blue [devi]

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 8
Buddhist Deity: Vajradhara Main Page
Buddhist Deity: Vajradhara, Solitary
Painting Style: Guge Kingdom (Western Tibet)