Entries for month: September 2010

Medicine Buddha Main Page - Updated

September 26, 2010 ·

The depicted forms and ritual practices of Medicine Buddha (Bhaishajyaguru) are derived from the Bhaishajyaguru Sutra and according to Buddhist Tradition were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha. In the Vajrayana Buddhist Tradition this sutra is classified as Tantra literature and belonging to the Kriya classification. Many works under the Kriya classification are understood as being both sutra texts and tantra texts at the same time. Medicine Buddha imagery and practice is common to all of Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhism and particularly important to the Tibetan medical schools and traditions.

Medicine Buddha can be placed in a number of different compositions in painting and sculpture. He can be depicted alone or with his seven accompanying Buddhas (included is Shakyamuni - known as the Eight Medicine Buddha Brothers [Block Print Set]). Bhaishajyaguru can be depicted at the center of a Fifty-one Deity Mandala (see list of deity figures), or he can be relegated to a side position while the female personification of wisdom, Prajnaparamita, occupies the central position of the Medicine Buddha mandala. Sets of paintings can be commissioned depicting the Eight Medicine Buddha Brothers, or sets of paintings can be created depicting each of the fifty-one deities in their own composition. Often these sets are done with the painted canvas relatively small. In China they are commonly created as embroidered sets. They are then strung together and hung as a complete set in a temple or meeting hall. Likewise, sets of sculpture composed of fifty-one figures were also created and then arranged on a temple shrine. Many of the figures making up the fifty-one deities, when viewed individually and out of context with the whole, are often mis-identified and mistaken for other deities. The Twelve Yakshas Generals in the outer ring of the Medicine Buddha Mandala are most often mistakenly identified as forms of Jambhala, or even the more erroneous Kubera. (See Medicine Buddha Outline Page).

Description: The Guru of Medicine (Sanskrit: Bhaishajyaguru) is also known by the name Vaidurya Prabha Raja, the 'King of Sapphire Light.' Dark blue in colour, with one face and two hands he holds in the right hand a myrobalan fruit (Latin: terminalia chebula. Skt.: haritaki). The left hand is placed in the lap in the gesture of meditation supporting a begging bowl with the open palm. Adorned with the orange and yellow patchwork robes of a fully ordained monk, the left arm covered, he appears in the nirmanakaya aspect of a fully enlightened buddha. In vajra posture above a moon disc, he sits on a lotus and ornate lion supported throne with a back rest. At each side of Medicine Buddha stand the two principal bodhisattva attendants. To the left is the yellow bodhisattva Suryabhaskara (Rays of the Sun) and to the right is white Chandrabhaskara (Rays of the Moon).

Related Subjects:
Yutog Yontan Gonpo
Yutog Nyingtig
Padmasambhava as Medicine Buddha
Medical Charts: Blue Beryl
Medicine & Tantric Healing

Tags: iconography · art

Kanha Name Confusions

September 25, 2010 ·

Virupa and Kanha (Tibetan: nal jor wang chug bir wa pa. Nag po pa shar chog pa). This painting, number two in a series of lineage compositions, belongs to a larger set of paintings depicting the lineage of teachers for the Path together with the Result (Sanskrit: margapala. Tibetan: Lamdre) teaching originating with the mahasiddha Virupa. The Indian adept of the 9/10th century, Virupa,had two main students, Kanha and Dombhi Heruka. Virupa taught both of them the Lamdre (Margapala) system, The Path Together with the Result, based significantly but not exclusively on the Hevajra Tantra. Kanha, meaning black, was the principal student in the Lamdre lineage following after Virupa. In Western texts and Tibetan translated material this and similar names can appear in Sanskrit as Kanha, Kanhapa, Kanhavajra, Krishna, Krishnapa, Krishnavajra, Krishnacharin, Krishnacharya and Kala Virupa. All of these terms are Sanskrit and relate essentially to the colour black. The Tibetan word for Kanha as a persons name is 'nag po pa' which means the 'black one.'

There are two very popular and well documented systems of listing the names and biographies of the Eighty-four Great Mahasiddhas of India. They are the Vajrasana and the Abhayadatta systems. Both of these were translated into the Tibetan language. Also, in both of these systerms there are several siddhas with the name Nagpopa along with various associated spellings.

Why is this important and why does it matter? It matters because there is another mahasiddha with the Sanskrit name of Krishnacharin (Nagpopa Chopa, or Nagpo Chopa) associated with the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras. His name is also translated into Tibetan as Nagpopa. Here arises the confusion. Like the Indian siddha of the Lamdre lineage, Kanha, this other siddha, Krishnacharin is very important and more well known to a greater number of Tibetan Buddhist Tantric Traditions. This second siddha, Krishnacharin, is also represented in both the Vajrasana and Abhayadatta Systems of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. Kanha, also known as Kanha of the East, of the Sakya Lamdre Lineage is found only in the Vajrasana System.

Both of these siddhas, Kanha and Krishnacharin, have their own stories and unique hagiographies. For the purposes of Art History, Iconography and Religious Studies it is important to be able to name and differentiate the various siddhas and teachers in the important lineages that appear in the registers of paintings and wall murals. That is why this subject of the two 'Nagpopas' is important.

How do we know what to call these siddhas? Basically we can only rely on common convention over time. However, we do have early writings from teachers such as Chogyal Pagpa where he refers to the 'black' student of Virupa as 'Kanha' using the Sanskrit term. This is how we know that there is early precedent in the Sakya Tradition for distinguishing between these two 'black ones,' Kanha and Krishna. There is less confusion generally with Krishnacharin because he is represented in all of the New Schools of Tibetan Buddhism and associated so strongly with the Chakrasamvara Tantra traditions. He also has a very lively and interesting biography (hagiography). So, it is really only the Lamdre Lineage siddha by the name of Nagpopa (Kanha) that has become confused. This is because essentially he is only known in the Sakya Lamdre Tradition and the subsequent Pagmodrupa Lineage of Lamdre. In general there are many different lineages of Hevajra descending from Indian roots and many different siddhas. Whereas in the Chakrasamvara system Krishnacharin is prominent and very well known.

For individuals and scholars interested in this subject ultimately what is important is to know that there are two different mahasiddha figures with names that have often been used interchangeably. This has not been a Tibetan problem. In the Tibetan language the two siddhas are very clearly distinguished as Nagpopa (Kanha) and Nagpo Chopa (Krishnacharin). This is a modern Western academic problem in reading the Tibetan translated names for the early Indian Teachers and then interpreting what the original Sanskrit word and spelling would be and then back translating.

In conclusion, there are two Indian siddhas with similar Tibetan names one belongs to the Lamdre Lineage (Kanha) and the other belongs to the Chakrasamava Lineage (Krishnacharin).

Tags: iconography

Deification of Tibetan Teachers

September 25, 2010 ·

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition the deification of living teachers began with Padmasambhava and the early pairing with Amitabha Buddha and the deity Avalokiteshvara. In the Nyingma Tradition he is known as the 2nd Buddha of this age. Artistic representaions reflecting this change begin to appear as early as the 13th to 15th centuries (click on the dates for examples).

The Gyalwa Karmapa is another interesting Tibetan teacher, unlike Padmasambhava, the Karmapas are understood as the first incarnation lineage of Tibet beginning in the 12th century and continuing up to the present day (the 17th incarnation). The painting on the left is very interesting because it is the oldest composition known (16th century) depicting three depictions of Karmapa, appearing in ordinary form, but representing the highest spiritual states in Buddhism according to the written inscriptions accompanying each.

In the top register are three Karmapas that are not meant to represent any living Karmapa. These three represent the three Buddha bodies. Reading the painting from left to right are the (1) Buddha Karmapa representing the Dharmakaya, (2) Vidyadhara Karmapa representing the Sambhogakaya and (3) Mahasiddha Karmapa representing the Nirmanakaya. Below that, in the second register the 1st and 2nd Karmapas are depicted, along with name inscriptions, continuing down to the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje.


Tags: iconography

Rahula (Protector) - Updated

September 25, 2010 ·

The name Rahula belongs to three important figures in Buddhist iconography. The (1) first use is as the proper name for the biological son, Rahula, of Gautama Siddharta - Shakyamuni Buddha. The (2) second use of the name is for the Indian cosmological deity Rahula, the deification of the phenomenon of an eclipse. The (3) third use of Rahula is for the horrific Nyingma protector deity, wrathful, with nine heads and a giant face on the belly. It is likely that this Buddhist protector is a Tibetan creation and not linked to any Sanskrit literature or Indian religious tradition. Aside from these three uses of the name there were also numerous Indian pandits and siddhas with the name Rahula, Rahula Bhadra, Rahula Gupta, etc.

Rahula (Tibetan: kyab jug): wrathful protector of the Revealed Treasure Tradition of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan protector deity is based on the Indian deity Rahula, an ancient Indian god, a demi-god, of the cosmos, related to the eclipse of the sun, moon and other planets. In the ancient tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (Nyingma) Rahula became popular as a protector of the 'revealed treasure' teachings (terma). In Buddhist depictions he is portrayed with the lower body of a coiled serpent spirit (naga) and the upper body with four arms, nine heads, adorned with a thousand eyes. In the middle of the stomach is one large wrathful face. The face in the stomach, belly, is actually the face and head of Rahula. The nine stacked heads depicted above are the nine planets that Rahula has eclipsed, or rather literally swallowed, eaten and now symbolically appear on top of his own face and insatiable mouth. At the crown of the stack of all the heads is the head of a black raven.

"From a fierce E [syllable] in a realm equal to space, the Lord arises out of wrathful activity, smoky, with nine heads, four hands and a thousand blazing eyes; homage to the Great Rahula - Protector of the Teachings." (Nyingma liturgical verse).

There are numerous forms of the protector Rahula. Generally he will always have the nine heads and naga lower body. Sometimes the faces are all black in colour and at other times the faces can appear in different colours depending on the specific 'Revealed Treasure' literature describing a special form. There are also differences in the retinue figures again depending on the Terton (Revealer) and the descriptive literature.

Tags: Protectors · art · iconography

Torana Page - Updated

September 25, 2010 ·

In Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhism the ornately displayed throne-back, Torana, is known as the 'six ornament' design. The general shape is like an oval gate or frame, sometimes rectangular. On each side of the torana, at the bottom left and right are elephants. Supported above that are lions (or snow lions), a horse (often with the characteristics of other animals such as a lion, etc.). Above that is a small boy who sometimes holds a conch shell in one hand and supports a horizontal throne cross beam with the other. Above that is a makara (water creature). Above that is a naga - with a human upper torso and snake's tail for the bottom which extends upward. At the very top is a single garuda bird who often bites down with the beak on the two extended tails of the two nagas from below, or bites down on a naga held in the outstretched arms. Sometimes there is an ornate silk canopy above the torana. It is not clear how the various elements of the torana are enumerated into the group of the 'six ornaments.' It is possible that the boy and the flying horse are grouped as one ornament.

Top Down: Garuda, Nagas, Makaras (water monster) Boys, Horses (sharabha, half lion), Lions, and Elephants.

Symbolically the 'six ornaments' have many Buddhist meanings such "as the seven things to be eliminated on the path, the six perfections, the four gathering things, the strength of the ten powers, the stainless and the clear light." (Gateway to the Temple by Thubten Legshay Gyatsho. 1971, 1979. page 46).

In the Bon Religion there is also a unique throne back (Tibetan: gyab yol) which is described for the special figure of Nampar Gyalwa a form of Tonpa Shenrab, founder of the Bon religion. This throne back is different from the Buddhist description most notably because in the Bon depiction the lion at the bottom of the throne back is eating a human figure and above that the winged-lion-horse (dragon) is eating a serpent spirit (lu). Although specific to the biography of Tonpa Shenrab in his form as Nampar Gyalwa this throne back is also commonly found with the Four Transcendent Lords, the suprreme deities of Bon, and depicted in both painting and sculpture. According to the biographical literature the animals should be a lion, dragon and water monster. This is described in detail in the story of Nampar Gyalwa found in chapter 50 of the Ziji a twelve volume biography of Tonpa Shenrab.

Tags: art

Sarasvati Page - Updated

September 25, 2010 ·

The Sarasvati Main Page has been updated with additional images and a list of the more common forms of Sarasvati depicted in Himalayan art. (Also see the Sarasvati Outline Page).

Tags: iconography · art

Updated identification: Ochen Barma

September 21, 2010 ·

Ochen Barma 'Blazing with Great Light.' This fierce female deity, classified under the category of Shri Devi (Palden Lhamo),  is the wrathful protector aspect of Vajra Vetali the consort of the awesome meditational deity (ishtadevata) Vajrabhairava. Ochen Barma is also an emanation, or wrathful form, of the very peaceful deity Sarasvati, Goddess of Learning, eloquence and literature.

The Three Forms of Sarasvati According to the Vajrabhairava System of Tantra: 1. Vajra Vetali, the female consort in wrathful aspect embracing Vajrabhairava. 2. Sarasvati, the peaceful aspect. 3. Ochen Barma (Blazing with Light) the protector aspect of Vajra Vetali.

Ochen Barma is wrathful in appearance, black in colour with one face and two arms. The yellow hair blazes upwards. In the upraised right hand she holds a staff and a butcher's stick. In the lowered left hand she holds a bag of disease and a lasso. With the right leg bent and the left straight above two prone figures, naked, black in colour, she stands atop a sun disc, lotus and dharmakara - triangle. The flames surrounding her body unfold like a peacock's tail.

There are twelve attendant figures accompanying Ochen Barma. The three most important of those ride animal mounts: horse, mule and wolf.

At the top center is Acharya Bhati. The seated figure at the viewer's right is Manlung Guru of the 13th century. He was a contemporary of Buton Tamche Khyenpa and associated with the Kalachakra Tantra. At the viewer's left is Dranton Dar Drag. The three teachers depicted each pre-date the 13th century and are identified by a name inscription beneath.

Black ground paintings such as this are often used for depicting the most wrathful and horrific images of Tantric Buddhism believing that it enhances those fearsome characteristics of the deity. The creation of black ground paintings was first described in the various Mahakala Tantras (specifically the Twenty-five and Fifty Chapter Tantras).  The painting of Ochen Barma is likely from a set of compositions and currently of an unknown number. Only two other images of this rarely seen deity are known to the HAR Team - both minor figures. One image is depicted as a minor figure in a textile tangka preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing. The other is a painting belonging to a private collection. It was this latter painting depicting Vajrabhairava as the central figure that provided the identification of Ochen Barma by depicting the exact deity and retinue, along with inscriptions, matching the image of the painting HAR #576.

(This painting was formerly incorrectly identified as a form of Ekajati and associated with Shri Devi. It is important to remember that Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo is also a wrathful protector emanation of Sarasvati). [See TBRC W27414. The Tensrung Gyatso Namtar (bstan srung gya mtsho'i rnam thar) written by Lelung (sle lung)].

Tags: iconography

The Nepalese Legacy in Tibetan Painting

September 10, 2010 ·

The Nepalese Legacy in Tibetan Painting.

September 3, 2010 - May 23, 2011. Rubin Museum of Art, New York.

"For centuries Tibetan artists looked to India for artistic direction. But with the destruction of India's key monasteries in 1203, many artists turned to Nepal's Kathmandu Valley, home to the skilled Newar artists. The Newars' painting style, known as the Beri, was quickly adopted in Tibet, becoming one of the country's most influential artistic styles for four centuries. This exhibition traces the style's development, patronage, and distinctive features." (RMA Website. Read a longer description).

See a selection of objects from the exhibition on the HAR Website.

Tags: museums · painting · art · exhibitions

Vira Vajradharma - Unique Iconography

September 08, 2010 ·

This painting is iconographically unique because it is the only known composition depicting Vira Vajradharma as a central figure and the only painting known that depicts the two figures of Vajradhara and Vajradharma paired together in a single composition. Vajradharma originates with the Chakrasamvara cycle of Anuttaryoga Tantras and is another form of the Tantric Buddhist primordial Buddha. Vajradharma is red in colour and has two different iconographic forms. The first form, shown in this painting is considered common, Vira Vajradharma, and the second form is regarded as more profound, or uncommon. The second form does not use the initial term 'vira' meaning 'hero' (referring to the appearance of Vira Vajradharma with hand drum and skullcup) and simply goes by the name Vajradharma. The profound form of the primordial Buddha Vajradharma has the same identical appearance as Vajradhara except Vajradharma is red in colour rather than blue. (The primordial Buddha Vajradharma should not be confused with the red form of Avalokiteshvara also with the name Vajradharma [see image])

Unique Iconographic Features:
1. Vira Vajradharma (red) as a central figure.
2. The group of three Vajrayogini figures: Naro, Indra & Maitri.
3. The group of three power deities: Kurukulla, Takkiraja & Ganapati.
4. The inscriptions written on the cloth hangings in front of the two thrones - specifically the Kalachakra monogram.
5. The two Pamting brothers seated on the same lotus.

Tags: iconography

Refuge Field: Components & Elements

September 02, 2010 ·

The various Components & Elements of Refuge Field paintings have been catagorized and listed in this new Outline Page. The topic is especially interesting because Refuge Field paintings are a relatively new art subject in Tibetan Buddhism. The two principal components of any Refuge Field painting are (1) the Environment (ground, lake, tree, throne, clouds, etc.) and (2) the actual Field of Accumulation (Refuge objects: Guru, lineage, Buddha, etc.).

The earliest paintings depicting a Refuge Field belong to the Gelug tradition and clearly date to the 18th or possibly the late 17th century. Paintings following the iconographic programs of other religious traditions only begin to appear in the 19th century with paintings of the Longchen Nyingtig lineage of the Nyingma followed by Drugpa and Drigung Kagyu lineage depictions. All of the other Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist lineages, schools and traditions, along with the Bon religion, only adopted the new Refuge Field composition in the early part of the 20th century with some traditions like the Sakya and the Nyingma (aside from the Longchen Nyingtig) only adopting the new composition style in the mid to late 20th century.

Refuge Field Main Page
Refuge Field Outline Page
Refuge Field: Components & Elements

Tags: iconography · art