Entries for month: November 2011

Prayer Wheels of the Himalayas

November 30, 2011 ·

An exploration of Himalayan Prayer Wheels. Over 200 photographic examples, with explanatory text drawn, from Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim" by David K. Baker.

This online publication has almost everything you would ever want or need to know about Prayer Wheels - plus a huge range of photographs documenting the many types and styles. It is definitely worth looking at.


Identifiable Mahasiddhas in Tibetan Art

November 29, 2011 ·

The category of Mahasiddha (Indian Adept) is a large subject in both Himalayan and Tibetan art as well as for the entire subject of Vajrayana Buddhism. There are two common lists of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas and several less common compilations that appear both in literature and art. The two most common systems found in both art and literature are the Abhayadatta and the Vajrasana, both named after the authors of the lists.

The most important topic to understand first in the study of Indian Tantric siddhas is the definition of the term mahasiddha. Firstly, it is a term that designates a level of attainment within Vajrayana Buddhism. Secondly it refers, in Tibetan art, to a certain kind of appearance following after the model of a Heruka deity (Hevajra, Chakrasamvara, etc.) according to the 'Sarma' Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. In the art of painting and sculpture those individuals designated with the attainment of the level of a mahasiddha can have one of three general forms or depictions, [1] monastic, [2] layperson, or [3] siddha appearance - modeled after a semi-wrathful or wrathful Tantric deity. Most mahasiddhas do not have siddha appearance.

Amongst all of these different sets and groups of siddhas only a small percentage of siddhas are consistently identifiable iconographically over time and outside of the context of the individual sets of eighty-four. There are also several lists and sets of Eight Great Mahasiddhas which are derived from the two common lists of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas.

Although there are only a small number of siddhas that are identifiable consistently over time many more of the siddhas can be identified when appearing in sets of paintings or sculpture that depict the entire group of the Abhayadatta or Vajrasana figures. With painting sets it becomes even easier when there are inscriptions and labels accompanying each figure. It is even easier when paintings depicting multiple siddhas from a larger set of compositions are compared with other painting sets from the same chronological period or period relatively close in time, style or possibly region of the Himalayas or Tibet.

Easy to Identify Indian Mahasiddhas:
- Saraha, holding an arrow
- Shavaripa, holding a bow
- Virupa, the arm raised upward with a pointing finger
- Dombhi Heruka, riding a tiger
- Luipa, eating fish entrails
- Tilopa, holding a fish
- Damarupa, holding a double-sided drum
- Nagarjuna, with snakes hovering above the head
- Shantideva, a monk floating in the air
- Jalandhara, the leg raised above the head
- Shridhara, having a buffalo head
- Ghantapa, holding a vajra and bell, in a flying posture
- Krishnacharin, surrounded by drums and umbrellas
- Avadhutipa, with the right hand index finger pointed over the knee
- Vinapa, holding a lute
- Atisha, a monk with a stupa and round back to the right and left
- Possibly others....

Easy to Identify Tibetan Teachers:
Within the context of Tibetan teachers with easy to identify mahasiddha, mahasiddha-like, or yogi appearance there are the figures of:
- Shri Simha
- Padmasambhava
- Milarepa
- Tsongkhapa (in siddha form)
- Tangtong Gyalpo
- Tsang Nyon Heruka
- Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (siddha form)
- Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (siddha form)
- Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (siddha form)
- Possibly others....

The form of the wrathful protector deity known as Brahmanarupa Mahakala is commonly mistaken for an India mahasiddha - in siddha appearance.

Tags: updates

Dombhi Heruka: Mahasiddha & Tiger-rider

November 28, 2011 ·

Dombhi Heruka is one of a small number of Indian Buddhist mahasiddhas that are consistently identifiable based on a standard iconographic form and a consistent artistic depiction. He is most often associated with his teacher Virupa and the Margapala (Lamdre) teachings based on the Hevajra and Chakrasamvara Tantras. Of the two principal students of Virupa, Kanha was taught the gradual method Margapala and Dombhi Heruka was instructed in the teachings of the sudden method Margapala.

There are numerous Tibetan incarnation lineages that claim Dombhi Heruka as a previous incarnation. The most famous of these are the Gelugpa Longdol Lama, the Karma Kagyu Tai Situpa and the Surmang Trungpa Tulku. Longdol Lama also includes Marpa Chokyi Lodro in his incarnation lineage which would also make Marpa a later incarnation of Dombhi Heruka. Tai Situ followers also claim that the Situpa is an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Maitreya and the Tibetan teacher Jonang Taranata, thus making Dombhi Heruka also an incarnation of Maitreya first and Jonang Taranata an additional later incarnation of Dombhi Heruka. The incarnation lineage of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo also claims descent from Jonang Taranata subsequently making him, Khyentse, also an incarnation of Maitreya, Dombhi Heruka, Marpa Chokyi Lodro, Longdol Lama and Tai Situpa. The general belief within the tradition of Khyentse Wangpo however is that he is an emanation of the bodhisattva Manjushri with prior incarnations of Milarepa, Longchenpa, Jigme Lingpa and Thartse Namkha Chime to name a few.

From this brief analysis of the different traditions and their incarnation lineages it becomes clear to see that each has to be looked at individually and within its own Tibetan Tradition and unique logic system. The different schools generally operate individually and in isolation from the other traditions therefore the various claims and overlapping belief systems are of little consequence traditionally. However looked at with the benefit of distance and a knowledge of the various incarnation lineages the compounding of the duplicate and triplicate claims as a whole along with the interweaving and inclusion of numerous other bodhisattvas, deities, Indian and Tibetan teachers all over-lapping - the incarnation system becomes entirely fantastical.

Dombhi Heruka is commonly mistaken for another mahasiddha with a similar name but different appearance, Dombipa the washer-man, also from the set of Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. The mahasiddha form of Je Tsongkapa in his depiction as a siddha riding a tiger and carrying a sword in the upraised right hand is often mistaken for Dombhi Heruka of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas.

Although originally belonging to the 'Sarma' New Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism beginning in the 11th century, later Nyingmapas adopted Dombhi Heruka into the new 'Terma' compilations of the life-story of Padmasambhava making both Dombhi Heruka and Virupa incarnations/emanations of Padmasambhava.

In the appearance of a mahasiddha figure, of which there are three types, having taken on the guise of a heruka deity, the third of the three types, with bone ornaments and a skull headdress, Dombhi Heruka typically holds a snake lasso in the upward raised right hand and a skullcup in the left embracing the consort. He rides a top a pregnant tigress accompanied by a low-caste consort. [See the Eleven Figurative Forms in Tibetan Buddhist Iconography].

Context: Groups, Sets & Subjects:
Dombhi Heruka is found depicted in art primarily associated with painting sets or single art works, or belonging to the following subjects listed below:
- Eighty-four Mahasiddhas (Abhayadatta)
- Eighty-four Mahasiddhas (Vajrasana)
- Margaphala Lineage (Lamdre)
- Rakta Yamari Lineage
- Mahamaya Lineage
- Bernagchen Mahakala Lineage
- Padmasambhava Incarnation (Life Story Narratives)
- Tai Situ Incarnation Lineage
- Longdol Lama Incarnation Lineage
- Surmang Trungpa Incarnation Lineage
- Hero [pa tu] from the Group of Thirty Warriors (Ling Gesar Epic)
- Others....

Tags: updates

Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo - Updated

November 11, 2011 ·

Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110-1170) was one of the three principal students of Gampopa, the founder of the Pagdru Kagyu School. Eight of his students went on to found eight further Kagyu schools; Drigung, Taglung, Drugpa, Yamzang, Tropu, Martsang, Yelpa and the Shugseb. These became known as the Eight Smaller Schools of the Kagyu Tradition.

What is not so commonly known about Pagmodrupa is that prior to meeting Gampopa he studied for 12 years with Sachen Kunga Nyingpo - one of the early founders of the Sakya Tradition. The younger brother of Pagmodrupa, Dampa Desheg, founded the Katog Monastery - counted as one of the six principal monasteries of the Nyingma Tradition.

Tags: updates · portraits

Kings & King Appearance in Art - Updated

November 07, 2011 ·

King Appearance in Himalayan art is a specific type of figurative form. The principal characteristics are the face often with a stern look achieved by upturned eyebrows accompanied by a mustache and goatee. The clothing is heavy and layered with multiple colours, a cloth head covering or hat sometimes with a small jeweled crown, and lastly, boots on the feet.

There are four important subjects and distinctions to be made with regard to kings in Himalayan and Tibetan art.
[1] Kings with King Appearance
[2] Kings that don't have King Appearance
[3] Kings that belong to Sets
[4] Deities with King Appearance

Tags: updates

Mandala Main Page - Updated

November 05, 2011 ·

Mandala, Deity Mandala: a circular diagram, highly technical and precise, representing an idealized Tantric Buddhist, Hindu or Bon Meditational Deity - surrounded by an idealized and symbolic universe, the container and contained, animate and inanimate.

Mandalas are painted on cloth, on the ceilings of temples, as murals, fashioned from metal, wood or stone, textiles and sometimes from coloured thread - also meticulously created from coloured sand.

Tags: updates · mandalas

Black Hayagriva - Two Great Paintings

November 04, 2011 ·

The two images depicted on this page are of the Tantric Buddhist meditational deity Black Hayagriva. They are from two different 'Revealed Treasure' traditions of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. The image on the left belongs to the discoveries of Nyangral Nyima Ozer and the image on the right belongs to the discoveries of Guru Chowang. In both paintings, below the top register, there is a single figure of a Karmapa Lama identifying both paintings as having been commissioned by a follower of the Karma Kagyu Tradition. The deity Black Hayagriva is primarily found and practiced in the Nyingma and Karma Kagyu Schools of Tibetan Buddhism, although sometimes found in the Gelug School as well.

The painting on the left has had some conservation work but is otherwise unrestored. The painting on the right has had restoration work done in the way of colour fill, line re-enforcing and adding. Despite the age, damage over time and restoration, both compositions are wonderful examples of 15th and 16th century Tibetan painting. They are filled with exquisite details, patterns and shading. The faces of the secondary figures in both paintings are exceptionally expressive.

Tags: iconography · art

Twelve Dzogchen Buddhas - An Obscure Subject

November 03, 2011 ·

This landscape format painting of Shakyamuni and the Twelve Dzogchen Buddhas has been recently identified and added to the Twelve Dzogchen Buddhas Main Page on the HAR site. In the not so distant past it was a rare subject in art and iconography. More paintings and possibly sculpture are likely to be found as the topic becomes better understood and iconographically recognizable.

Although the painting is clearly intended to depict a Nyingma iconographic program and subject, there are also Gelug compositional conventions and forms. Aside from the Twelve Buddhas, the unique Nyingma identifiers are images such as the depiction of Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri Buddha at the top center, the special four-armed Avalokiteshvara, in a standing posture, of the Longchen Nyingtig tradition placed slightly to the top left and the appearance of the teacher Longchenpa on the far right. The three images at the bottom of the painting - Krodha Vajrapani (center), Tinle Pehar (left) and Shri Devi Magzor Gyalmo (right) - follow traditional Gelug compositional conventions in subject choice and placement.