Entries for month: June 2011

Gesar or Drala - Update

June 29, 2011 ·

This painting has previously been identified in a Chinese publication (2003) as Ling Gesar. However, no textual evidence of any kind or explanation was offered. The publication by Jampal Gyatso also dates the painting to 1696 despite the 19th century Eastern Tibetan painting style.

The HAR staff have both inspected the painting and photographed the front and back - no inscriptions have so far been found. Also, no reference or description for this figure has been found in the Gesar ritual text of Ju Mipam, 1846-1912, (ge sar rgyal po'i gsol mchod skor).

There is however a new possibility. It appears that Ju Mipam and Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, 1893-1959, were influenced by the writings of Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje , 1800-1866. There is now a possibility that a form of Gesar matching the depiction of this Drala Warrior might be found in the ritual texts of Do Khyentse.

Further to that, a teacher of Ju Mipam by the name of Ngagwang Palzang wrote about Gesar and is well known as the author of the Gesar Arrow Divination and ritual practices. His writings now need to be looked at with reference to the image of the painting above.

The search for an accurate identification of this warrior figure continues...

Tags: iconography

Buddha & 'Buddha Appearance' in Himalayan Art

June 28, 2011 ·

In Himalayan and Tibetan art the word 'buddha' can have two meanings. The first meaning belongs to the religious definition within Buddhism where 'buddha' means a completely enlightened being having reached the top of the Ten Bodhisattva Grounds (levels, stages) and progressed further to a 13th level known as complete Buddhahood.

In art 'Buddha Appearance' refers to figures that have the form of a buddha as defined by the early Buddhist literature describing the characteristics of a buddha such as the Thirty-two Major and Eighty Minor Marks of a Buddha. Typically buddha figures are facing forward, with a dot between the eyebrows, an ushnisha on the top of the head marked with a gold ornament, three lines under the neck, elongated earlobes, wearing the patchwork robes of a fully ordained monk and seated in the vajra posture with the right leg over the left. Buddhas can have different colours. Shakyamuni is usually depicted as golden in colour, Amitabha is red, Medicine Buddha appears blue, etc.

In Tantric Buddhist art there are many deities that are buddhas but do not appear in Buddha Appearance, such as Vajradhara, Vajrasattva and all of the meditational deities (ishtadevata) such as Hevajra, Chakrasamvara and Kalachakra. In Tantra well known subjects such as Tara are regarded as fully enlightened buddhas that have chosen to a appear in a peaceful goddess like form rather than Buddha Appearance.

Buddha Figures with Buddha Appearance:
- Shakyamuni Buddha
- Medicine Buddha
- Amitabha/Amitayus Buddha
- Vairochana Buddha
- Nagaraja Buddha
- Meru Shikara Buddha
- Muni Trisamaya Vyuha
- Buddhas of the Three Times (Dipamkara, Shakyamuni, Maitreya)
- Maitreya: Buddha of the Future
- Buddha's of the Six Realms (Wheel of Life Paintings & the Guhyagarbha Tantra)
- Seven Supreme Buddhas
- Buddhas of the Ten Directions
- Thirty-five Confession Buddhas (Three Systems of Depiction)
- One Thousand Buddhas of this Age

Buddhas that DO NOT have typical Buddha Appearance:
- Five Symbolic Buddhas of the Vajrayana Tantra System (when depicted with crowns, jewel ornaments, fine clothes & consort deities)
---- Vairochana
---- Amitabha
---- Akshobhya
---- Ratnasambhava
---- Amoghasiddi
- Vajradhara
- Vajradharma (including Vira Vajradharma)
- Vajrasattva
- Samantabhadra (Kuntu Zangpo)

Human Figures with Buddha Characteristics:
- Rahula (arhat): commonly depicted with an ushnisha on the crown of the head
- Nagarjuna: commonly depicted with an ushnisha
- Garab Dorje: commonly depicted with an ushnisha
- Sakya Pandita: commonly depicted with an ushnisha

Tags: iconography

Animal Headed Gods & Deities (Buddhist) Main Page - Added

June 25, 2011 ·

In Buddhist iconography there are a small number of Animal Headed Deities. Generally deities appear as peaceful, semi-peaceful/wrathful or wrathful in appearance. The animal headed deities are categorized outside of this general system and appear with either the central face as an animal or an animal head placed atop their own central face. For example Hayagriva has one or more horse heads atop his main wrathful face. Vajravarahi either has a sow's head on the proper right of her own face, or placed on the top of the head, or in some cases the main face is that of a sow.

Depending on the general mood and disposition of the deity the animal face can be either in the normal animal appearance or wrathful such as with Vajrabhairava and Simhamukha. A number of Anuttarayoga deities have retinue figures with animal heads such as are found in the various Chakrasamvara Tantras of the Sarma Traditions. In the Guhyagarbha Tantra of the Nyingma Tradition there are the famous sets of peaceful and wrathful deities with many of the minor retinue figures having animal faces. These deities are also known as, or referred to as, the Bardo deities.

- Chakrasamvara Retinue Figures
- Chakrasamvara Vajradaka Retinue Figures
- Donkey-faced Chakrasamvara
- Donkey-faced Hevajra
- Donkey-faced Protector (Sera Monastery)
- Ganapati
- Garuda
- Guhyagarbha Tantra Retinue Figures
- Hayagriva
- Kinnara (Heavenly musician)
- Marichi
- Simhamukha
- Vajrabhairava
- Vajravarahi
- Yama Dharmaraja
- Yutog Nyingtig Protectors
- Others...

There are two human figures that are also depicted with animal characteristics. The first is the Indian teacher of the famous Madhyamaka system of philosophy - Nagarjuna - who is typically shown with five or seven snakes above the head. The second is Gyalwa Chogyang, one of the twenty-five famous students of Padmasambhava, that is typically depicted with a green horse head atop his own head.

Tags: iconography

The Five Pehar Gyalpo - Updated

June 25, 2011 ·

The The Five Pehar Gyalpo Ku Nga (Kings) of the Terma (Treasure) Lineage of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism are worldly protector deities. Although one individual deity, Pehar has five forms representing body, speech, mind, quality and activity. Each of the five has a different appearance. The most common form to appear in art is Activity Pehar with three faces, white in colour and riding a lion.


1. King of Body - Monbu Putra
2. King of Speech - Dra Lha Kye Chigbu
3. King of Mind - Gya Jin
4. King of Qualities - Shing Cha Chen
5. King of Activities - Pehar

"In former times at Glorious Red Rock, Acharya Padmasambhava, inviting the profound vast protector, Had bound by an oath as the entrusted steward of all Dharma Establishments; To Pehar I bow." (Nyingma liturgical verse).

Pehar is a non-Tibetan spirit who is believed to have been subjugated by Guru Rinpoche and bound by an oath to protect all the Buddhist temples and monasteries of Tibet. Other stories relate how Pehar was a local protector in the northern regions of Bata-Hor, conquered by Tri Songtsen Gampo, and brought back to Tibet hidden in the horde of plundered wealth. This group of five Pehar figures, originally belonging to the Nyingma 'Revealed Treasure' Tradition, was later incorporated into the Gelugpa School at the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, and can be found in other Tibetan Buddhist schools depending on the preferences of individual monasteries. Some traditions claim that, like the Direction King Vaishravana, Pehar Gyalpo Ku Nga has attained the 10th level Bodhisattva ground - a Mahayana level of attainment - immediately preceding the full enlightenment of a Buddha.

Tags: iconography

'King Appearance' as an Iconographic Form in Himalayan Art

June 25, 2011 ·

The '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 boots on the feet.

The specific group of Shambhala Kings have two systems of depiction. The traditional system, most commonly found in  painting and sculpture, depicts the individual Shambhala Kings in 'King Appearance.' The second system originating with the Jonang Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism depicts the Shambhala Kings in 'Deity Appearance' with either peaceful, semi-peaceful/wrathful or wrathful forms depending on the specific king and their associated bodhisattva or Tantric deity.

In Tibetan Buddhist narratives there are also kings that are not depicted in 'king appearance.' There is also a category of worldly spirits called 'King Spirits' (gyalpo). These spirits are included in a larger group called the 'Eight Types of [harmful] Worldly Spirits.' From this group of 'King Spirits' some have been subjugated and added to the class of Worldly Protectors of Tibetan Buddhism. The most famous of these is Pehar Gyalpo.

Number Sets for Kings:
1. Three Kings of Tibet
2. Four Guardian Kings
3. Seven Kings of Shambhala
4. Twenty-five Shambhala Vidyadhara

Names of the Kings in Himalayan Art:
- Shakyamuni Buddha (as a prince as depicted in life story paintings)
- Four Direction Guardian Kings
- Tri Songtsen Gampo
- Trisong Detsen
- Tri Ralpachen
- (other Tibetan Kings and Ministers)
- Gar Tongtsen (Minister to Songtsen Gampo)
- Ligmincha (last King of Zhangzhung)
- Indrabhuti (also included in the 8 and 84 Mahasiddha sets)
- Gesar Dorje Tsegyal
- Konchog Bang (Dalai Lama Incarnation Set)
- Yashas (Panchen Lama Incarnation Set)
- Shambhala Kings (Sets of 25, 32 or 37 figures)
- Rudracharin (the last Shambhala King)
- Kadam Legbam Text (various Kings)
- Jataka & Avadana Stories (various Kings)
- Others....

Tags: iconography

The White Hat of the Karma Kagyu Tradition

June 09, 2011 ·

Many have heard of the famous black hat of the Karmapa and the red hat of the Shamarpa, maybe the lotus hat of Padmasambhava and the yellow hat of the Gelugpa Tradition. What about a white hat that is identical to the black hat of Gyalwa Karmapa?

In East Tibet there is a Kagyu Lama named Tsatsa Drubgon Rinpoche. He wears a white hat identical to the Karmapa black hat. This white hat according to the Tibetan biography of Tsatsa Rinpoche is said to have come about as a gift of the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje. In his vision Karmapa saw that Tsatsa Rinpoche had four great characteristics: outer, inner, secret and very secret. The outer characteristic is that Karmapa saw Tsatsa as being very white, of a pure white colour - like the appearance of the goddess of wisdom and learning, Sarasvati. Another of the characteristics was that he embodied the Mahamudra - the highest philosophical view found in the new Tantras from India in the 11th century.

It would seem that it was the outer characteristic that led to the gift of the white hat given by the 8th Karmapa, of the Karma Kagyu Tradition, along with a seal that that has two different styles of lettering. The first with the letters in Tibetan script found in the four corners of the square seal reads Karma pa'i Tsatsa Lama. The central area of the seal in the shape of a cartoche atop a lotus with five visible petals is written in Pagpa'i Script and reads Tsatsa Lama.

Actually it is said that this Tsatasa was one of the principal students of the 7th Karmapa. Prior to that time the earliest documented pre-incarnation was a student of Pagmodrupa and Tstsa followed Pagdru Kagyu Tradition. After the time of the 8th Karmapa the Tsatsa Lamas became more closely assoiciated with the Karma Kagyu Tradition. The name tsatsa of Tsatsa Rinpoche occurred because at one time he spent time making many tsatsa offering molds of all types. When he made water tsatsa they would turn into crystal. After that he was known as Tsatsa Rinpoche.

Tsatsa Monastery is the principal temple in the Lingtsang region of Kham, Tibet (Dege, Sichuan, China). Very close to this location is the birth place of Ling Gesar - within walking distance. Although the region of Lingtsang is now included within the greater Dege region, in the past Lingtsang was the principal kingdom with the Lingtsang Gyalpo as the King of the entire region. At that time the area of Dege was included as Lingtsang territory. In the later history a small portion of Lingtsang land was given to a deserving subject of the Lintsang Kingdom. That portion of land, not considered very good, but considered quite auspicious and imbued with blessing, became known as Dege and again later, as the Dege kingdom with its own King.

In the past there have been eight Tsatsa incarnate Lamas. Recently the 9th was recognized as a small child in the area of Lingtsang, Kham. The 7th Tsata Drubgon lived during the exciting time of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul in the 19th century. From the time of Kongtrul the 7th and 8th Drubgon have maintained the history, teachings, initiations and special precepts of the Shangpa Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism according to the teachings of Jamgon Kongtrul. During tha last half of the 20th century, in India Kalu Rinpoche maintained the Shangpa Tradition and in Tibet Tsatsa Drubgon maintained the Shangpa Kagyu. Today in the region of Lingtsang and Kangdze there are both monasteries and retreat centers following the Shangpa Tradition albeit under the overall supervision of the Karma Kamtsang Tradition to which Jamgon Kongtrul belonged.

It is not presently known if the white hat shown in the image above is believed to be the original white hat or a replacement hat to symbolize the original. Only one painting so far is known to depict a figure wearing a white hat identical to that of Karmapa.

Tibetan Source Text: sgrub sprul brgyad pa'i mdzad rnam dang gsung gces bsdus.

Tags: iconography · hats

Puntsog Ling Cave Complex in Upper Mustang

June 02, 2011 ·

The Punstog Ling Cave complex in Upper Mustang, Nepal, is one of four special Buddhist monastic/retreat complexes located in the region. The four sites starting in the West and moving East are: [1] Ganden Ling, [2] Puntsog Ling, [3] Ritseling and [4] Konchogling. Of the four, Puntsog Ling is the most damaged externally by the environment and internally by human action. The complex is a great study in the erosion of such caves in Mustang. The most stunning image is the first encountered at the site and shows a figure recessed only inches from the outer walls - hillside - of the cave but in fact what is being seen is a mural originally located at the back wall of a cave that existed 100s of years ago. Erosion has removed the entrance and side walls of the hillside so much that the image is almost completely exposed and at the mercy of constant weathering.

Tags: Mustang · art · Murals · Nepal