Entries for month: August 2011

Reading a Painting: Hierarchy & Iconography

August 31, 2011 ·

Paintngs such as this Avalokiteshvara with Eleven Faces and One Thousand Arms are read and understood first from the large central figure at the center of the painting. With multiple figure compositions incorporating a number of related or unrelated subjects then standard Buddhist hierarchy dictates that the Guru and Guru Lineage is at the top of the composition. The Guru is followed by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

In this painting a second Avalokiteshvara subject, comprised of five deities, has been added on the viewer's left side in the vertical outer register. Again related to Avalokiteshvara, a unique characteristic of this painting is found in the group of Eight Great Bodhisattvas where the standard figure of Avalokiteshvara is substituted for a non-standard but popular meditational form of the deity known as Simhanada. This was likely done by the artist to add variation rather than simply repeating the generic two armed form of the figure. Avalokiteshvara is already well represented at the center of the composition, the top left corner and then again as the first figure in the group of the Five Deity Amoghapasha. The Simhanada is added as variation - the next most popular form - although never typically seen in the group of Eight Great Bodhisattvas. The bodhisattva Maitreya is depicted twice once in the group of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas in the right hand register and then again on the upper left side placed amongst the Buddha figures. This figure of Maitreya represents the bodhisattva heir apparent - the future Buddha and is in close proximity to Dipamkara the Buddha of the past and Shakyamuni the Buddha of this time period.

Moving further down the composition two monk figures are located at the sides of the lotus throne of Avalokiteshvara. These two figures in the hierarchy represent the Arhats and Pratyekabuddhas of the Hinayana Tradition of Buddhism as understood in Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhism. They represent all arhats and all pratyekabuddhas.

On the lower right side are two deity figures unrelated to the general theme of Avalokiteshvara - the principal subject of the painting. They are Ushnishvijaya a Long-life meditational deity and Vajravidarana a purification meditational deity. These two figures and others of similar function are commonly found in the lower registers or portion of a painting. These types of function, long-life, purification and such, are often auxiliary meditational practices for removing various obstacles such as illness or various types of mental obscurations. Another class of deities with a specific function that are commonly found in the lower portions of a painting are wealth deities such as Jambhala, Vasudhara and Vaishravana. No wealth deities are depicted in this painting.

At the left side of the bottom register are three meditational deities that could easily be placed higher in the composition based on standard hierarchy. The first two are easily identified and the third is likely to be Vajrapani although not conclusively. Here Vajrapani is holding a vajra in the upraised right hand but also holds a long hook in the left hand. This is not standard for Vajrapani. The standing of the three figures in the standard hierarchy is that of meditational deity. Here their status is unchanged and they are placed next to the group of protector deities because they are the special meditational deities when performing the rituals and practices invoking the enlightened and unenlightened, wisdom and worldly, protectors - the last and lowest deities in the Buddhist Tantric hierarchy.

Tags: iconography

Art Depicted in Art - Updated

August 27, 2011 ·

The Art Depicted in Art Main Page has been updated with additional images.









1. A rolled up painting in a meditation cave
2. A painting of the Sage of Long-life decorating a fan
3. A gold statue of Maitreya
4. A gold statue of Shakyamuni Buddha

Tags: art

Lamrim Painting Set - Images Added

August 27, 2011 ·

Lamrim Lineage sets of paintings where each lineage figure is depicted in a single composition, surrounded by life story scenes, are quite rare. It is very common to find the Lamrim lineage all together in a single composition with Je Tsongkapa at the center. This set is by far one of the most beautiful known to exist. There are only twelve paintings known to exist that belong to this Lineage Set (Stages of the Path). The total number of paintings belonging to the original commission is currently unknown but would likely exceed more than fifty compositions in number. The majority of the paintings below belong to private collections with only two known to belong to a museum. (See the Lamrim Painting Set Outline Page).

Rubin Museum of Art:
Purbu Chog (student of Geleg Gyatso)

Dr. David Nalin Collection:
Namkha Gyalpo
Gendun Drub, 1st Dalai Lama
Yeshe Dorje

Private Collections:
Asanga (student of Maitreya) Dromton (student of Atisha)
Unidentified (student of Acharya Vairochana)
Vidyakokila the Younger (student of Vidyakokila the Elder)
Chokyi Dorje, 15th century (student of Baso Chokyi Gyalstsen)
Geleg Gyatso, 16th/17th century (student of 1st Panchen)

Tags: Sets · art

Kundeling Incarnation Lineage Painting Set

August 27, 2011 ·

The Kundeling painting set is missing the 5th Tatsag composition and was likely a nine painting set in total with the inclusion of Manjushri. The set was most probably created after the passing of the 8th Tatsag after 1810 and before the recognition of the 9th Tatsag (born in 1811). It is not currently known in which year the 9th was recognized, but this could have been up to five or ten years later.

The composition and execution of the paintings in a Chamdo style follows very closely with other known paintings, both in private and museum collections, associated with the Chamdo region of Eastern Tibet.

1. Baso Chokyi Gyaltsen, 1st Tatsag (1402-1473)
2. Jetsun Lhakyab, 2nd Tatsag (1474-1508)
3. Liyul Chokyi Gyalpo, 3rd Tatsag (1509-1526).
4. Lhawang Chokyi Gyaltsen, 4th Tatsag (1537-1604).
5. Ngagwang Chokyi Wangchug, 5th Tatsag (1606-1652)
6. Ngagwang Konchog Nyima, 6th Tatsag (1653-1707).
7. Lobzang Palden Gyaltsen, 7th Tatsag (1708-1758).
8. Gyaltsab Yeshe Tanpa'i Gonpo, 8th Tatsag (1760-1810)

Tags: Sets · iconography · art

Vaishravana Page - Updated

August 25, 2011 ·

The Vaishravana Main Page has been updated with information and images.

There are three divisions in the study of Vaishravana iconography. The first, discussed above, is [1] Vaishravana as part of the group of Four Guardian or Direction Kings. These four are based on narrative descriptions found in the early Sutras. The second [2] classification of Vaishravana iconography is where the Four Guardian Kings are included in a larger retinue of a Tantric Mandala such as Medicine Buddha, Pancha Raksha or the Tara Seventeen Deity Mandala. The third division [3] contains all of the forms of Vaishravana as found in the Tantra literature where the deity is either the principal figure for meditation, or visualized in front of the Buddhist practitioner. These forms of Vaishravana generally have the function of wealth-bestowing. Vaishravana in his form known as Vaishravana Riding a Lion is the most common in art and most popular Tantric form of the deity. The Sakya Tradition preserve and teach seventeen different forms of Vaishravana (example 1, example 2).

Tags: iconography

Twelve Yaksha Generals - Added

August 25, 2011 ·

The Twelve Yaksha Generals belong to the mandala of the Medicine Buddha. The full set of deities in the mandala number fifty-one paintings, textiles, or sculpture in total. The images of the Twelve Yaksha Generals below represent what remains of a number of different sets.

These figures are commonly misidentified as being forms of Jambhala, Vaishravana or the erroneously identified Kubera (who is not found in Himalayan and Tibetan iconography except as a minor figure in a few mandalas).




Twelve Yaksha Generals:
36 (1). Eastern direction, Jijig, yellow, vajra.
37 (2). Vajra, red, sword.
38 (3). rgyan 'dzin, yellow, stick.
39 (4). Northern direction,' 'dzin, light blue, stick.
40 (5). rlung 'dzin (Vatadhara), red, trident.
41 (6). gnas bcas, smoky-coloured, sword. Example 2
42 (7). Western direction, dbang 'dzin, red, stick. Example 2
43 (8). btung 'dzin, yellow, stick.
44 (9). smra 'dzin, pink, axe.
45 (10). Southern direction, bsam 'dzin, yellow, lasso.
46 (11). g.yob 'dzin, blue, stick.
47 (12). rdzogs byed, red, wheel.
All hold a mongoose in the left hand, with short fat limbs and a large stomach.

Tags: iconography

Medicine Buddha Retinue Figures - Updated

August 25, 2011 ·

Additional paintings and sculpture have been added to the Medicine Buddha Retinue Figure Page. The Medicine Buddha and his mandala of fifty-one deities was a very popular theme in Tibet and especially in China. Many sets were created of each of the individual figures with the paintings, or embroidered textile, created in a smaller format size and then strung together and hung from the rafters of temples. These smaller format compositions often had elaborate Chinese brocades and cloth mounts.

Included in the fifty-one figure mandala are Twelve Yaksha Generals that are commonly confused with the wealth deities Jambhala and Vaishravana because of their regal appearance, portly size, and the mongoose held in the left hand.

Tags: Sets · iconography · art

Shri Devi & Bernagchen Mahakala - Added

August 23, 2011 ·

Shri Devi Rangjung Gyalmo & Bernagchen Mahakala as a couple sit astride a donkey atop a sun disc and surrounded by orange, red and yellow flames of pristine awareness. The unique aspect to these combined wrathful protectors is the female - Shri Devi - is the principal iconographic figure facing forward, or outward in a painting or sculpture. Bernagchen Mahakala is the secondary figure embracing Shri Devi and looking towards her.

There are many forms of Shri Devi both taught in the Indian Sanskrit texts and originating in Tibet with the Nyingma 'Revealed Treasure'. This form of Shri Devi, Rangjung Gyalmo, follows the appearance as described in the 'Revealed Treasures' of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The Marpa Kagyu Tradition in general maintains a special form of Shri Devi that originated with the Indian Mahasiddha Naropa - generally referred to as the Naropa Tradition Shri Devi. The Karma Kagyu School practices both the Naropa Tradition and in particular the Rangjung Gyalmo passed down from Karma Pakshi - the 2nd Karmapa.

Tags: iconography

Rakta Yamari - Updated

August 22, 2011 ·

Rakta Yamari is a Tantric Buddhist meditational deity believed to be an emanation of the deity and bodhisattva Manjushri. There are two general types of Yamari deities - red (rakta) and black (krishna). The Red Yamari has several different traditions - each primarily differentiated by the number of deities represented in the mandala and the associated human lineage teachers. The Krishna and Rakta Yamari figures belong to the New 'Sarma' Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and are practiced in all of the main schools of Tibet and the Himalayan cultural regions. (Also see the Rakta Yamari Masterworks Page).

Manjushri has a number of popular meditational forms belonging to the Anuttarayoga Classs of Tantric Buddhism which are primarily the Manjuvajra Guhyasamaja, Vajrabhairava, and the two Yamari - red and black. Manjushri also has dozens of peaceful meditation forms originating in the Kriya, Charya and Yoga Tantras. (For the lower Tantra forms see the Manjushri Lhakang Page and for the Anuttarayoga see the Forms & Emanations Comparison Page).

Tags: Masterworks · iconography · art

Padmasambhava: Guru Dragpo - Updated

August 17, 2011 ·

Guru Dragpo, originating in the 'Revealed Treasure' Tradition of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, is a wrathful meditational form of Padmasambhava. Although technically a guruyoga practice the function of Guru Dragpo is that of an ishtadevata (meditational deity). In the Nyingma Tradition, following after the early meditational deities of the Guhyagarbha Tantra and Eight Heruka this practice of Guru Dragpo is possibly the most popular and the most represented in art. In the 16th century the teacher Pema Karpo popularized a variation on Guru Dragpo called Guru Dragpur - principally practiced in the Drugpa Kagyu School.

The meditational deities of the Nyingma can be divided into three principal categories of deities. The first are those deities described in the [1] Guhyagarbha Tantra. The second category are the [2] Eight Heruka including Mahottara. The third category are all of those forms that are included in the [3] 'Revealed Treasure' Tradition (terma). Many 'Revealed Treasures' are simply variations on the forms of the Guhyagarbha and Eight Heruka, however an entirely new group developed which are based on the being of Padmasambhava. This third group includes deities such as the Outer, Inner and Secret Forms of Padmasambhava which include Guru Dragpo, Simhamukha and many others.

Forms & Types of Guru Dragpo:
1. Single (one face, two arms)
2. Single (with consort)
3. Heruka (three faces, six arms, consort)
4. Karma Guru Heruka (without consort)
5. Tarig Terma Tradition (with consort)
6. Others...

Tags: updates · iconography