Himalayan Art Resources

Teacher: Tsang Nyon Heruka Main Page

Tsang Nyon Heruka Masterworks

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Biography
- Large Sculpture
- Figurative Attributes
- Rechung Nyengyu Painting Set
- Confusions: Virupa
- Others...

- Tsang Nyon Heruka
- Questions About Tsang Nyon Heruka (HAR on Patreon [22 min.])

Main Characteristics:
- Appearance: Mahasiddha
- Right Hand: vajra scepter
- Left Hand: vase, skullcup, or both
- Left Shoulder: katvanga staff
- Bone ornaments
- Others...

Right Hand Gesture:
- Upraised
- Extended Forward
- At the Heart

Tsang Nyon Heruka Rupai Gyan Chen (1452-1507 (d.55 yrs). [TBRC P442]) the 'Crazy Heruka of Tsang Wearing Bone Ornaments' was an author, teacher and yogi, in siddha/heruka appearance who belonged to the Sakya and Rechung Nyengyu traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The specific Nyengyu practices descend from the Chakrasamvara teachings of Rechungpa Dorje Drag and associated with the Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tsang Nyon (gtsang smyon he ru ka), be it painting or sculpture, typically appears as a Tantric yogi holding a vajra scepter in the extended right hand, or alternately raised, and a skullcup in the left hand with a katvanga staff leaning against the left shoulder. His robe is generally white as is the custom of those following the tradition of Milarepa and Rechungpa. As ornaments he wears a skull headdress and bone earrings, necklace, long and short, bracelets, anklets, all modelling the appearance of the semi-peaceful and semi-wrathful deities like Hevajra and Chakrasamvara of the Anuttarayoga class of Buddhist Tantra. This is known as Siddha Appearance. This peculiar and counter-social manner of dressing, and copying the appearance of a Heruka deity, is derived from the second level of the Application of the Vow as described in the Hevajra Tantra. The Chakrasamvara and Hevajra Tantras principally, along with similar instructions in other Tantras, are the textual source for all of those teachers and practitioners in India and Tibet who wear bone ornaments, animal skins and hold Tantric implements such as a skullcup.

Not all teachers referred to as belonging to one of the several groups of Eighty-four Mahasiddhas have siddha appearance. Only a very small number of figures are attired with bone ornaments. The majority of teachers called mahasiddhas are either monastics or laypersons.

Depictions of Tsang Nyon generally take the form of sculpture with only one painting so far identified (aside from minor figures in lineage paintings). There are many modern sculpture productions of Tsang Nyon Heruka as well as modern copies of older works.

Tsang Nyon is famous for his appearance and his writings. After extensive retreats he insisted on wearing the Heruka attire as stipulated in the Chakrasamvara and Hevajra Tantras. He is more well known for writing and compiling the One Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa along with numerous biographies of early Kagyu teachers. In the 15th century he set about to revive the old Marpa Kagyu traditions of extensive retreats in isolated locations following after the conduct of Milarepa.

It is interesting to note that Lowo Khenchen Sonam Lhundrub (1456-1532 [d.76]) and Tsang Nyon Heruka (1452-1507 (d.55 yrs) were born at a similar time, possibly knew each other, and both had massive amounts of sculptural figures of them produced by their students and donors.

Database Search: All Images

Jeff Watt 9-2011 [updated 6-2016, 5-2017, 1-2020, 6-2024]


Among Tibetan Texts, History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. E. Gene Smith, Author. Jeffrey Hopkins, Foreword. Kurtis Schaeffer, Editor. Wisdom Publications, Boston: 2001. ISBN:0-86171-179-3.

The Biographies of Rechungpa: The Evolution of a Tibetan Hagiography. Peter Alan Roberts, 2007. (ISBN-13: 978-0415769952, ISBN-10: 0415769957).

The Yogin and the Madman: Reading the Biographical Corpus of Tibet's Great Saint Milarepa by Andrew Quintman. Nov. 5, 2013.

Read more at BDRC