Enlightened Indication

The main belief of Tibetan Buddhism is that we all suffer the recurring cycle of samsara, (birth, death, and rebirth). Further, it is a Buddhist belief that we may free ourselves from the affliction of samsara, only by reaching an enlightened state, or nirvana. Tibetan Buddhist Art is rich with spirituality and mysticism.  As we explore the vibrant colored paintings in this gallery we will investigate the extensive use of iconography and the meanings they portray.  Strong influences form India, Nepal, China and all of Central Asia are seen in these paintings, mostly on cloth or silk in Thangka fashion.  As we advance through the gallery we will be exposed to Buddhas, deities and ideologies of the Buddhist faith and find the value of their meaning so carefully portrayed in their creation.

This vibrant Thangka is a painting of Amityus, the Buddha of Infinite Life and Wisdom, who is traditionally worshipped in Tibetan Buddhist faith. Amityus sits atop a lotus throne, which symbolically represents his state of enlightenment. The lotus throne is just one characteristic used by Tibetan artists to visually represent Buddha. Another we can see by taking a closer look at his hands and feet. Depicted here are chakras which represent various states of existence. References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
Shakyamuni was the first Buddha, originally a prince named Siddartha. Siddartha became aware of human suffering and set out on a quest to overcome the trials of human nature, or more specifically, enlightenment. This painting represents Shakyamuni teaching the importance of Perfect Wisdom. In his hand he holds a lotus flower to symbolize the indefinable essence of mystical wisdom. References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
Shown here the Medicine Buddha sits atop his lotus throne accompanied by the Bodhisattvas Suryaprabha and Candraprabha. These figures together symbolize the Three Sages of the East. If we take a close look at Bhaisajyaguru, it is easy to see his distended earlobes, an iconological visual to represent Buddha. References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
This painting depicts a portrayal of the previous lives of Shakyamuni. The painting is a scroll in a series of three. The first two scrolls detail his first ten lives, and here, lives eleven through nineteen. Each of the illustrations surrounding the floating Buddha in the middle represent one of his past lives. Did you recognize the lotus throne and his distended earlobes as the two examples of visual representations of Buddha we have already explored? References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
Shantarakshita is the great spiritual master who played a valuable role in bringing Buddhism to Tibet. The scenes surrounding the teacher are biographical in nature and move chronologically in a clockwise pattern starting at the top right. The illustrations represent his spiritual development, ordination, and path to enlightenment. The final scene symbolizes the establishment of the Tibetan Buddhist doctrine. References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
Buddha Vajrasattva, (meaning bold and powerful warrior), is considered a founding father of Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism and considered to have founded the Bodhi, or Buddhist dharma. In the painting we can see yet another visual characteristic of Buddha detailed by the ushnisha, the bulge or bun on top of his head, symbolic of his enlightened state. References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
Padmasambhava, depicted here safe and sound at the Copper Coloured Mountain of Auspiciousness, high above klu-mtsho, the Dragon Sea. The Buddhist master, sitting atop the lotus throne, with his distended ears and bright green halo, (another visual characteristic that is symbolic of the Buddha), is represented here to have all the comforts and luxuries befitting divinity. References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
The Buddhist-deva/goddess depicted here, Green Tara, was revered as the goddess of safe voyage. She is considered the most powerful of the female Buddhist deities and helps devotees through the process of samsara. Tucked serenely amid the symbolic lotus flowers, representing spiritual purity and harmony, she reveals many of the symbolic visual characters of Buddha. Among them is the white tuft of hair located between her eyebrows. References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
The painting is a depiction of Buddhist devotee and practitioner Terdak Lingpa. He is a revealer of the treasures, left by Padmasambhava, the overseer of the Copper Coloured Mountain of Auspiciousness. His attire and stature characterize scholarly attributes. In the painting his open hand raised reflects the Abhaya Mudra, imparting protection. References: Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
In the center of the Thangka sits the goddess/Buddha-deva White Tara, sitting upon her white lotus throne. Her long right hand gesturing toward the earth is yet again a symbol of enlightenment; while her left is raised in a mudra of protection. Surrounding her are eight illustrations representing the compassionate White Tara protecting her devotees against the eight perils. References: Buddhist Deity: Tara, Eight Fears. Retrieved from http://www.himalayanart.org/search/set.cfm?setID=405 Stokstad, Marilyn, Michael Cothren. (11/2011). Art: A Brief History,5th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, (pp. 70-76)
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