For more than a thousand years, Tibetan artists have played a key role in the cultural life of Tibet. From designs for painted furniture to elaborate murals in religious buildings, their efforts have permeated virtually every facet of life on the Tibetan plateau. The vast majority of surviving artworks created before the mid-20th century are dedicated to the depiction of religious subjects, with the main forms being thangka, distemper paintings on cloth, Tibetan Buddhist wall paintings, and small statues in bronze, or large ones in clay, stucco or wood. They were commissioned by religious establishments or by pious individuals for use within the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and were manufactured in large workshops by monks and lay artists, who are mostly unknown.
The art of Tibet may be studied in terms of influences which have contributed to it over the centuries, from other Chinese, Nepalese, Indian, and sacred styles.
Many bronzes in Tibet that suggest Pala influence, are thought to have been either crafted by Indian sculptors or brought from India.
As Mahayana Buddhism emerged as a separate school in the 4th century AD, it emphasized the role of bodhisattvas, compassionate beings who forgo their personal escape to nirvana in order to assist others. From an early time, various bodhisattvas were also subjects of statuary art. Tibetan Buddhism, as an offspring of Mahayana Buddhism, inherited this tradition. But the additional dominating presence of the Vajrayana (or Buddhist tantra) may have had an overriding importance in the artistic culture. A common bodhisattva depicted in Tibetan art is the deity Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara), often portrayed as a thousand-armed saint with an eye in the middle of each hand, representing the all-seeing compassionate one who hears our requests. This deity can also be understood as a yidam , or 'meditation Buddha' for Vajrayana practice.
More specifically, Tibetan Buddhism contains Tantric Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana Buddhism for its common symbolism of the vajra, the diamond thunderbolt (known in Tibetan as the dorje). Most of the typical Tibetan Buddhist art can be seen as part of the practice of tantra. Vajrayana techniques incorporate many visualizations during meditation, and most of the elaborate tantric art can be seen as aids to these visualizations; from representations of meditational deities (yidams) to mandalas and all kinds of ritual implements.
A surprising aspect of Tantric Buddhism is the common representation of wrathful deities, often depicted with angry faces, circles of flame, or with the skulls of the dead. These images represent the Protectors (Skt. dharmapala) and their fearsome bearing belies their true compassionate nature. Actually their wrath represents their dedication to the protection of the dharma teaching as well as to the protection of the specific tantric practices to prevent corruption or disruption of the practice. They are most importantly used as wrathful psychological aspects that can be used to conquer the negative attitudes of the practitioner.
The indigenous shamanistic religion of the Himalayas is known as Bön. Bon contributes a pantheon of local tutelary deities to Tibetan art. In Tibetan temples (known as lhakhang), statues of the Buddha or Padmasambhava are often paired with statues of the tutelary deity of the district who often appears angry or dark. These gods once inflicted harm and sickness on the local citizens but after the arrival of Padmasambhava these negative forces have been subdued and now must serve Buddha.
Contemporary Tibetan art refers to the art of modern Tibet, or Tibet after 1950. It can also refer to art by the Tibetan diaspora, which is explicitly political and religious in nature. Contemporary Tibetan art includes modern thangka (religious scroll paintings) that resemble ancient thangka, as well as radical, avant-garde, works.
Popular Contemporary Tibetan artists include Karma Phuntsok , Tibetan-Swiss painter Sonam Dolma Brauenand Jamyang Dorjee Chakrishar.
Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet, where it is the dominant religion. It also has adherents in the regions surrounding the Himalayas, in much of Central Asia, in the Southern Siberian regions such as Tuva, and in Mongolia.
Vajrayāna, Vajrā-Mahāyāna, Mantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism are terms referring to the various Buddhist traditions of Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in medieval India and spread to Tibet, Bhutan, and East Asia. In Tibet, Buddhist Tantra is termed Vajrayāna, while in China it is generally known as Tángmì Hanmi 漢密 or Mìzōng (密宗, "Esoteric Sect"), in Pali it is known as Pyitsayãna (ပစ္စယာန), and in Japan it is known as Mikkyō.
Buddhist symbolism is the method of Buddhist art to represent certain aspects of dharma, which began in the fourth century BCE. Anthropomorphic symbolism appeared from around the first century CE with the arts of Mathura the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, and were combined with the previous symbols. Various symbolic innovations were later introduced, especially through Tibetan Buddhism.
In Buddhism, fierce deities or wrathful deities are the fierce, wrathful or forceful forms of enlightened Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or Devas. Because of their power to destroy the obstacles to enlightenment, they are also termed krodha-vighnantaka, "fierce destroyers of obstacles". Fierce deities are a notable feature of the iconography of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. These types of deities first appeared in India during the late 6th century with its main source being the Yaksha imagery and became a central feature of Indian Tantric Buddhism by the late 10th or early 11th century.
A dharmapāla is a type of wrathful god in Buddhism. The name means "Dharma protector or defender" in Sanskrit, and the dharmapālas are also known as the Defenders of the Law (Dharma), or the Protectors of the Law. There are two kinds of dharmapala, Worldly Protectors and Wisdom Protectors. Only Wisdom Protectors are enlightened beings.
Buddhism includes a wide array of divine beings that are venerated in various ritual and popular contexts. Initially they included mainly Indian figures such as vedic devas and yakshas, but later came to include other Asian spirits and local gods. They range from enlightened Buddhas to regional spirits adopted by Buddhists or practiced on the margins of the religion. Notably, Buddhism lacks a supreme creator deity however.
Tara, Ārya Tārā, or Shayama Tara, also known as Jetsun Dölma in Tibetan Buddhism, is an important figure in Buddhism. She appears as a female bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, and as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism. She is known as the "mother of liberation", and represents the virtues of success in work and achievements. She is known as Tara Bosatsu (多羅菩薩) in Japan, and occasionally as Duōluó Púsà (多羅菩薩) in Chinese Buddhism.
Yidam is a type of deity associated with tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism said to be manifestations of Buddhahood or enlightened mind. During personal meditation (sādhana) practice, the yogi identifies their own form, attributes and mind with those of a yidam for the purpose of transformation. Yidam is sometimes translated by the terms "meditational deity" or "tutelary deity". Examples of yidams include the meditation deities Chakrasamvara, Kalachakra, Hevajra, Yamantaka, and Vajrayogini, all of whom have a distinctive iconography, mandala, mantra, rites of invocation and practice.
A thangka, variously spelt as thangka, tangka, thanka, or tanka, is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display, mounted on a textile backing somewhat in the style of Chinese scroll paintings, with a further silk cover on the front. So treated, thangkas can last a long time, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture will not affect the quality of the silk. Most thangkas are relatively small, comparable in size to a Western half-length portrait, but some are extremely large, several metres in each dimension; these were designed to be displayed, typically for very brief periods on a monastery wall, as part of religious festivals. Most thangkas were intended for personal meditation or instruction of monastic students. They often have elaborate compositions including many very small figures. A central deity is often surrounded by other identified figures in a symmetrical composition. Narrative scenes are less common, but do appear.
Honzon, sometimes referred to as a Gohonzon, is the enshrined main image or principal deity in Japanese Buddhism. The buddha, bodhisattva, or mandala image is located in either a temple or a household butsudan.
Gyantse, officially Gyangzê Town, is a town located in Gyantse County, Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It was historically considered the third largest and most prominent town in the Tibet region, but there are now at least ten larger Tibetan cities.
A kartika is a small, crescent-shaped, hand-held ritual flaying knife used in the tantric ceremonies of Vajrayana Buddhism. The kartari is said to be "one of the quintessential attributes of the wrathful Tantric deities." It is commonly known as the "knife of the dakinis." Its shape is similar to the Inuit ulu or woman's knife, which is used for many things including cleaning skins.
The Snow Lion, sometimes also Snowlion, is a celestial animal of Tibet. It is the emblem of Tibet, representing the snowy mountain ranges and glaciers of Tibet, and may also symbolize power and strength, and fearlessness and joy, east and the earth element. It is one of the Four Dignities. It ranges over the mountains, and is commonly pictured as being white with a turquoise mane. In Journey to the West published in 1592, Snow Lion is depicted as one of Yōkais .
The Outer Tantras are the second three divisions in the ninefold division of practice according to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. This system divides the whole of the Buddhist path into three divisions of three and is in contrast to the division of the Sarma, or New Translation schools which use a fourfold division. The three divisions of the Outer Tantra correspond to the lower three category of tantras of the New Translation (Sarma) schools.
The Three Roots of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition are the lama, yidam, and protector, which may be a khandroma or chokyong. The Three Roots are the second of three Tibetan Buddhist refuge formulations, the Outer, Inner and Secret forms of the Three Jewels. The 'Outer' form is the 'Triple Gem', (Sanskrit:triratna), the 'Inner' is the Three Roots and the 'Secret' form is the 'Three Bodies' or trikaya of a Buddha. These alternative refuge formulations are employed by those undertaking Deity Yoga and other tantric practices within the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition as a means of recognizing the universality of Buddha Nature. The Three Roots are commonly mentioned in the Nyingma and Kagyu literature of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike most aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, which originated in India, the Three Roots may be an original Tibetan formulation from the time of Padmasambhava. The functions of the Three Roots are:
The imagery of the Refuge Tree, also referred to as Refuge Assembly, Refuge Field, Merit Field, Field of Merit or Field of Accumulation is a key part of a visualization and foundational meditation practice common to Tantric Buddhism. Based on descriptions in the liturgical texts of various traditions, Refuge Trees are often depicted in thangkas employed as objects of veneration, mnemonic devices and as a precursor to the contents being fully visualized by the Buddhist practitioner during the Refuge Formula or evocation.
The Nyethang Drolma Temple is a temple in Nyêtang in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China dedicated to Tara. It is associated with Atiśa (980–1054), who founded the Kadam school of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery survived the Cultural Revolution relatively undamaged. It is dedicated to Tara, a female bodhisattva, and contains many statues and paintings of Tara.
Lhasa is noted for its traditional buildings and structures related to Tibetan Buddhism.
Rakta Yamari is a Tantric Buddhist meditational deity which is a wrathful form of bodhisattva Manjushri or Yamantaka. Yamari deities have two forms: red (rakta) and black (krishna), and are part of the Anuttarayoga Class of Tantric Buddhism.
The Ngor Mandala collection of the Sakya tradition alone lists eight different forms/lineages of the blue/black buffalo-faced Vajrabhairava and four of red Rakta- or blue Krishna-Yamari. All the former are yidams whereas Yamaraja is a Dharma protector.
Buddhānusmṛti, meaning "Buddha-mindfulness", is a common Buddhist practice in all Buddhist traditions which involves meditating with a Buddha, such as Gautama or Amitābha, as the meditation subject.
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