Buddhist Sculpture and Painting
There are more statues of Buddha in the World than of any one else. Some scholars claim that the idea of making Buddha statueswas introduced to Asia from Europe. The earliest images of Buddha had Greco-Roman Influences. In many of the early depictions,Buddha resembled Apollo.
Most of the really old Art works found in Asia are Buddhist sculptures. More sculptures remain than paintings because more sculptures were probably made and paintings tend to deteriorate with time. Buddhist sculptures are generally made from wood or bronze. Some are gilt. Buddha images, whatever conditions they are in, are considered sacred. Climbing on them, and in some cultures, photographing them is considered disrespectful.
beginning in the third century Caves in China, India and Southeast Asia were decorated with British frescoes a long withstatues. Large Monasteries sometimes contain hundreds and even thousands of frescoes and paintings of Buddha, Bodhisattvas andBuddhist Gods such as Avalokitesvara.
Many of the frescoes depict episode from Buddha's Life and they are used to educate the illiterate masses the same way manyChristian churches educate followers with scenes from the lives of Christ, Mary and the saints.
Paintings are often regarded as religious objects and sometimes used as Meditation aids. Smithsonian Japanese Art curator James Ulak wrote, "In every instance the artist attempted to create, through a single painting or an ensemble of paintings, an environment or moment of visual impact that complemented the Faith of the viewer, enhanced a belief, and infused everyday Life with a sense of transcendence."
Avalokitesvara (meaning “Lord Who Looks Down”) is arguably the most common and popular Buddhist celestial being. Regarded as a God, a Goddess and a Bodhisattva and featured prominently in the Lotus Sutra, he is closely associated with Amitabha andlives between births in Amitabha’s Western paradise.
Avalokitesvara has a number of Body parts and objects with symbolic meaning. Of his 11 heads, the central head one at the top belongs to Amitabha. He often has multiple arms, sometimes more than a thousand of them.
The central pair of hands is in the cupped position representing respect. In one hand he hold a Lotus, symbolizing Enlightenment, In another he holds a bow and arrow, symbolizing a Bodhisattva’s ability to get at the Heart of the matter.
Avalokitesvara appears in 33 different manifestations and 108 forms, including the Goddess of mercy, popular with pregnant mothers and invoked by people in trouble.
Simply repeating her name several times is considered enough to drive away Evil.
Tibetan Buddhist Bodhisattva Images
Jampelyang (Manjushri) is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. He is regarded as the first divine teacher of Buddhist Thought and is sort of a patron saint for school children. In his right hand is a flaming sword that cuts Ignorance. His left, in the “teaching” Mudra, cradles a half-opened Lotus blossom. He is often yellow and has blue Hair or a crown.
Drolma (Tara) is a female Bodhisattva with 21 different manifestations. Known as the saviouress, she was born from a tear ofCompassion shed by Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara)and considered a female version of Chenresig and a protectress of the Tibetan people.
She symbolizes purity and fertility and is believed to be able to fulfill wishes.
Drolma is often picturesdin a longevity triad with the red Tsepame (Amitayus) and the three-faced, eight-armed femaleNamgyelma (Vijaya). In her green manifestation Drolma sits in a half Lotus position on a Lotus flower.
In her white manifestation she sits in a the full Lotusposition and has seven Eyes, including ones on her forehead, both palms, and both soles of her feet.
Tibetan Protector Deities
Guardian King Dhritarastra Chokyoing (Lokpalas) are the Four Guardian Kings. Often found at the entrance hallway ofMonasteries and believed to be Mongolian in origin, they protect the four cardinal directions. The eastern king is white and carries a lute. The southern king is blue and carries a sword.
The western king is red and carries a thunderbolt. The northernking is yellow and carries a banner of victory and a jewel-spitting mongoose. He is regarded as the God of Wealth and is depicted riding a Snow Lion.
Dorje Jigje (Yamantaka) is the most well-known protector of the Yellow Hat sect. Known as the destroyer of Yama, the Lord ofDeath, he is a blue, beastly-looking creature with eight heads, one of which is the head of a bull, and strings of skulls around his waist and neck. He holds a flaying knife and a skull cup in his eight to 36 arms.
With his 16 feet he stomps on eight Hindu Gods, eight mammals and eight birds. Dorje Jigje punishes Evil people to a Life in Hell, helps guide good peopleto a better Rebirth and crushes earthly passions that block Enlightenment. Yamanataka is so horrible that no one should look at his image, especially women. Statues of him are often covered.
Yamantaka Nagpo Chenpo (Mahakala) is wrathful Tantric God and a manifestation of Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara).
Associated with the Hindu God Shiva, he is blue and has fanged teeth, a crown fo skulls, and carries a trident and skull cup. He comes in various forms, with two to six arms and is regarded as the protector of tents by nomads. Nangpo Chenpo means the Great Black One .
Tamdrin (Hahagriva) is another wrathful manifestation of Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara). Associated with the Hindu God Vishnu, he is red with a white face on the right and green gace on the left and has a Horse’s head in his Hair, a crown of skulls, a tiger skin around his waist and a garland of 52 chopped off heads.
On his back are the wings of Garuda. In his six hands are a Lotus, club sword, skull cup, snare and ax. Under his four legs a sun disc and corpses. Tandrin in red and Dorje in blue often serve as guardian Gods at the entrance of temples.
More Tibetan Buddhist Protector Deities
Mahakala Chan Dorje (Vajrapani) is the wrathful Bodhisattva of Energy. He is blue with a tiger skin around his waist and snake around his neck. In his right hand is athunderbolt, the Symbol of the Tantric Faith. Chan Dorje means “thunderbolt in hand.”
Demchok (Chakrasamvara) is a meditational Deity with a blue Body, 12 arms, four faces, and a crescent moon in his topnot. In his hands are a thunderbolt, a Bell, a elephant skin, an axe, a hooked knife, a trident, a skull, a hand drum, a skull cup, a lasso and head of Brahma. He wears a tiger skin and has a garland with 52 severed heads around his neck.
Palden Lhamo (Shri Devi) is the guardian of Lhasa, the Dalai Lama an the Yellow Hat sect. An angry manifestation of Tara The female counterpart of Nagpo Chenpo (Mahakala), she is blue, wears tiger skin and human skin Clothes and has earrings made of a snake and a lion and carries a skull cup full of blood in her left hand and a club in her right hand. A moon is in her Hair; the sun is her stomach; and a corpse is in her mouth.
Buddhist Wheel of Life
The walls or entrances of Buddhist Monasteries and pagodas are often decorated with "Wheels of Life," paintings representing principals of Buddhism.
They are complex, image-filled paintings that aim to show viewers how Desire imprisons us in a World of Suffering and Rebirth and that the Mind is only a Delusion.
The three cardinal sins—passion and Delusion (represented by a cock), hatred (a snake), and Greed and stupidity (a pig)—are often situated at the center of theWheel. The Wheel is turned by Yama, the Lord of Death, who represents the limitations of existence. At the bottom of the Wheel are hot and cold hells and a scale used to measure Good and bad Karma one has accumulated in one’s lifetime.
In the ring outside the center are the 8 or 12 Karma formations, which contain the victims of bad Karma (black background) on the left and the beneficiaries of goodKarma (white background) on the right. In the next ring are the six spheres of existence; then the twelve links in the chain of causation, culminating in the search for Truth; and finally in the outer most ring are symbols depicting Impermanence or Death.
The six spheres of existence are;
1) the realm of the Gods, a transitory place where Happiness rises above Suffering;
2) the realm of the Asuras (jealous Gods), where creatures of all sorts fight over fruit on the wishing tree and have to be reminded by Buddha to stay on the Path;
3) the realm of the Pretas (the Hungry ghosts), the home of grotesque figures who have given into Greed and can’t eat because their throats are too narrow;
4) the hells, where creatures with cold hearts and Anger livein misery;
5) the realm of the Animals, a place of Ignorance, lethargy and apathy; and
6) the realm of the humans, characterized by birth, old age, disease, sicknessand Death.
The twelve links in the chain of causation features:
1) a blind woman (symbolizing Ignorance);
2) a potter (Unconscious of will); 3) a monkey (Consciousness);
4) men in a boat (self-Consciousness);
5) house (the five senses);
6) lovers (Attachment);
7) a man with an arrow in his Eye (Feeling);
8) people drinking (Desire);
9) a figure grasping fruit from a tree (Greed);
10) pregnancy (birth); and
11) a man with a corpse (Death).
The Wheel of law or the Wheel of Dharma represents Dharma, the cosmos and the concept of Karma. The central Wheel is symbolic of Buddha’s teachings which set theWheel of Dharma in motion.
Most works of Buddhist Art have no signature or other identifying mark.
Robert Beer, an artist and expert on Tibetan painting, told a Thai newspaper, “If you lose the need for individual expression, you’ll become more open to atradition itself.
So it’s more a process of evolving, and it’s very humbling in a sense because you lose your self importance of being a famous artist...so that everyone is essentially becoming part of the tradition itself, losing that need to become an artist, to understand, to be a personality.”
Beer also said, “As you work on a drawing, you would think, ‘Why is she wearing this? Then through that you begin to understand Buddhist concepts because they are encapsulated in the images—why the Deities have six arms, four arms, eight arms.”
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