__MAIN_TEXT__
feature-image

Page 1

Michael Henss | BUDDHIST RITUAL ART OF TIBET

Tibetan Buddhist art is not only rich in figural icons but also extremely diverse in its symbols and ritual objects. This first systema c review is an abundantly illustrated reference book on Tibetan ritual art that aids our understanding of its dierent types and forms, its sacred meanings and ceremonial func ons. Over eighteen chapters, several hundred dierent implements are documented in detail, in many cases for the first me and o en in their various styles and iconographic forms: altar utensils and amulets, masks and mirrors, magic daggers and mandalas, torma sculptures and prayer objects, vajras and vo ve tablets, sacrificial vessels and oracle crowns, stupas and spirit traps, ritual vases, tex les, furniture, and symbolic emblems. These are accompanied by many historical and modern text sources, as well as rare oral material from high-ranking Tibetan masters. This long-awaited handbook is a must-have for all those with a profound interest in Buddhist art and religion.

ISBN 978-3-89790-567-2

9 783897 905672

Michael Henss

BUDDHIST RITUAL ART OF TIBET

A Handbook on Ceremonial Objects and Ritual Furnishings in the Tibetan Temple


Introduction

Introduction When completing my Cultural Monuments of Tibet (2014), which focuses primarily on the art and architecture, the history and the religious characteristics, of the major monasteries in Tibet (Tibet Autonomous Region), I became increasingly aware that the numerous and highly significant non-figural ritual inventories and temple furnishings could not, with only a few exceptions, be included. So I began, more and more systematically, collecting illustrations, visual and textual records of these only rarely documented and researched ceremonial artefacts, mostly, and often completely, unknown, kept in hidden shrines or in public and private collections, and to identify and classify them into 18 main object groups and around 100 individual implement types and groups according to their function and form, in total around 600 objects.

A great scholarly challenge as well as a great privilege, for which this appreciative author is particularly grateful, has been the selection of over a hundred masterpieces of great ritualistic, historical and artistic significance from the BODHIMANDA FOUNDATION of Tibetan and esoteric Japanese Buddhist art in the Netherlands. Part of this extraordinary collection, comprising more than a thousand objects, was on display in the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam between 2009 and 2018 (figs. 1–3). Most of the entries documented in this book are, with the generous permission of this Foundation, presented here for the first time. Bodhimanda, “the place of awakening”, refers with its Sanskrit name to the Mahābodhi temple in Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment, was established by a Dutch family with a specific interest in preserving,

Fig. 2 Detail of fig. 1. The central throne with an around life-size gilt copper statue of a Gelugpa hierarch supposed to be an image of a Dalai Lama holding the characteristic dharmacakra wheel and a metal torma maṇḍala (later additions). On both sides a khakkhara and a khaṭvāṅga, the insignia of a Buddhist monk and of a high-ranking lama respectively. The textile hanging behind the throne-back once used as a canopy, is inscribed at the top border: “This strongly radiating baldaquin of powerful brilliance, a visual field of wisdom (for) the master of personal protection (yi dam) and of the Three Jewels, which dispel all fears of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa when remembering their names, has been offered by dGe legs rGya mtsho. May I and all sentient beings therefore realise both these achievements.”1 Fig. 3 Tantric ritual implements needed by the officiating vajra-master (rdo rje slob dpon) for consecration, empowerment, initiation, and offering. From left to right: hand-drum (Skt. ḍamaru, Ch. XII.5), grain box (nas bzed, Ch. VI.3), vajra sceptre and ghaṇṭā bell (rdo rje, dril bu, Ch. I), skull-cup (Skt. kapāla, Ch. XI.2), three-tiered grain box (gter sgrom, Ch. VI.3), action vase (las kyi bum pa, Ch. VI.1). Missing here is the magic dagger (phur ba, Ch. IX.1). The objects are arranged on a side-table before the actual ceremony by the “offering master” (mchod dpon) begins. The correct ritual arrangement would be, however, from left to right: action vase, grain box, three-tiered grain box, ḍamaru, vajra and ghaṇṭā (metal) amrita kapāla. On an altar, in Tibetan mchod khri (or mchod bshams, mchod stegs), “offering throne”, or lha khri, “throne of the gods”, can be placed the three receptacles of the Buddha, for his body, his speech, and his mind. A separate offering table serves for tormas, ḍamaru, and for the Outer Offerings such as the seven water-bowls, butter lamp, fruits and flowers, libation vessel, and Dharma wheel. Bodhimanda Foundation (V-591, V-621, V-646, V-446, V-621, V-1189, V-619).

3

15

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

15

10.06.20

12:39


15

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

32

10.06.20

12:39


I. Vajra and Ghan.ta . – The Diamond Sceptre and the Bell

16

Fig. 15 Vajra on an engraved dharmadhātu maṇḍala surrounded by oil lamps: from a punitive weapon in ancient India to a powerful Tibetan Buddhist emblem of the indestructible truth of the Dharma and its lightning symbolism. Swayambhū stūpa Kathmandu. Unknown date. Photo Daniel Urech (2018). Fig. 16 Vajra on dharmadhātu maṇḍala at Swayambhū (Svayambhūnātha) stūpa, Kathmandu. Date unknown. Photo Daniel Urech (2018).

33

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

33

10.06.20

12:39


17

Fig. 17 Ceremonial vajra on socle. Gilt copper alloy, with inlaid turquoise stones and corals, l. 57.5 cm, ht. 9.5 cm. China, ca. 18th century. Bodhimanda Foundation (V-289). Fig. 18 Large five-pronged vajra. Gilt copper alloy, l. 38 cm. Tibet, ca. 17th/18th century. Vajras of this size are not ritually handled, but displayed as altar icons for worship and veneration. The prongs are emerging as usually from mythical makara beasts. After Sotheby’s New York 23.3.2000, no. 13.

18

34

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

34

10.06.20

12:39


I. Vajra and Ghan.ta . – The Diamond Sceptre and the Bell

Historical note

The origins of the Tibetan vajra can be traced back to Vedic India of the 2nd millennium BC, when the term “vajra” is mentioned in the Rigveda as the mythical weapon of Indra, the all-powerful one and first of the gods. It is, however, unclear (and rather unlikely) whether this weapon was of a similar form to the much later Indo-Tibetan “thunderbolt”. Representing universal energy, Indra and his club-formed “vajra” were associated with sun and light, and thus also with fire and thunder both in its enlightening and destructive meaning.7 While the avestic term “vazra” seems to indicate an ancient Indo-Iranian connection and may be even a historico-

geographical bridge between the Indian Buddhist vajra and the Greek keraunos of Zeus,8 the pre-vajra power sceptre existed in concept, although not as a formal prototype of the Tibetan multipronged vajra, as an attribute of the Mahāyāna bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi in Gandharan art of the early centuries AD. Vajras of the open-pronged type can be found at that time in the sculptural art of Sanchi, Nagarjunakonda, Mathura, and Aurangabad, on Kushan coins, in the wallpaintings of Ajanta, and on stone steles of the post-Gupta period.9 Of special interest are some vajras, as mentioned in the approximately contemporary Avatamsaka Sutra, in 6th through 8th century wall-paintings from the Kyzil and Khotan areas, important centres of

early Vajrayāna Buddhism in Central Asia, which depict vajras of a double-conical form, recalling the ancient Indian “Indra” and Gandharan type.10 Open and closed sceptres were common along the Silk Routes, as in the 9thto 11th-century paintings from Dunhuang,11 (fig. 19) or Bezeklik, at that time already of the same classical type as found in later in Nepalese palm-leaf manuscripts12 (fig. 20) or in west Tibetan wall paintings (fig. 21). Although vajras are represented on early Pāla-style sculptures at the principal Buddhist sites in India (Nālandā), inspirations from Central Asia and Kashmir may have also played a significant role for the vajra on its way to Tibet during the Second Diffusion of Buddhism in the 10th/11th centuries. A three-pointed gilt copper vajra (fig. 22) has been attributed to Nalanda, “8th or 9th century”, supposed to have been brought from India to Tibet. A threepronged (including the central axis) flat vajra instead of a three-dimensional five-pronged one is, however, not easy to carve and so to identify in sculptural images. Nevertheless, a ca. 8th-century Hayagriva bronze in the Pritzker Collection (Chicago) and a stone Vajrapāṇi in the New York Metropolitan Museum (whose vajra prong section is not really of the same design) are supposed to support an early Pāla date and provenance. A very rare, probably 7th- or 8thcentury five-pronged vajra excavated in Sirpur, Andra Pradesh, in 2005, is the type of object which might have brought to Central Asian monasteries or even directly to Tibet. A rather rare vajra type usually attributed to Buddhist Yunnan province of the 12th century are miniature finger­vajras ca. 5 cm long13 (fig. 28). Vajras depicted as maṇḍala enclosures on ca. 9th-/10th-century silk paintings from Dunhuang document equivalent metal sceptres used in Tibet’s monarchic

Fig. 19 Wrathful Buddhist deity with vajra, cakra, and sword. Painting on silk, detail. Dunhuang, 8th/9th century. Musée Guimet, Paris. After Giès 1995, vol. 1, 48 – 5.

19

35

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

35

10.06.20

12:39


48

49

Fig. 48 Flaming Three Jewels (Skt. triratna) on a lotus base. Gilt metal repoussé, ht. 20 cm. China (Tibeto-Chinese?), 18th century. Private collection. Fig. 49 Ngawang Trinle Gyatso (Ngag dbang ‘phrin las rgya mtsho, 1678–1739), also known under his later title, as inscribed on the back of the lotus base, bDe chen chos kyi rgyal po, holding a triratna jewel. Gilt copper alloy, ht. 26,3 cm. Tibet, 18th century. The image has been erronously identified as the 4th Dalai Lama since this epithet was associated in the writings of the 5th Dalai Lama with his predecessor, which would be, however, very unusual, like the given number of a former set of images, to use as an obscure name for the Dalai Lama. See also HAR 8079. Zhiguan Museum of Fine Art, Beijing. Photo after Christie’s Hong Kong, 2.12.2015, no. 2914.

Fig. 50 Flaming Jewel. Gilt copper, ht. 23 cm, cast in two parts. China, 18th century. The central pearl above a tripartite lotus and floral design base is engraved with an unidentifiable Chinese-style male figure. Its three sides surrounded by three flaming fire sections symbolise the Buddhist creed: Buddha. Dharma, Saṅgha. Bodhimanda Foundation (V-1157).

62

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

62

10.06.20

12:40


110

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

110

10.06.20

12:43


V. Man.d.alas – A Three-Dimensional Cosmogram

99

Fig. 99 An almost completed Kālacakra sand maṇḍala. Drawing begins at the centre and ends with the outermost vajra and fire walls (here still missing). Leh, Ladakh.

111

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

111

10.06.20

12:43


170

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

158

10.06.20

12:46


IX.

Ritual Magic Weapons

The magic weapons described in this chapter are not everyday ritual objects in Tibetan Buddhism. And those which are preserved, accessible and documented are mostly scattered around as single objects, either no longer ritually used, or their ceremonial function and context no longer known. Worldly weapons as displayed in the protector chapels (mgon khang) have been transformed into magic ritual instruments. Several ritual “weapons” of very similar function and symbolism were produced as a set of five or more individual

objects under the Tibetan-Buddhist minded early Ming emperors in China and given to Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries (figs. 170, 172). In quality and technique they are masterpieces of Tibeto-Chinese metalwork and were copied on a similarly refined level most probably in 15th- and 16th-century eastern Tibetan workshops, as well as during the Qianlong emperor’s reign in the 18th century, while collections made in Tibet with a greater variety of implements are beyond that exquisite court-style production (fig. 171).

172

Fig. 170 Set of six ritual weapon implements consisting of: (second from left) triśūla khaṭvāṅga (ht. 51 cm; Ch. IX.2), (second from right) vajra hammer (Ch. IX.4), (right) paraśu axe (Ch. IX.5), (left) another paraśu with a hooked blade (cf. Ch. IX.6), (centre) ritual sword (Ch. IX.8), and (below) a pāśa vajra noose (Ch. IX.10). Fig. 171 Set of 13 ritual weapon implements including varieties of fig. 170 and other objects related to homa and unidentified rituals. Tibet ca. 19th century. After Orientations, January 1995 (Bodhicitta advertisement). Fig. 172 The same set as fig. 170 in an original case bound with red-dyed leather (without the vajra noose). After Sotheby’s New York 21.9.2007, no. 53.

171

159

BuddhistRitualArt_innen.indd

159

10.06.20

12:46


Michael Henss | BUDDHIST RITUAL ART OF TIBET

Tibetan Buddhist art is not only rich in figural icons but also extremely diverse in its symbols and ritual objects. This first systematic review is an abundantly illustrated reference book on Tibetan ritual art that aids our understanding of its different types and forms, its sacred meanings and ceremonial functions. Over eighteen chapters, several hundred different implements are documented in detail, in many cases for the first time and often in their various styles and iconographic forms: altar utensils and amulets, masks and mirrors, magic daggers and maᚇ�alas, torma sculptures and prayer objects, vajras and votive tablets, sacrificial vessels and oracle crowns, stupas and spirit traps, ritual vases, textiles, furniture, and symbolic emblems. These are accompanied by many historical and modern text sources, as well as rare oral material from high-ranking Tibetan masters. This long-awaited handbook is a must-have for all those with an interest in Buddhist art and religion.

I SBN 978-3-89790-567-2

Michael Henss

BUDDHIST RITUAL ART OF TIBET

A Handbook on Ceremonial Objects and Ritual Furnishings in the Tibetan Temple

9 783897 905672 >

BuddhistRitualArt_Umschlag.indd

1

10.06.20

13:48

Profile for ACC Art Books

Buddhist Ritual Art of Tibet  

Buddhist Ritual Art of Tibet