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Visual arts of Tibetan culture

By Source:China Tibet News 2015-10-21

Tibetan art is deeply religious in nature, a form of sacred art. It spreads over a wide range of paintings, frescos, statues, ritual objects, coins, ornaments and furniture.

Mahayana Buddhist influence As Mahayana Buddhism emerged as a separate school in the 4th century BC 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. A common bodhisattva depicted in Tibetan art is the Chenrezig deity (Avalokitesvara), often portrayed as a four or a thousand-armed saint with an eye in the middle of each hand, representing the all-seeing compassionate one who hears our requests. The Dalai Lama is believed to be his reincarnation.

Tantric influence Most of the typical Tibetan Buddhist art can be seen as part of the practice of tantra. 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.

Bön influence 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.

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