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Arnold Lieberman

4. Thangka of Vajradhara
16th c.
Distemper on prepared fabric, pigments, gesso, gold paint
28 x 23.15 inches (image only), 38.75 x 32 (frame size)
Thangka of Vajradhara
Detail: Thangka of Vajradhara, center detail

For the newer, or Sarma, traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Vajradhara, “Bearer of the Adamantine Scepter”, is the name for the primordial level Adi-Buddha, the source from which all else flows . Although in essence this deity exists beyond dualistic classifications, Vajradhara is usually depicted as masculine, and is sometimes shown in unison with his feminine aspect. As the Buddha of the most transcendent, dharma kaya level of reality, his Mind is unknowable except to those who attain complete enlightenment, yet he personifies the true nature of all sentient beings .

These deeply esoteric concepts are made accessible to practitioners through the iconography of Vajradhara, which radiates the promise of irreversible liberation from confused experience. Holding a vajra in his right hand and a ghanta in his left, his arms are crossed in front of his chest, symbolizing the union of compassion and wisdom. He is crowned and seated on a lotus and lion throne, flanked by two attendants, and surrounded by multiple Buddha emanations, the bodhisattvas Amitayus and Chenrezig, a Karmapa and a Sharmapa, and a lineage holder.

Ornate detailing combined with the dark, intense color palette of this painting, coveys the theme of great wealth and richness associated with the heavenly realms of Buddhist cosmology. It also features stylistic details specific to the time period, such as gesso-gold embellishment on his halo and cushion, and a rainbow arch above his throne. The painting is in excellent condition for its age. (Marguerite Mott)

Works cited:
1. John Lowry, Tibetan Art (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1973), 13.
2. John C. Huntington and Dina Bangdel, The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art (Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2003), 88.

Detail: Thangka of Vajradhara, side detail
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