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The Albuquerque Museum
Tibet: Tradition and Change

A portion of the following is excerpted from the exhibition catalogue introduction authored by Dr. Pratapaditya Pal.

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A major exhibition of Tibetan art has been organized by The Albuquerque Museum in association with Asian scholar, art historian and Getty Fellow Pratapaditya Pal. The exhibition will open in Albuquerque October 18, 1997 and run through May 24, 1998.

Buddha Sakyamuni
Western Tibet, ca. 1000
The objects assembled in this exhibition were all inspired by Buddhism, which is today a world religion based on the teachings of Buddha Sakayamuni (ca. 560-480 B.C.E). His teachings aimed to suggest ways to reduce suffering and to ultimately escape the bondage of the cycle of rebirth. By the time Buddhism was introduced officially into Tibet in the seventh century, it had become a complex religion with many schools of teaching, a pantheon of gods, and elaborate rituals. Along with the Buddhist religion the Tibetans also adopted from the Indian Brahmi a system of writing that facilitated the copying of Sanskrit texts and treatises.

Unlike Buddhists in other countries, Tibetans are remarkably eclectic and do not deny the validity of any school. Although they primarily follow the Vajrayana (also known as Mantrayana and Tantrayana) form of Buddhism, their acceptance of the early form of the religion is implicit in the strictly celibate monastic system imposed by the great reformist monk-teacher Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) and the importance given to the group of sixteen arhats and to moralistic stories of previous births of the Buddha known as jataka and avadana.

Portrait of Wangchuk Dorje,
the 9th Karmapa
Artist: Karma Rinchen
Eastern Tibet (Kham), 1598
Although the idea of the guide teacher, or guru, is of Indian origin, and is of enormous importance in Hinduism and Jainism as well, it manifested in Tibet in unique ways. Almost every painting and applique in this exhibition includes one or more representations of monks, known as lamas, and mystics. Some paintings consist mostly of monks of a particular lineage responsible for transmitting a particular teaching. They share the surface of the work with gods and goddesses and we are left with no doubt that they have attained divine status. This idea of lineage, whereby a teaching is passed from one generation to the next (guru- parampara in Sanskrit), although not unknown in other cultures, is given extraordinary significance in Tibet. In no other Buddhist artistic tradition is the presence of the monk so ubiquitous as it is in the Tibetan. Nowhere else is the lama so central to both the temporal and spiritual life of a nation as in Tibet. In no other society did every family so willingly and proudly send a son or a daughter to take the monastic vow. Indeed, just as the landscape of Tibet is dominated by monastic rather than monarchical or militaristic architecture, so also is Tibetan society distinguished not by its kings and generals but by its great monk-teachers.

Descent of the Buddha Flying Mahasiddha Female Devotee
Descent of the Buddha
Eastern Tibet (Kham), 19th century
A Flying Mahasiddha
Eastern Tibet (Kham), 18th century
Female Devotee
Southern Tibet, 15th century

Among the many traditions of Buddhist art the three areas where the Tibetans have made the most significant contributions are mandalas, images of angry deities, and portraiture.
mandala of Sarvavid Vairocana
Mandala of Sarvavid Vairochana
South Central Tibet, early 14th century
Much has been written about mandalas and about the forms of terrifying deities, both of which figure prominently in Tibetan religion. The Tibetans also appear to have developed a special skill in transforming these extremely complex images into art with extraordinary finesse and expressiveness.

Although the mandala has many layers of meanings, primarily it is a symbolic mansion or citadel for the gods. It is a temporary home, to where the deity descends when invoked by the adept of the officiant. It is a strictly symmetrical, geometrical form consisting chiefly of circles and squares, and uses the four primary colors: white, yellow, green, and red. And yet, every mandala is different formally, as can be seen even from the few examples selected for this exhibition.

seated Mahakala
Mahakala, the Protector of the Faith
South Central Tibet, 13th century
No less demanding are the forms of the terrifying or angry deities, both male and female. Although some of them were creations of Indian mystics, many are of local origin. At one level they are protective divinities who act as guardians of the faith, the monastery, and the individual. At another they are embodiments of the energy that pervades nature. Tibetans have always been conscious of their hostile and harsh terrain, consisting of the world's most formidable mountains, enormous deserts, and vast lakes, all swept by piercing, howling winds. Such a physical environment instills an instinctive respect for nature; veneration is only one step away.

On yet another level the wrathful deities are the destroyers of the terrors that lurk in the human mind, the defilements and poisons. Thus, they not only provide protection from external dangers, but also from internal demons.

Vairocana Amitayus Manjushri
Transcendental Buddha Mahavairochana
Central Tibet, 12th century
Transcendental Buddha Amitayus
Central Tibet, 14th century
Bodhisattva Manjusri
Central Tibet, ca. 1300
Nagaraja caitya gau box
A Serpent Deity
Central Tibet (Densatil Monastery), 14th century
A Reliquary in the Form of a Stupa
Central Tibet, 13th century
Charm Box
Tibet, 19th�20th century

It will not be possible to discuss the fascinating subject of portraiture at length here but the selection of a large group of "images" of historical figures in this exhibition should not only demonstrate the enormous variety of such representations but should also kindle interest in others. Even though the monks are not depicted with obvious signs of divinity, certainly their gestures, attributes, and nimbuses emphasize the fact that they are "emanations" of specific deities, or have attained "Buddhahood."

Along with the images and mandalas, a great variety of objects and implements are used in the complex rituals performed in Vajrayana Buddhism. The exhibition includes a selection of the most important of such implements.

A major publication will accompany the exhibition, illustrating each of the objects and including essays by Dr. Pal, Dr. Robert Thurman, Robert Sachs, Dr. Thubten Norbu, brother of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Tashi Woser, who will relate the oral histories of Tibetans who have relocated to New Mexico.

flint pouch
Flint Purse
Tibet, 18th century

This exhibition is presented admission-free by the City of Albuquerque, through The Albuquerque Museum, a Division of the Department of Cultural and Recreational Services. The Albuquerque Museum is located at 2000 Mountain Road NW near Old Town. Museum admission is free and tours may be arranged by calling (505) 243-7255. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays and City holidays. The Albuquerque Museum is accessible to persons with disabilities. If you require special forms of assistance to enjoy Museum activities or to obtain this information in an alternative format, please contact the office at least five business days in advance at (505) 243-7255 (voice) or (505) 764-6556 (TTY).

Asian Arts | Exhibitions | Contact Albuquerque Museum