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The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet: 
Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection

The Collector

I have been asked by the learned authors of this catalogue to write a few words to serve as a preface to their scholarly work and as an explanation of the 'raison d'etre' of the Nyingjei Lam Collection or, to put it simply, to explain what it was that first prompted a Roman Catholic of Irish-American origin who has spent most of his life living among the Chinese to begin collecting 'Tibetan Buddhist and related art'.

As those familiar with theTibetan language know, 'Nyingjei Lam' means 'the Path of Compassion' or 'the Compassionate Path'. Looking back twenty years ago to when I began to form the Nyingjei Lam Collection, I realize that it was a combination of things that drew me towards Tibetan Buddhist and related art. The first and perhaps the most compelling of these was the compassionate smiles that radiated from the faces of many of the statues of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, saints and lamas that I saw. To me, these were not foolish, empty smiles, but rather smiles that reflected an inner freedom, peace and joy, while also bringing peace and joy to the hearts and minds of their beholders.

In my childhood I had seen such smiles of ecstasy on the faces of the statues and paintings of Jesus, our Blessed Lady, the angels and the saints and I learnt that the central message of Christianity is love, an unselfish, all-encompassing love, an unconditional giving of oneself to God and one's fellow-beings that appears foolish to many, but which in reality brings a freedom, joy and wealth of spirit that no material objects could possibly bring. Prompted by the smiles on the faces of the Tibetan Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, saints and lamas, I read all that I could about Buddhism and especially Tibetan Buddhism. Soon I discovered that just as in Christianity, in Buddhism the source, the starting point, the path to true freedom and happiness is love, in this case a love called 'compassion' which is defined as an active striving to free all beings, including ourselves, from suffering. It is this path of compassion that leads to true happiness and enlightenment. Moreover, as in the case of St Francis of Assisi, this love or compassion is to be directed not only towards our fellow human beings, but also to every sentient being, no matter how small or insignificant it might appear.

Perhaps the second thing which drew me towards Tibetan Buddhist and related art was an ever-increasing interest in the Tibetan people themselves and a sympathy with their plight, a plight not unlike that of my ancestors, the Irish. For both peoples, religion permeates daily life and brings a strength, joy and solace known only to those who truly share their faith. Both are also a gregarious people, much given to storytelling, singing and dancing, and a drop or two of spirits from time to time. Both, too, are heirs and heiresses of a brilliant culture, with a vast literature and music of its own. For the majority of the Irish, unfortunately, much was lost when the language of their ancestors ceased to be their language of daily communication. Let us hope that the same sad fate never befalls the Tibetans.

I should like to dedicate this book firstly to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Hope, the Guide and Succour of the Tibetan People; secondly, to India, Tibet's greatest, most generous and most enduring friend who not only in ancient times shared with her northerly neighbour her blessed wisdom and path of compassion, but who also, in more recent times, though herself heavily burdened, opened wide her loving arms to welcome and embrace the thousands upon thousands of destitute Tibetan refugees who came seeking a home in exile where they could preserve their faith and culture intact and pass it on to future generations; and thirdly, to Dr Pratapaditya Pal, who, through his many scholarly yet very readable works on Tibetan and related Buddhist art, was my earliest and foremost teacher and who has done more than any living person to make Tibetan art known to the modern world.

Many people have helped in the formation of the Nyingjei Lam Collection and in the preparations for the present exhibition, I should especially like to thank Anna Maria Rossi, a truly warm-hearted and remarkable woman without whose generous and unselfish efforts this exhibition would never have been possible. I should also like to thank Fabio Rossi for his many efforts on behalf of the Nyingjei Lam Collection and David Weldon and Jane Casey Singer for choosing the items to be exhibited and for writing such a wonderful catalogue to accompany the exhibition.

I am also extremely grateful to Dr Andrew Topsfield of the Ashmolean Museum for his great help and encouragement, I regard it as a singular honour that the Nyingjei Lam Collection is being exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, one of the most ancient and venerable universities in Christendom.

I should also like to thank George Ortiz, a humanist, and a distinguished collector and lover of antiquities, who has given good advice and help and who lovingly spent several long days, together with David Weldon, giving the contents of the Nyingjei Lam Collection a 'good dusting' after their arrival at Oxford.

This collection could not have been formed in its present state had it not been for the frequent and timely financial help given me by the late Wang Jui Chin. I shall never forget his kindness and I deeply regret that he passed away before this catalogue could be completed.

No words are adequate to express the thanks that I owe to Simon Lee and Eva Chan, the unofficial 'curators' of the Collection, both of whom have over the years done all in their power to help me in my collecting endeavours.

I should also like to thank the many Tibetans who have extended their friendship to me and have helped me in many ways over the years. I should especially like to thank my Tibetan teacher, Sonam Palden, and Lithang Phulu, my mentor in all things pertaining to Tibet and Tibetan art, and his son Thupten for his constant advice and help. For the wonderful Tibetan translation of parts of this catalogue, I owe a great debt of gratitude to Choephel Thupten and theVenerable Geshe Lhakdor.

Having lived for the greater part of my life among the Chinese people and having experienced their warmth, kindness and generosity, and having also experienced the same qualities among my Tibetan friends, I pray that the hopes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people for a lasting and just peace between the Chinese and Tibetans will be realised in the not too distant future.

Finally, I sincerely hope that those who come to view the Nyingjei Lam Collection will not regard the objects herein as mere metal, wooden or stone artifacts, but will rather see in each a tangible manifestation of the religious spirit of the Tibetan people and of the quality that they most cherish, compassion.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer | Exhibitions

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