This is a most colorful cabinet, it had a dual use as an altar and also as a storage cabinet for relics (articles belonging to past great teachers) and teaching materials in the prayer hall. The frame on the upper part has red and blue Lotus blossoms. The lotus flower is a natural symbol and represents earth. Tibetan Buddhist mystics imagined the earth floating like a lotus flower on the oceans of the universe. The heart of the flower is the cosmic mountain, the axis of the universe. The generally acknowledged meaning of the lotus flower is purity of mind or divine creation. From the muck of a pond, where the roots of the lotus reside, an immaculate white flower emerges to rest on the surface of the water as a metaphor for the harmonious unfolding of spirituality. The lower frame has Chrysanthemum blossoms. The chrysanthemum symbolizes autumn & the gathering of the harvest. In this case, it is a metaphor for achieving the goal of enlightenment & its accompanying peace. The blue represents compassion. Red is the transmutation of passion into compassion
The lower two doors have Avalokiteshvara (in Tibetan Chenresi) holding a stemmed lotus flower in the utpala depiction. His free hand is in the Gesture of Charity (Varada). Chenresi is the Buddha of Infinite Compassion & is the embodiment of mercy, instantly available to all who call upon him with their mind. The lotus in the utpala stage is a symbol of spiritual development or unfolding.
The upper-doors again have Avalokiteshvara, this time sitting in the sporting posture (Lalitasana) with an offering bowl filled with Bilva, also known as the Bengal quince, with stylized peony, indicative of a deity's aura, radiating out in the top layer. Medicinally, Bilva is a potent astringent & highly regarded for its purifying qualities in traditional Indian folk medicine. The unripe interior of the fruit, especially when made into a jam, is a cure for diarrhea & dysentery. It is regarded as one of the most sacred fruits & serves as one of the main offering fruits. In this offering is the Buddha Moghasiddhi, which is motivation or will as the faculty of taste symbolized by the fruit. His free hand again is in the Gesture of Charity (Varada) as in the lower doors. In both depictions, upper & lower he is wearing the 5-pointed crown, which symbolizes the Five Wisdoms of Enlightenment:
1) The Wisdom of the Similar
2) The Wisdom of the Alike
3) The Wisdom of the Different
4) The Wisdom of the Complete
5) The Wisdom of the All-encompassing or Transcendental
Of the three drawers at the bottom, the outside two are painted using the same color scheme, while the center one is different. The center drawer has the 8-spoked Dharma wheel with stylized grass radiating from it. The Dharma wheel has three parts: hub, spokes, & rim. The hub represents the center of the world, & the 8 spokes denote the 8 paths to enlightenment. These 8 steps work together, not separately. 1. Right understanding 2. Right attitude 3. Right speech 4. Right action 5. Right work 6. Right effort 7. Right mindfulness 8. Right meditation. The rim represents the attribute of limitation. All are contained within a circle, which is perceived as perfection & completeness, like the teachings of the Buddha. Because grass is highly resilient, it is believed to be immortal. Therefore, it proclaims the end of samsara, the successive death & rebirth of all beings. It usually takes a long time to overcome samsara, & a longer life span will allow greater progress in moving towards enlightenment within a given cycle. the left and right drawers have a 4 petaled flower representing the 4 Noble truths, the middle way and the first teaching of Buddha. 1. Life is suffering. 2. Ignorance is the cause of suffering. 3. The cessation of suffering is the goal of life because it transcends pains and pleasure. 4. The way to the cessation of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which aligns with the eight spokes of the Dharma Wheel.
The upper-panels have an ornate & regal offering bowl. Inside the offering bowl is a stone animal with a stream of water pouring out. This rock formation with water emanating from the mouth symbolizes the 4 great rivers, the Sutlej, Indus, Brahmaputra & the Karnali, all of which originate in the Mt. Kailash area. The sources of these rivers were believed to be springs issuing from rock formations in the likeness of the heads of an elephant, lion, horse & peacock respectively. When Atisha (982-1054), author of Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment, came to Tibet, he was taken by the purity of the water & allowed it could be used as an offering. Tibet is the only region that has water as a sacred offering. Pure water is said to possess eight qualities: clear, cool, odorless, soothing, healing, delicious, light, & soft. The stone figure spouting water is surrounded by lotus in the budding stage, representing the past, & it would follow that the mastiffs of the past used for guards are no longer needed. The lower-panels also have beautiful lute. In Tibet, the lute is known as pi wang, in Sanskrit the vina. In Tibetan art, the lute is held by such deities as Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge & wisdom; Shabdavajra, the offering goddess of sound; Dhritarashtra, the white guardian king of the east; Vinadhara, the offering goddess of music; & the gandharvas, or celestial musicians. The end of the lute's neck has makara-tail scrolling, typical of Tibetan lutes. The sound box is covered with an animal skin. This is a sound-offering depiction.