The red and 24kt gold zigzag kyungbur adorning the frame is the transition of passion into compassion and the resultant Buddha like purity of actions and thoughts. The 24kt gold continuous ‘T’-wave just under the top edge of the of the altar is also called the thunder wave. This is the thunder of the vajra (diamond scepter, dorje in Tibetan), symbolizing skilful means, compassion, samsara. This compassion is an active quality rather than mere sympathetic feelings not transformed into action. Compassion refers to action that is exactly consonant with whatever is occurring and that is not self-referential.
The tiger is a symbol of strength, military prowess. Tantric Buddhism offers a more subtle meaning. Here, the tiger skin represents the transmutation of anger into wisdom & insight, also offering protection to the meditator from outside harm or spiritual interference. Consequently, tiger skins were favored as meditational mats for Tantric sages. Tigers were indigenous to eastern Tibet, where the Sange (Wutun in Chinese) monastery is located. Tiger icons in Tibetan Buddhism are more prevalent in eastern Tibet & appear on more furniture & rugs here than elsewhere in Tibet. Of particular note on this cabinet is the leopard skin under the Cintamani at the bottom of the doors. This leopard completes the deity arrangement: the tiger symbolizes the wrathful male deities and leopard skins by their female consorts. Here the symbolism represents freedom from anger, the tiger skin symbolizing the transmutation of 'vajra-anger' of the wrathful deity. This male-female arrangement is complimented by the yin-yang on the tiger's head in black and white. The yin-yang, shaped like spiraled tear drops, constitute a circle that is divided in two by an S. The dot, not represented on this tiger, in the middle of each half symbolizes that each element at its highest point carries within itself the seed of its polar opposite, that it can change and cross over into the other. Yin is the female, the passive, the receptive, the dark and the soft. Yang is the masculine, the active, the light and the stern. The joining of the two created from the One is the source of creative energy in the Universe.
On the cabinet, below the tiger is an offering of fine cloth, and red coral; the fine cloths are draped over a leopard and tiger skin (right side only) with elephant tusks. Cintamani is stacked in a depiction of six jewels with the top jewel being Chakravartin's Precious eight-faceted jewel. The elephant tusks represent the entire elephant and in this case Chakravartin's Precious elephant. The term Chakravartin, or Wheel Turner in Hinduism refers to an ideal ruler, but in Buddhism, Chakravartin has come to mean a Buddha whose all-encompassing teachings are universally true. Chakravartin has an army of 4 divisions, infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots. Chakravartin is the lineage of 25 Kulika kings or enlightened monarchs, the 25th of which will finally defeat the "non-believers." The Precious Elephant is a symbol of the strength of the mind in Buddhism. Exhibiting noble gentleness, the precious elephant serves as a symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the path. Specifically, it embodies the boundless powers of the Buddha, which are miraculous aspiration, effort, intention, and analysis. Elephant tusks are sometimes depicted and are symbolic of the whole elephant. The Eight-faceted jewel, as in having eight magical properties: it cools when the days are hot, warms when the days are cold, illuminates the darkness of night, causes rain to fall or a spring to appear when one is thirsty, it brings to fruition what ever the bearer desires, it heals emotional afflictions, and cures all of the diseases of those who are in its range of its light and lastly prevents untimely death as in fathers passing on before sons.
The two drawers below the tigers have a Trefoil in the center with Durva grass radiating out taking the shape of an eye. The trefoil is a cloud design that signifies the 3 Cintamani as the body, speech and mind of Buddha that the practitioner will possess. Grass, in sanskrit, Durva, is a symbol for long (or Longer) life and is used in life-enriching rituals. Grass, being highly resilient, is believed to be immortal and so proclaims the end of samsara, the successive death and rebirth of all beings.
The panels flanking the doors have a cornucopia of Tibetan Buddhist symbols; from the top down: an Auspicious conch horn surrounded by Kusha grass; an Auspicious Parasol that is over and in conjunction with the Auspicious Victory Banner; the Auspicious Dharma wheel which is sitting on top of a lotus blossom; underneath is subtle energy radiating out from the stem of the lotus. Finally there is Durva grass that seems to be pointing to Mahamudra Mists flanking more Kusha grass. The right spiraling conch shell (echoing the celestial movement of the sun, moon and stars) is one of the oldest icons in Buddhism. It is made by nature and not man. A conch horn sounds in all directions, as do the teachings of the Buddha. Consequently, the conch is seen as a vehicle fearlessly proclaiming the truth of the dharma in all directions. It is also seen as an emblem of power and authority and is thought to banish evil. The white conch shell was presented to Shakyamuni by the great sky god Indra. The parasol and the shade it casts symbolize wisdom. Its hanging skirt indicates compassion, so the parasol becomes a symbol of protection from the painful heat of the suffering humans incur from the spiritual poisons of desire, hate, greed and ignorance. The Victory banner is an early Buddhist motif signifying the enlightenment of the Buddha and the triumph of knowledge over ignorance. This symbol also is used to recall the Buddha’s triumph over his temptress, Mara. It further announces that all spiritual obstacles have been overcome and good fortune has arrived. Occasionally, an 8- sided parasol is seen. This element refers to the eightfold path to enlightenment. The Victory banner in Tibetan Buddhism symbolizes the 11 methods for overcoming these defilements. The development of knowledge, wisdom, compassion, meditation, and ethical vows; taking refuge in the Buddha; abandoning false views; generating spiritual goals, skilful means and selflessness; and the unity of the 3 samadhis: emptiness~formlessness~& desirelessness. The Dharma Wheel, Sanskrit chakra ~ Tibetan `khor lo, in three parts, the wheel exists as a hub, 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 to be perfect and complete, like the teachings of the Buddha. The lotus flower is another 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 subtle energy radiating from the lotus stem is a result of the practitioner's positive movement toward enlightenment following the compassionate way; it represents the practitioner's thoughtful actions and effects on the cosmos and other beings.
The bottom panels are the Mahamudra Mists; the billowing clouds or mist are Mahamudra: the union of compassion and wisdom -- the ultimate realization of one’s true nature. They are represented as the transformation of our vices into the 4 powers of regret, vow, reliance, and remedy, so the practitioner will realize purification and enlightenment. This is also the basic meaning of the "Heart Sutra."