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 upper panels:
Featuring a most ornate and colorful offering bowl (note that offering bowls have bases and alms bowls do not) full of treasures, both temporal and spiritual: at the top of the bowl is the Auspicious Treasure jar or vase with Durva grass leading to an Ashoka Blossom and Kusha grass. There are two stacks of Cintamani and unusual for Cintamani the top jewel is not Chakravartin's Precious Jewel. Around the interior edge of the bowl are offerings of gold coral with Chakravartin's Precious Elephant (symbolized by the elephant tusks), and Precious King's and Queen's earrings. The bottom corners of the panels have rock cliffs with Kusha grass growing out of them. The treasure vase ~ Sanskrit nidhana kumbha ~ Tibetan gter gy bum pa ~ promises the good fortune of spiritual and material fulfillment, symbolizing the treasure of spiritual wealth. Among those treasures is the jewel of enlightenment. It also extends to the material side and it is characteristic of the deities that symbolize prosperity. The Ashoka, the second of the trinity of holy flowers, sprouts from the holy water-font of the Amitayus, one of the forms in which the Buddha Amitabha appeared (symbolizing the transformation from greed to discriminating wisdom). The sprout materialized from a tear that Buddha Amitabha shed when hearing of the deeds of the great warrior Ashoka that overcame all of his enemies to win freedom for his oppressed people. True spiritual freedom comes from overcoming the sins and lusts that enslave the soul. Ashoka ruled a vast empire 2200 years ago and put his peoples welfare and interests above his own, he supported Buddhism, however he was insistent upon religious tolerance and open dialog. The two grasses, Durva and Kusha have quite different meanings, with Durva being a general term; 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. Specifically; Kusha grass grows to a height of two feet and is used to purify defilements. Those wishing purification sleep in a field or patch of kusha grass for ritual purification. Placed under a pillow at night before initiation, Kusha grass is believed to produce clear dreams; it is also used to enhance the clarity of visualization and meditation. Kusha is the grass of choice for the manufacture of sacred meditation mats.
Cintamani are wish-granting jewels and additionally represent wisdom. When depicted in sets of 3, they represent the body, speech and mind of Buddha such as the practitioner may possess. Cintamani are also referred to as the “Thinking Jewel” and symbolize the importance of teaching and as well as the enlightened mind.
The Chakravartin, or Wheel Turner;
The term 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." He has 7 precious possessions, three of which are featured on this one panel: 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 Precious King's or Minister's heavy earrings are taken as a symbol of comprehension of the Buddha’s teachings. The weight of the earrings would have caused the wearers earlobes to elongate. The long earlobes of the Buddha are a symbol of his detachment from all things earthly. Like the Buddha, the King represents a wealth of faith, morality, honesty, modesty, learning, renunciation, and wisdom. The King is also referred to as the Precious minister. His intelligence is razor-sharp, with a great ability for patience and listening. He desires to do only good works to promote the Dharma, to protect and benefit all beings. The Precious Queen's heavy earrings are taken as a symbol of comprehension of the Buddha’s teachings. The weight of the earrings would have caused the wearers earlobes to elongate. The long earlobes of the Buddha are a symbol of her detachment from all things earthly. The Queen speaks the truth, using no frivolous words and holding no false vices.
The rock/cliff formations at the corners represents the syllable "E" which appears in the opening stanza of early Buddhist scriptures, ("'thus,' I have heard"). The blue, red and green cliffs represent the unmoving nature of the mind when enlightenment has been attained. The tops of these cliffs have Kusha grass growing out of them.
The upper doors:
There are at least two versions of the compatible brothers parable, one has 3 brothers and another has 4. The 4 brother story concerns an elephant, a monkey, a hare and a partridge standing on each other's back. One version of the story relates to Shariputra, one of Buddha's oldest disciples, who was unable to find lodging in the village of Vaisali. The younger disciples had all hurried to the town and secured all available lodgings. When Buddha found out that Shariputra had spent the night without shelter beneath a tree, he told the following parable in response to the younger disciples self-cherishing attitude. "Once, beneath a great banyan tree in the Himalayan foothills, there lived 4 friends, a partridge, a hare, a monkey and an elephant. Their mutual respect had diminished, and in order to determine who was the most senior, they began discussing the age of the banyan tree. The elephant first related how, when he was but a baby, the banyan tree was but a small bush. The monkey then related how, in his infancy, the tree was merely a shrub. The hare related how he had seen it as a leafless sapling. Last, the partridge spoke, telling how he had once swallowed the original seed and from his droppings this mighty tree had sprouted. The partridge then was acclaimed the eldest and most honored. Once again, harmony was attained in the kingdom." Buddha then decreed that henceforth age would confer priority within the sangha.
The middle panels:
Featuring rock cliffs over rainbows, flanked by kusha grass with lotus buds, plenty of durva grass, an Ashoka blossom, all surrounded by Mahamudra Mists. The rainbow is eternity’s expression of momentary delight. This is Auspicious and takes on a supernatural meaning: the demise of a great teacher and his rebirth. Rainbows materialize and dissolve into nothingness, and in Tibetan tradition, it is the “Body of Light” or the “Rainbow Body” and refers to a great master who has attained Mahamudra and no longer perceives the world as a conceptual concrete dimension; rather, he now permeates space as mist, also known as the ultimate form of reality. The self is now permeating space with luminescence transparency, with nothing solid or any sharp lines of separation. 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." The lotus is an important Buddhist motif. Images of the Buddha and other important persons often are shown seated on a lotus throne. The growth of the lotus, with its roots in mud, growing through water, and emerging as a wonderful plant above the water's surface, is seen as an analogy of the soul’s path from the mud of materialism to the purity of enlightenment. The 3 stages of the lotus, bud, utpala (mid-blossom) and the full blossoming throne represent the past present and future respectively.
The lower doors:
Chakravartin's Precious Horse adorn these doors, it is also called the wind horse and prayer horse. The Precious Horse is able to travel among the clouds and mirrors the Buddha's abandonment of, or "rising above," the cares of worldly existence. The horse is Chakravartin's riding horse, which is able to circumnavigate the globe 3 times in one day and symbolizes mobility and speed. The Cintamani on the horse's back is a magical jewel with the power to grant wishes, able to fulfill any and all desires, also called the thinking jewel. Jewels in Buddhism are analogous with the importance of teaching, representing also the mind that has attained enlightenment.The top jewel of the Cintamani on the Horse's back is Chakravartin's Precious 8-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 Eternal, or Infinite, Knot (Sanskrit, "Srivastsa"), is the classic icon for the concept of reality. The interwoven lines are graphic representations of the concept that everything in the world is interconnected, and therefore, dependent origination is the underlying reality of existence. The knot also reflects the endless cycle of death and rebirth, mirroring infinity and the wisdom of the Buddha. It also symbolizes the Buddha's endless wisdom and compassion. The sanskrit term means 'beloved of the goddess Shri.' Shri refers to Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, wherein the shrivatsa term in particular is the curl of hair in a 8 looped knot on the breast of Vishnu (just to further complicate the origins).
The bottom panels:
This is a 4 petaled flower with 4 smaller petals that compliment the symbolism: The 4-petaled flower is symbolic of 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 and in this representation the 4 minor petals along with the 4 major petals are the Noble Eightfold Path.