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Tibetan Buddhist Art furniture & Antiques from the monasteries of the Ser Shong (Golden Valley)
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Tibetan Buddhist Lama's Offering Altar B005-08

front view
right side

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~Eternity's Delight~

This is a war-era cabinet, made between 1935 & 1940. It was made in part to celebrate the birth and identification of the current Dali Lama. It is one of the earliest of this style of cabinets to survive the wholesale destruction of Tibetan Buddhist art. 1958 saw the big clamp-down in Tibet on religious freedoms & the beginning of the wholesale destruction of Buddhist art & artifacts.

Cabinets with tigers typically were made for lamas, geshes, or occasionally village chiefs.  The tiger is a symbol of strength & military prowess, & these war-era cabinets could have served as an encouragement to those whose freedoms were endangered.  Tigers were indigenous to eastern Tibet, where the Sange (Wutun) Monastery is located, & tigers are depicted on furniture from eastern Tibet more often than in other regions.  On this piece, tigers are painted on each door. The door-pull is the vertical center-divider. The two drawers below the doors have an old brass coin & leather strap as the pull. The panels with the lotus and the Double Dorje in gold next to the two doors & the lotus blossom next to the drawers are fixed. Access to the space behind the tall panel is through the front doors, & access to the space behind the red lotus on the yellow background s is accomplished by removing the drawer, so this space would make a good secret hiding place. The top, back & both sides are natural wood. This cabinet is very well done, the kyungbur is thinner than most and the hand was quite steady that applied it. The art work is very clean and crisp, of exceptional quality. Please note the yin and yang spiral that is on the top of the tiger's head.

This cabinet comes with a brush-signed Certificate of Authenticity, the iconography and meditational aid, map of the area with short history, and pictures of the area, people, their homes and essays about their lifestyle and economy.

AGE: 1935-40     
Dimensions:   Height=31.5"  W=40" D=15.75" 

SOLD SHIPPED TO NEW YORK, NY

B005-08 Price $1,495.00,  plus shipping & handling: West Coast $240, Mtn. States $260, Mid West $278, Atlantic coast $295  Canadian destinations, contact us  for a quote. 

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Iconography

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-yan 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 bowl. (Offering bowls have a base, while alms bowls do not.) Inside the offering bowl are many offerings of yogurt, and underneath the bowl are flaming Cintamani, flanked by rock cliffs. Cintamani are wish-granting jewels & additionally represent wisdom.  When depicted in sets of 3, they represent the body, speech & mind of Buddha, such as the practitioner may possess.  Cintamani are also referred to as the “Thinking Jewel” & symbolize the importance of teaching as well as the enlightened mind. The slow process of making yogurt is an appropriate metaphor for spiritual transformation because it is by consistently applying the principles of Buddhism that negative behavior (karma) is gradually overcome & the clear nature of the mind is revealed. The rock/cliff formation represents the 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. Growing to to a height of two feet, Kusha is used to purify defilements. Those wishing purification will sleep in a field or patch of kusha grass to acquire ritual purification.  Kusha grass under a pillow at night before initiation is used to produce clear dreams; it is also used in Buddhism to enhance the clarity of visualization & meditation. Kusha is the grass of choice for the manufacture sacred meditation mats.

The two drawers below the tigers have an Ashoka blossom set in the Mahamudra mists with rainbows and rainbowed mountains on the flanks. 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. Mahamudra is the union of compassion & wisdom - - the ultimate realization of one’s true nature. This wave is also featured with the lotus throughout the art on this piece. The combinations of colors used represent the elements & thoughts that come into play.

 The panels flanking the doors feature a double Dorje set over an Ahoka blossom; underneath is multi-colored Durva grass, cliffs and again the rainbows and mountains. The Double Dorje is an epiphany, a sudden realization;  Dorje (Tibetan) thunderbolt, or double diamond, ("visvavajra" in sanskrit). Its four heads represent the four Dhyani Buddha. Of these, it is associated primarily with Akmoghasiddhi, lord of the north, the Karma Family Buddha, whose name means "Unfailing Accomplishment."  The double Dorje represents the indestructibility of all phenomenal essence.  It serves as a symbol of harmony, immutability, and all -knowingness. The single, uncrossed representation, 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 3 stages of the lotus, bud, utpala (mid-blossom) and the full blossoming throne represent the past present and future respectively. 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 bottom panels have a red Lotus blossom. 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; an analogy of the soul’s path from the mud of materialism to the purity of enlightenment. .

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