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Antique 15th centuryTibetan Buddhist Altar -C008

Antique Tibetan Altar table circe 15th century with mirror and conch horn on front 15th Century Tibetan Antique Furniture with Buddhist Dharma Wheel and shou longevity symbol left side
Front left side
plain top of antique altar 15th Century Tibetan altar table with Buddhist Dharma Wheel and shou symbols
top right side

click on the thumbnail pictures above to see larger views

Excellent art work and design symmetry on this well preserved late 15th century Tibetan Buddhist altar table. The front has a mirror on one door and a conch shell on the other; both are floating above Cintamani and other precious Buddhist symbols and offerings. The sides have gold shou/longevity symbols outlined in kyungbur and the eight spoked Dharma Wheel. The gold is covered in a permeated layer of wax and soot that due to the age of the altar is not cleanable. An iconography is available as a meditation aid for this altar, see below. There is a shelf inside of the cabinet, which is not common. This item is painted on front and both the right and left sides. I have cleaned the old wax and accumulated soot from this piece as was possible and treated the painted surfaces with a preservative. As it is over 500 years old some of the wax and soot have permeated the painting. Tibetan painted furniture that is more than 400 years old generally have the soot and wax permeating the paint permanently. The insides have not been thoroughly cleaned and are in a relatively "as found" condition, some of the original wax is still present as evidenced by the foggy finish.

The T-wave under the top is done in kyungbur, which was the norm during the 15th century. It wasn't until the 17th century that the T-wave started to become a common feature of Tibetan furniture and then it was carved into the wood. The front frame is adorned with strings of torma offerings, which is a casting out of poisons and delusion. This torma adornment, done in kyungbur and gold is rarely noted; however 15th century altars are also rarely seen.

There is some slight paint loss at the bottoms of the legs. The top has a piece missing from the right corner and and the right back corner of the top is dented. The top also has a separation from wood shrinkage.

 The Tibetan Buddhist altar comes with a Certificate of Authenticity, an iconography explaining the theme and meanings of the various icons; there is also pictures of the lama that blessed this altar.

Dimensions: H=21.5" x W=24.62" x D=14.25"   
Age: circa last half of 15th century
Materials: Juniper and pine

This item can be purchased securely online click here

Price $2385.00, plus shipping & handling
Shipping: West Coast $195, Mtn. States $219, Mid West $245, Atlantic coast $264  Other destinations contact us  for a quote. 


The border just underneath the top is the "T-wave" or 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 front frame is adorned with circular tormas. Torma is a 'casting out' and signifies a casting out of poisons and delusions.

The sides feature a shou longevity symbol, that is also a stylized shou character representing the butterfly. The shou longevity symbol is the circular design in the center of the sides; the shou character is styled with the vertical lines intersecting the horizontal lines, this is a common practice in Senge art. The shou character represents a butterfly and it recalls the dream of Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu, having dreamed that he was a butterfly joyously flittering, posed the question, “Did Chuang Tzu dream he was a Butterfly? Or is the butterfly still dreaming that he is Chuang Tzu?” The caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly, as unified symbols of transmutation, resurrection and immortality, are perhaps best described in the aphorism, “What the caterpillar perceives as the end of all things, the rest of the world perceives as the beginning of the butterfly”. The upper panel on the sides is the Dharma Wheel; in three parts, the Dharma 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 right front door features a white conch shell horn suspended in the air over Cintamani that is flanked by elephant tusks and orange coral. The right spiraling (echoing the celestial movement of the sun, moon and stars) conch shell is one of the oldest icons in Buddhism.  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 human incur from the spiritual poisons of desire, hate, greed and ignorance. 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 flames around the border of the Cintamani are symbolic of the burning away of false desires and ignorance, giving way to enlightenment. the top cintamani in the stack is colored blue and this coupled with the flames signifies that it is one of Chakravartin's Seven Precious Possessions along with the elephant tusks. 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 blue Eight-faceted Precious Jewel, has 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. When elephant tusks are depicted they are symbolic of the whole elephant and always represent Chakravartin's Precious elephant.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. Elephants in Tibetan Buddhism are always an albino elephant which is noted as the hardest to tame.

The left door has a mirror floating in space with similar groupings below it. There are also clouds framing the top part of the door just like the right hand door. The mirror is an ancient Buddhist symbol for clarity, completeness of perception, and purity of consciousness. A mirror reflects a thing objectively, but what we see in the mirror is not the thing itself.  Because the object is not seen directly, it may be seen more accurately ~ more clearly, without judgment and with greater perspective.  This can lessen the tendency to see a thing as fixed or solid and encourage better understanding.  The mirror, or perception, more effectively propels the mind toward insight and compassion than mere argument or lecture. Whether something is beautiful or ugly, good or evil the mirror passes no judgment and is unaffected by the image; similarly pure consciousness is unaffected by the beauty or ugly, good or evil nature of thoughts which arise and pass. Like a reflection in a mirror, their essence is void, without substance. Like a wild animal that sees and attacks an apparent rival in its own reflection in a still pool, the mind self-identifies with its own projected imagery. Clouds are very transitory. Clouds may come and go across the heavens, like the transitory thoughts or delusions which appear to obscure the mind's true nature, yet the nature of the sky remains unchanged. This is like the mirror, which is always unaffected by the appearances which arise in it, the sky is clear, transparent, infinite and immaculate.

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