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Tibetan Buddhist Art painting of Shakyamuni Buddha on leather

Shakyamuni Buddha tangka on leather circa 1800

Click on the picture for a larger view.

Classical depiction of Shakyamuni Buddha on leather. This is a powerful painting with a host of the most powerful and ancient Buddhas. At the 4 corners are Kanakamuni, the top center Buddha is again Shakyamuni as Guatama, and at the bottom are the two most famous disciples, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. Kanakamuni at the 4 corners is helping Shakyamuni and the 2 disciples with the turning of the Dharma as indicated by their mudras. What power there is in this depiction with the core Buddhas lending power, knowledge and enlightenment to the truth seeker. All of the Buddhas are done in 24kt gold, while the disciples are in flesh tones. Please see iconography below for more details. Painting and fine line detail are excellent, however there has been some deterioration of the painting, which is to be expected of a painting 200 years old. The painting is not a perfect rectangle, the left side is longer than the right side by about 1/3 inch and it tapers slightly toward the bottom. At the top are two boards that are bolted together to act as a clamp to hold the painting without damaging the painting; this comes with the painting. In our home we have one of these leather paintings and I have replaced the bolts with wooden drawer pull knobs and have attached a colored twine to them to hang the painting with; this looks nice and is an inexpensive way to display the painting. The painting comes with an iconography and a laminated digital copy of the COA, plus other documentation.

Age: circa early 1800s
Material: mineral pigments on leather
Dimensions: H=20" x W=15" (50cm x 37cm)



The main figure is Shakyamuni Buddha in a very classical presentation. He is accompanied by four depictions of Kanakamuni, one of the Primordial Buddhas, one at each corner; his two most noted disciples, Shariputra on his right and Maudgalyayana on his left: the Buddha above him is Guatama Buddha (same as Shakyamuni, just the depiction calls for the other name). As Guatama he was not a teacher, but enlightened, as Shakyamuni he is a teacher and a helper. In the aureole surrounding Shakyamuni's head are gold 4 petaled flowers, indicative of his 1st teaching on the 4 Noble Truths, the middle way:. 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. Guatama did not want to deal with teaching others as he thought the task was overwhelming, but was petitioned by the leaders of Shambala and then became Shakyamuni and started to teach. Kanakamuni at the 4 corners is helping Shakyamuni and the 2 disciples with the turning of the Dharma as indicated by their mudras. What power there is in this depiction with the core Buddhas lending power, knowledge and enlightenment to the truth seeker. A note on the two disciples; the philosophical and dialectical Shariputra is connected with Mahayana buddhism, and the mediumistic and mystically oriented Maudgalyayana with Tantric Buddhism. Shariputra was recognized as the smarter of the two and that is why he is depicted to Shakyamuni's right.

Shakyamuni is depicted in "simple" monks clothing, a patch work of cloth, although the artist out of respect and reverence has gilted the material in 24kt gold. The iron beggars bowl sits in the palm of Shakyamuni's left hand which is in the dhyana mudra, the gesture of meditation, the right hand is in the bhumisparsha mudra, the gesture of witness, this is a witness to enlightenment and the overcoming of the temptations of Mara. Shakyamuni and the other Buddhas are all in the diamond position, called vajrasana (vajra= diamond or locked in enlightenment, asana = sitting quietly). The positions of Shakyamuni and Guatama have 5 other characteristics other than the hand and feet positions which a meditator must possess: a straight back, straight shoulders, eyes focused, lips and jaw in a naturally relaxed position, while the tip of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth and the chin is down to the level of the adams apple. Each of he Buddhas are sitting on an Ashoka throne: 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.

Flanking Shakyamuni are sets of three multi-colored bilva fruit. Bilva fruit, also known as the Bengal quince; medicinally is a potent astringent and highly regarded for its purifying qualities in traditional Indian folk medicine.  The unripe interior of the fruit, especially when made into a jam, was the best known cure for diarrhea and dysentery.  It is regarded as one of the most sacred fruits and serves as one of the main offering fruits.  In this offering of Bilva fruit, representing the sense-offering of taste, the Buddha Amoghasiddhi is manifested as motivation or will. At the very bottom of the painting in the center are three Cintamani flanked by two sets of elephant tusks. 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. Notice that the top Cintamani is blue, as is generally the case, this then is also one of Chakravartin's Seven Precious possessions along with the Precious Elephant represented by 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 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. The  Eight-faceted blue jewel (the top Cintamani), 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.

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