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A Model of the Universe

The religious traditions of Asia see the cosmos as built upon three vertical steps. This model to explain the universe (lha btsan klu rigs gsum), attributes to each of the three levels a certain category of gods.

A Model of the Universe Zoom

The followers of Vajrayana Buddhism see in the highest level (gnam), heaven, the »gods of heaven« (gnam ki lha). The contact to them is only possible in the advanced stages of meditation. These gods have only little in common with the life of man. Those who believe in them and, who turn to them in prayer can hope to have their help. Otherwise, however, these gods show little interest in the daily activities of man. Only those who, after their death have earned their entrance into one of the Buddhistic paradises, can be happy being near to them.

The middle level (bar*), man shares with deities who have not yet left the worldly arena (jig rten bai lha). These deities are usually older than Buddhism. Most of them, however, were magically conquered by great Buddhistic holy men and made into protectors of Buddhism and its followers. These deities often possess almost human charactistics: they can be malicious, domineering, and jealous, but also be benevolant and caring.

Located on the lowest level (og) are snake-like beings (klu). They live in lakes or rivers, often in close vicinity to man. They grant fertility to the humans - however, only when their places are not polluted and their peace is not being disturbed. As with the gods of the middle level, they were integrated into the Buddhistic pantheon. However, they kept their potentially dangerous character.

On the level of the bar*, that man and gods equally inhabit, the Yül lha, the »Deities of the Territory«, have the most lasting effect on the lives of the human community.

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Thangka; synthetic color on canvas; 173 x 116 centimeters; 20th century
This scroll painting was commissioned especially by the Museum of Ethnology Vienna for the Exhibit "Bhutan ­ Mountain Fortress of the Gods".

The heavenly gods do not have much to do anymore with human matters.

Human beings share their habitat with the gods of the bar*.

On the bottom level, there live snake-like beings that are potentially dangerous to man.