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Object Title
Object Description

Guru Rinpoche

Excerpt from a thangka, size: 128x66 cm; original privately owned.
Coming from India, Guru Rinpoche embodied Buddhism in the various Himalayan countries.

First Buddhist temples

Thangka; 19th century; size 125 x 77 cm.; loan from Josette Schulmann
Mahakala, literarily »Great Black One«, is interpreted as »large wrathful guardian«. Surrounded by his power in the form of a wreath of fire, he wears a five-skulled crown as token for the five wisdoms of Buddha, a chain of human skulls as a symbol for the principal of emptiness, and a garland of looted skulls as a symbol for the principal of form. As »divine personification of knowledge«, he has a third eye on his forehead.

The wrathful Mahakala
The Buddhas crown

The crown of the Buddha (rignge ugyen), textile, papier mâché; L: 26 cm, H: 16 cm; loan from the Museum für Völkerkunde, Wien
The five-leaved crown shows one of the five tathagata* buddhas on each picture. By wearing the crown at specific festive ceremonies, the lama stands in connection with the represented buddhas. The crown, which is given a lama at his initiation, authorises him to perform tantric rites.

The five tathagatas
Adibuddha Vajradhara

  Thangka; H: 116 cm, B: 77 cm; loan from Josette Schulmann
The Adibuddha* Vajradhara rests in tantric union with his female partner Prajnaparamita*. They are surrounded by a great many lamas and yogis. Buddha Shakyamuni is illustrated in the bottom row left; in the centre there is Cakrasamvara*, the embodiment of a tantric path of meditation. He is unified with his red partner of wisdom, Vajravarahi. On the right, we can see Avalokiteshvara*, the Bodhisattva* of loving compassion for all living beings.
The original Buddha

Thangka, H: 95 cm, B: 70 cm; loan from Michael Rutland
The Bodhisattva Vajrapani is seen as an emanation of the Buddhas Akshobhya. The angry appearance is meant to destroy all obstacles on the the way to enlightenment. In this way he also guards the secretive tantric teachings.

The bodhisattvas
Sacrificial offerings to the gods

Thangka; size: 101 cm x 66 cm; loan from Josette Schulmann
Representations of symbolic offerings (kangdzä) are either put up in monasteries or serve as bases for meditations. In the most inner cycle, offerings are given to the protective deities of Sumeru, the world's mountain. At the top of the mountain there is Indras, the palace of the gods. The offerings to the gods range from gifts in skull beakers, pleasing to the senses, to herds of black rams, horses and yaks.

Buddha Amithaba

Detail from a scroll (Thangka*); 18th century; 133 x 89 centimeters; on loan from the National Museum of Paro
The red Buddha Amithaba belongs to the group of five Tathagatas and embodies the wisdom of essential equality.

The Magical Birth of Guru Rinpoche
A Dakini
Thangka; measurements 126 x 90 centimeters; object lent by Michael Rutland
With sparse golden brush strokes a Dakini*, a »heavens wanderer« is represented. As such, she is at home in all three worlds, – the heavenly, the earthly and the subterranean – . These female heavenly beings initiated many Yogis into esoteric rituals and lead them to meditiation experiences that should lead them to becoming one with the absolute. Their nakedness is an expression of the undisguised truth which they embody. With a chopping knife, having a Vajra handle, she destroys ignorance and the skull bowl in her right hand is a holder for knowledge.
The gold painted Thangkas with a black background shape a mystical, esoteric character. Black is the color of hate, which is transformed through wisdom into the recognition of the true reality. Only those very advanced Yogis on the path to enlightenment use Thangkas of this kind as meditation images.
The Life of the Guru in India
Guru Rinpoche on the Copper Mountain

The South-West Paradise of Guru Rinpoche, zangdog palri; Thangka*; 125 x 77 centimeters; on loan from Josette Schulmann
Guru Rinpoche is portrayed in his south-west paradise on top of a majestic mountain, glowing of copper. From this mountain paradise no return to the cycle of of rebirths is necessary. Although Buddhism rejects speculations regarding the beyond, there are, however, still depictions of paradise, into which believers may enter.
For the Bhutanese, the mountain plays the role of expressing spiritual purity and represents the home of the gods.

The South-West Paradise
The Biography of Guru Rinpoche

Mural on cloth; 19th century; 245 x 121 centimeters; on loan from the Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich
In Bhutan, murals are painted on cloth, that is then glued to the wall. Sometimes, extra details are patched (Pastiglia) on.

The Second Buddha
A Model of the Universe

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".

A Model of the Universe

Thangka; 133 x 89 centimeters; 18th century; on loan from the National Museum of Paro
The Goddess Tsheringma is originally a pre-Buddhist diety who, after her magical defeat by Guru Rinpoche, now protects man as well as Buddhism. Riding on a lion, she holds in her left hand the vase of longevity and in the right hand the vajra*. She is surrounded by her four sisters, who are also portrayed on their mounts. In the middle ot the top row sits Amithaba*, the Buddha of long life. To the left of him is Guru Rinpoche and to the right is Yogi Milarepa. Both play important roles in the taming and in the Buddhification of Tsheringma. The two outer figures above represent Dakini*, "heavenly wanderers", that portray the fleetingness of earthly existence. Below, in the middle, sits Men Tshogdag, an elephant-headed diety who is associated with wealth.

The Deities of the Bar
Drukpa Künle

Thangka; painting on canvas; measurements 129 x 111,5 centimeters; 20th century; on loan from Anthony Aris
Biographical depiction of Drukpa Künle, the »Divine Jester«, who because of his often obscene actions, is the protagonist of gladly told stories. His deeds beyond conventional norms should point out the relative aspects of human beliefs. They are meant to release the spirit from the bondage of conventional thinking.

Drukpa Künle
Wooden Box

Wood, painted, iron fittings; measurements 38,5 x 65 x 30 centimeters; on loan from Françoise Pommaret
This box is painted with a pair of phoenixes in flight and the Chinese symbol for longevity.

The Village Household

The Vienna Exhibition
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