The sacred arts play an essential, intrinsic role in Tibetan Buddhist practice. Here, one of the great practitioners and master artists of our time presents a guide to the Tibetan Buddhist path, from preliminary practices through enlightenment, from the artist’s perspective. With profound wisdom he shows how visual representations’ of the scred in paintings, sculptures, mandalas, and stupas can be essential support to practice throughout the path. This work, based on the author’s landmark Tibetan text, The Path to Liberation, includes basic Buddhist teachings and practices, clearly pointing out the relevance of these for both the sacred artist and the practitioner, along with an overview of the history and iconography of Buddhist art.
“This is the one book that every student of Tibetan art, aspiring tangka painter, and Vajrayana practitioner really should have. Vast in its scope and authenticity, this definitive work is a phenomenal repository of knowledge on all aspects of Tibetan art and its practice. This is the book I always hoped to write but never did, and instead can learn so much from it. For this is a masterwork of the purest Dharma, which I pray will be translated into many different languages.”
“This book is an essential resource for those wishing to know the inside meanings involved in the creation of a tangka painting, and the key elements of dharma practice that are essential for the aspiring tangka painter. In this day and age, when the growing commercialization of perfunctory tangka paintings is ever increasing, Konchog Lhadrepa and Charlotee Davis’s contribution to the preservation of an authentic tradition of sacred art is admirable.”
THE PATHS TO LIBERATIONS, written by the master painter Konchog Lhadrepa, on which this work is based, is an incredible resource. He wrote it based on his years of study, contemplation, and painting Tibetan sacred art, particularly in the Karma Gadri tradition of painting. Here you will find histories, instruction, and a thorough overview of Tibetan sacred art, in particular the art of Tibetan tangka painting.
Konchog-la was a very close disciple of and personal attendant to Kyapie Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Rinpoche himself chose Konchog-la to train in all aspects of Tibetan sacred art under the personal tutelage of His Holiness the sixteenth Karmapa’s artist, Gen Lhadre Tragyal. Having excelled in his studies, Konchog-la returned to Kyapje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s monastery, Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling, and gave himself wholeheartedly to paintings tangkas, murals, tsakli cards, and so on. Whatever Rinpoche’s personal supervision. These paintings, tangkas, and murals can still be seen at our monastery.
Under the direction of Kyapje Shechen RAbjam Rinpoche, Konchog-la established a school to train a new generation in Tibetan sacred art. In 1996, Tsering Art School officially opened, and the education of a new generation of artists began in earnest. Over the years, many students have trained under Konchog-la, and our TSering Art School continues to produce many skilled artists. Although these artisans are primarily from the Himalayan regions, our student body also boasts a few from the West.
Charlotee Davis was one such student. In1998, she came to Nepal with the express wish to train in Tibetan sacred arts. She lived and worked at Tsering Art School for six years. Having graduated in 2003, she continues to paint and assist Konchog-la and the school.
During her studies, as Konchog Lhadrepa gave an extensive commentary on his book The Path to Liberaion, Charlotee took extensive notes. These notes form the basis of The Art of Awakening, which is also supplemented with translations and annotations. It is a veritable mine of practical information, not only on the sacred art of ofTibet but on every of the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism.
I would like to tank Charlotee Davis for her great efforts in the field of Tibetan sacred art and especially for sharing her knowledge with the wider English-speaking world.
In conclusion, I’d like to request that you approach Tibetan sacred art not as just another style of paintings to look at, but rather as a means to enhance your own contemplative practice – to deepen the practices of mindfulness and meditation.
THIS MANUAL for Vajrayana Buddhist artists-in particular, tangka painters-is based on Konchog Lhadrepa’s book in Tinetan called The Path to Liberation, which he wrote to assist his students at Shechen Monastery’s Tsering Art School in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as for a broader readership. It is due only to the insistence of Konchog, and the blessings of Shechen Rabjam Rincpoche for the project, that I had the confidence to transcribe and edit an essentialized translation of Konchog’s book, through extensive ongoing discussions with konchog and additional research, published here as The Art of Awakening. This project began simply as lecture notes that I thought to type out and share with my fellow students.
Although I have done my best to follow the structure and contents of Konchog’s book, many details are missing because of our limited skills in each other’s language and the difficulty of finding sponsorship to do a word-for –word presentation of the essential points and meaning of the original work. We were fortunate to receive the help of an experienced translator, Venerable Sean Price, to review and translate some of the most important sections. Of the book and received permission to paraphrase and quote from them, this has been very helpful.
Konchog feels that the most important subjects, the structure, and the essence of his writings are conveyed in the present work, and that the level of detail and repetition traditionally found in a Tibetan text is not necessary for a Western audience. Also, this book includes additional oral teachings and explanations given by Konchog, so that many points are clarified here in a way that was not done in his original work.
Yet, when this work is compared to the original Tibetan, there are sure to be many mistakes, which I deeply regret and for which I sincerely apologize. I hope that where the meaning does not correspond with the reference texts, at least it is not incorrect with respect to the Buddhist teaching. And I hope that the further help of qualified translators there will be revised editions in the future. Any errata, feedback, or comments can be sent to my e-mail (email@example.com) along with any expressions of interest in helping prepare or sponsor a future edition.
Structure And Style
The Art of Awakening follows the same essential structure and contents as Konchog’s work The Path to Liberation, which is divided into three broad sections: preliminary teaching, main teachings, and concluding teaching. These correspond to the three noble principles of generating the altruistic motivation at the beginning of any virtuous activity, engaging in the main practice, and then concluding with the dedication of merit. The preliminary section contains essential teachings on the history of Buddhism in India and Tibet as well as a brief art history of India and Tibet. (Although the preliminary teachings are essentialized in this text, many of Konchog’s original teachings were omitted. Therefore, the publication of a separate companion text is planned for the future.) The main teachings include guidelines for the artist, followed by teachings on relating the Vajrayana practice of visualization of the mandala and deity to supreme art practice. This section includes a translation of A Supreme Liturgy for Artists by the great Drukpa Kagyu master Ngawang Kunga Tenzin. The preliminary teachings and teachings on visualization are broadly presented according to the view and way of explanation of the Ancient Translation School (Nyingma). This is not out of any sectarian bias, but is because of the author’s limited knowledge in the way of presentation of the Sarma traditions, and our appreciation that although the modes of explanation may differ, the essential meaning is the same. Mandala and deity iconometry are then explained, along with many other detailed teachings, including temple building, auspicious symbols, monks’ accountrements, composition, and other practical instructions on methods and materials. Finally, the concluding section consists of the teachings on mantra drawings for tangkas and status, consecration, the benefits of the supreme arts, the importance of dedication, and how to dedicate. Extensive illustrations by Konchog Lhadrepa are placed at the end of the text, along with several appendixes, a glossary, a list of translation equivalents, and a bibliography of primary and secondary texts. In an attempt to overcome the gender bias of the English language, when making general references to the artist (or practitioner and teacher), I alternate between genders, sometimes referring to “she” and “her” and sometimes to “he” and “him.”
A Note On Tibetan
The field of supreme art contains many specialized terms, and knowing these Tibetan words will be useful for anyone training in Tibetan art. In general, I have translated these terms using common architectural and colloquial vocabulary. A few of the technical terms- for example, those for mandala drawing-I have left in phoneticized Tibetan so that the reader does not get bogged down by a profusion of lengthy translations. The glossary and the list of translation equivalents provide the wylie transliterations for key terms, which are given in phonetic Tibetan when they first appear. Text names are given in English translation only; the Tibetan spellings in Whlie transliteration can be found in the bibliography. Where possible, Indian personal names are given in translated English or Sanskrit, and Tibetan names appear in Tibetan phonetics or English translation.
I HAVE CHOSEN THE teachings outlined in this text because most Tibetan art training does not include many Buddhist teachings, and the great art manuals from old Tibet assumed a certain level of scholarship that many aspiring artists today do not have. For artists to understand how to practice their discipline according to the Buddha dharma, they must have a good understanding to these teachings. In other words, the artist needs to know how to properly train in the two accumulations necessary to attain enlightenment- the accumulation of merit, which is the activity of body and speech, and the accumulation of wisdom, which is the mind’s activity. In the practice of Buddhist art, the proper creation of supreme images is the accumulation of merit, the accompanying attitude and motivation is the accumulation of wisdom.
Asanga’s Five Treatises on the Levels categorizes Tibetan treatises or literature into nine divisions, presented in three sets of three: (1) general writings, (2) false propaganda, (3) true meaning, (4) opposing what is beneficial, (5) unloving writings, (6) how to escape suffering, (7) writings to increase knowledge, (8) debate, and (9) how to accomplish dharma practice. For the purpose of studying the Buddha dharma, it is only necessary to learn the last of each set (in italics), called “supreme literature.” Buddhists respect the treatises written by the Buddha’s learned and accomplished followers as if they were the words of the Buddha himself, including the authentic literature on supreme art. Vasubandhu’s Reasoning for Explanations explains the underlying meaning or etymology of the word “treatise,” which in Tibetan is tencho, where ten (“doctrine of teaching”) refers to the Buddha’s teaching in this, and cho means “to transform or improve.”
To subdue the enemies of the afflicting and be defended
From the lower realms of samsara, the two virtuous qualities of treatises are healing form the cause (the three negative mental afflictions) and protecting form the result (the suffering of cyclic existence and bad migrations). These two supreme qualities out-shine all others.
The purpose of the treatises is thus to change or improve our minds through the doctrine until complete enlightenment is attained.
With the aspiration that the teachings in this book will assist in carrying out this supreme intention, I have divided it into three parts, corresponding to the three noble principles of (I) the preliminary teachings, (2) the main teachings, and (3) the concluding teachings, and dedication teachings and dedication. The preliminary teachings explain how to establish the ground of our practice as dharma practitioners and artists, fostering our faith and understanding The main teachings combine the teachings on the main practice with the practice of supreme art. The concluding teachings explain the benefits of these practices and how to dedicate the merit to the enlightenment of all sentient beings.
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