Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Offering Clothes to Guru Rinpoche

The little project to re-create the Guru Ngadrama statue, destroyed at Samye, led to a massive search through all mustachioed Buddhist images from the 8th century, hoping for a lucky break. This example from Dun Huang is just one we've paused upon. We found the hair interesting.

I once spoke at length with a woman thought by herself and a few others to be the reincarnation of Guru Rinpoche's consort. She said she had a clear, distinct memory of combing his very long hair. I asked her what it smelled like, thinking she should say sandalwood, and she said, "it smelled like sandalwood."

A very early style of drapery, but probably 12th cent.

Still grinding away, with (apparently) only a single photograph left to point the way. As it turns out, the face is the smallest of our problems.

Note the hat treatment.

The largest of our problems is how to express Guru Rinpoche's clothing. The body of the original statue is obscured beneath layers of actual fabric.

As an exercise in state religion-level iconography, no guesswork is needed. Here, from Wikipedia's notes on Padmasambhava's iconography, are just three of literally hundreds of descriptions --

According to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo:

"On his body he wears a white vajra undergarment and, on top of this, in layers, a red robe, a dark blue mantrayana tunic, a red monastic shawl decorated with a golden flower pattern, and a maroon cloak of silk brocade... On his head, he wears a five-petalled lotus hat. "

According to Patrul Rinpoche:

"On his head he wears a lotus hat and on his body he wears a silk cloak, Dharma robes and gown."

According to Chokyi Drakpa:

"He is wearing the dark blue gown of a mantra practitioner, the red and yellow shawl of a monk, the maroon cloak of a king, and the red robe and secret white garments of a bodhisattva... On his head he wears a five-petalled lotus hat, which has three points symbolizing the three kayas, five colours symbolizing the five kayas, a sun and moon symbolizing skilful means and wisdom, a vajra top to symbolize unshakable samadhi, and a vulture's feather to represent the realization of the highest view."

I should probably note, parenthetically, that the art historians do not exactly agree with the above descriptions. That is all well and good, but how do we begin to approximate the drapery of an 8th century sculpture, rendered in Tibet, which likely had to import sculptors from elsewhere. I'm betting they came from Dun Huang.

Stilll, the subject was presumably from Uddiyana, so we start by looking at 8th century Buddhist sculpture from around the impacted region. The example from Pakistan, above, is interesting, as is the example narrowly identified to the Swat Valley, below.

Yet, of even greater interest is this item from Dun Huang, below. This goes way beyond Greco-Buddhist Gandhara impressions, to express a relaxed richness. Compare the drapery with that of the first statue we pictured above, which is from an Indian museum. Look at the way the mustache is rendered. Look at the eyebrows.

This is the 8th century, and some might wonder what was possible. Below is 8th century Sogdian woven silk. Simply fantastic, isn't it? One of his disciples was a Sogdian, so I suppose anything is possible.

I think I need to be clear that we are here discussing production of an image, or support, which is fun but not essential. Guru Rinpoche is dancing naked and doesn't need any clothes. Maybe this is his perfect generosity. Our conditioned generosity causes us to think that he does, so that we can take the first step on the road to perfection. Yet, maybe the first step is likewise fun but not essential. Maybe the perfection is already present. Isn't it interesting to think that the way to offer clothes to Guru Rinpoche might be to take off our clothes? Just hand them over?

I am fortunate, in that I have someone who loves me very much. She enjoys finding different ways of expressing that love. It is her happiness and her pleasure to buy clothes for me, and to accomplish this she will bear any burden. She will go from shop to shop, seeking just the right color, the right design, the right fabric. But, my greed knows no bounds. Even that 8th century Sogdian silk would not satisfy me. Even if I had the finest silk, the finest wool, I would still want more. I am very crazy that way. So, if buying clothes for me is her happiness, she should always be happy, right? This would be a perfect situation, wouldn't it?

Can you think of all the reasons why it would be perfect? Can you think of all the reasons why it wouldn't be perfect?

Let me put this another way. Once, I was fortunate in that I had someone who loved me very much. It was her happiness and her pleasure to buy alcohol for me. She even wrote bad checks to do this. But, I really used to drink. You could not bring me enough alcohol. You could not write enough bad checks. Nevertheless, the day came when I extinguished drinking by drinking, so then what could she bring me?

My question is, what generosity do you bring to someone or something or some situation that has no fundamental need?

"Subhuti, what do you think? Can one contemplate the Tathagata by means of the thirty-two marks?"

Subhuti said, "So it is, so it is, World Honored One. One can contemplate the Tathagata by means of the thirty-two marks."

The Buddha said, "Subhuti, if one could contemplate the Tathagata by means of the thirty-two marks, then a Sagely Wheel-turning King would be a Tathagata."

Subhuti said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, as I understand what the Buddha has said, one should not contemplate the Tathagata by means of the thirty-two marks."

At that time the World Honored one spoke a gatha, which says:

If one sees me in forms,
If one seeks me in sounds,
He practices a deviant way,
And cannot see the Tathagata.

  1. http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/06/new-face-for-guru-rinpoche.html
  2. http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/06/whats-story-samye.html
  3. http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Looks_Like_Me
  4. http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Gyalyum_Kunzang_Dechen_Tsomo_Namgyal
  5. http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/06/offering-clothes-to-guru-rinpoche.html
  6. http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/06/ngadrama-same-as-me-statue-can-be.html

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1 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

Of related interest, they are planning on building a Zandok Palri temple in California

I have often wondered why the face of the 'looks like me' Guru RInpoche statue is not used as a model for others being made - would only make sense.