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á¡kyamuni - An Exhibition of Rare Thankas


The Department of Culture of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has shown an extraordinary magnanimity and vision in arranging an exhibition of Thankas in New Delhi, Hyderabad and Samath-Varanasi. The authorities and officials deserve our congratulations that they have taken up such a topic for the exhibition which has a very wide and far-reaching implication. It may open Up floodgates of knowledge and entertainment to the people who would get a chance to have a view and glimpse of the rare items which are seldom displayed.

The work to organize the exhibition has been rightly assigned to our Institute i.e., the to Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh (Ladakh) which happens to attract the cream of intellect as found in Ladakh and other Himalayan regions and secondly which represents the centre of Buddhist learning and culture in Ladakh. Consequently as many as sixty Thankas have been collected from as many as four major gonpas (Buddhist viharas or monastic settlements comprising seminaries and residential abodes of the Buddhist monks and novices).

According to the Mah¡y¡na scripture the Mah¡k¡ru¸ika Buddha himself had ordained his disciples to learn the five mah¡vidy¡s (Five Great learnings-áabda (Grammar), Tarks (Logic and Epistemology), áilpa (Art and Craft), Cikits¡ (medical Science). and Ëdhy¡tma (Spiritual Science). The Knowledge of these branches of learning is essential for the realization of Nirv¡¸a and for the attainment of the Ominiscience, i.e., the Bodhisattvas are required to make tireless efforts towards the fulfillment of the Perfections (P¡ramit¡s). According to one of the verses of the Bodhicary¡vat¡ra of Ëc¡rya á¡ntideva, there is not even a single branch of learning which the Bodhisattvas can afford to skip from their scope of studies. Keeping this tradition in view, the Buddhist practitioners concentrate on the study and teaching of the Five Great Branches of learning.

Ërya Maitreyan¡tha has also opined in his Mah¡y¡nas£tr¡la´k¡ra that without learning these Five Great Branches of Learning, even the best of the Ëryas cannot attain Ominiscience. It is, therefore, essential for them to learn the Five Great Leaning in order to remove the wrong views (mithy¡-d¤Àt¢s) of their disciples, to do favour to them in their goal of emancipation and to know the Jµeyadharmas set for them. Ërya Maitreyan¡tha is recorded to have said in one of his verses that the learners should be taught the First Four Mah¡vidy¡s while the Bodhisattva should himself concentrate on the Adh¡yatma vidy¡, i.e., Spritualism of the highest order as Ominiscience is a must for the attainment of Buddhahood. It is also to be noted in this context that the First Four Branches of Learning are being taught the studied in many institutes, but the last one i.e., the learning of spiritualism can be acquired only at special centers of learning alone. In fact, Nirv¡¸a cannot be attained without the accomplishment of the spiritualism.

In ancient period, the teachers used to be full of knowledge and the disciples were steeped in faith. Consequently the latter were able to acquire knowledge with ease and without stress. The Five Major Branches of Learning are also associated with Five Minor Branches of Learning. In fact, both are equally essential for spiritual advancement of the highest order.

Ëc¡rya á¡kya Pandita of Tibet has opined that Ominiscience is like endless sky. It is, therefore, essential to have knowledge of all subjects with the help of the intellect of one's own.

It is also to be noted that the Bodhisattvas required the practice of four prAti¿amvits. These are Dharma Pratismavit, Arth PrAti¿amvit, Nirukti PrAti¿amvit and Pratibhana PrAti¿amvit. One has to acquire them for the attainment of knowledge till the end of his life. Ëc¡rya N¡g¡rjuna has also emphasized that one cannot understand the Absolute Truth without acquiring the support of Conventional Truth. The Nirv¡¸a cannot be had without the attainment of the Absolute Truth.

The Buddhist Art of Drawing and Sculpture were created for the purpose of spiritual practices. It is reported that the Blessed One had mentioned these branches of Art in many of his Sutras and Tantras. The purpose of referring to these Arts was to liberate his disciples who were eager to be brought under the Vinayic discipline. The teachings of the T¡thagata are competent enough to quicken the process of the attainment of Omniscience in respect of his disciples. The practitioners in Mah¡y¡na have to resort to the Mantray¡na practices in order to attain Buddhahood faster. Hence the need of the Arts for the spiritual practitioners.

The monasteries of Ladakha are today the most important institutions which represent the Buddhist Art traditions. They are a storehouse of many rare and fascinating Thankas. This exhibition is very important not only because one may be able to see these fascinating and unique Thankas for the first time but also for the reason that one may realize the importance of continuance of this wonderful and sacred tradition of Buddhist Art.

Many people have helped us in organising this exhibition and in the preparation of this catalogue. We are extremely thankful to the four gonpas for their help and for lending these rare Thankas for this exhibition. we would specially like to express our thanks to Shri Rajiv Yadav, Director, Department of Culture for his help and support in all matters.

At the end we would like to express our thanks to Aryan Books International for publishing this catalogue in an elegant manner and within a very short time.

Tashi Paljor

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