Four Tathagatas - Ratnasambhava

c. 1300
Distemper on cloth
77 by 57 cm - 30 ⅜ by 22 ⅜ in

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No other nearly complete series of theCosmic Buddhas, a subject favored by Tibetan artists during the late twelfth andearly thirteenth centuries, is known to exist.[1] Four of the five Jinas, Amogasiddi(green), Ratnasambhava (yellow), Akshobya (blue), and Amitabha (red), arerepresented in this resplendent group of paintings, leaving only Vairocana(white) unaccounted for. Assymbols of transcendent purity, their role is of the utmost importance withinthe context of Tantric Buddhism. Each Tathagata or Celestial Buddha, depicted here in a similar format,[2]is identified by its association with a particular vehicle, direction, element,gesture, color and consort. Individually, each acts as a guide to transform a particular humanweakness into ultimate wisdom. When seen together, the five Buddhas symbolize the complete Universe, aplace in which perfect balance and harmony are achieved.

Beautifully rendered, the centralTathagatas exude an aura of sublime spirituality. Each figure is seated uniformly in dhyanasana upon a double lotus throne, while their hands display avariety of gestures as prescribed by canonical text. Sumptuously ornamented, and each clothed in a uniquelypatterned dhoti, the Buddhas are mosteasily identified by the distinguishing jewel-tone of their skin. Their elegant crowns are held in placeby ribbons that unfurl within the nimbus painted behind their heads, andimaginative foliate patterns cover the throne backs against which theysit. In niches beneath eachthrone, the appropriate vehicles for the Buddhas are portrayed. As is typical, each Jina is accompaniedby an entourage of deities specifically related to its clan. All are flanked by two principalbodhisattva figures, delineated gracefully on either side of the throne, andinclude a group of eight bodhisattvas in the upper register.

In the lower registers, theauxiliary deities vary. Amoghasiddhi sits above, from left to right: a lamaperforming the consecration ritual,[3]Dharmadhatu-Vagisvara Manjusri, Manjusri Vajratiksna, Vajrasattva Buddha, andwhite Manjusri. Next, Ratnasambhavais accompanied by a central-seated Sakyamuni, flanked by two monks and fourseated Buddhas. Following, beneathAkshobya, from left to right, are: a monk, Vaisravana on a lion, Jambhala witha mongoose, Dharmadhatu Vagisvara Vairocana, Vajrapani, Mahakala, and Lhamo. Finally, Amitabha is seatedabove, from left to right: a monk, a lama, a red protective deity (perhaps aform of Hayagriva), Avalokitesvara, Mahakala, and a local mountain god. The back of each painting bears aninscription of the Ye dharma prayer, the Forebearance creed.


[1] Three Tibetan Tathagatas, ca. 1200-1250 were brought together forthe exhibition, Sacred Visions, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although these belong to a differentseries, they are stylistically related to the present group. See Kossak and Singer (1998), no. 23.

[2] The style and format of these Tathagata thankas is based upon anearly series attributed to 11th century, eastern India. The Amoghasiddhi from the group is inThe Kronos Collection, and published in ibid, no. 4.

[3] Amoghasiddhi paintings typically bear an image of the lamaperforming the consecration ritual, indicating that it was meant to be eitherthe first or last work in the series. Ibid, p. 108.