NEW YORK, NY.- Rugs and Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism, an installation dedicated to ritual practice in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, explores the role of the ritual objects that were employed by its practitioners in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Comprising 30 tantric ritual rugs and utensilsincluding knives, vessel, fire-offering ladles, ritual staff, daggers, offering tablethe installation illustrates an esoteric Buddhism that flourished in Tibet from its beginnings in the eighth century through to the 20th century. While many of the objects on viewdepicting gruesome images such as exposed brains in skull cups and flayed human skinsmay be shocking to those unfamiliar with the meaning and purpose of Tibetan religious art, the deployment of these objects celebrates the power of detachment from the corporeal body that advanced Buddhist practitioners strive to attain. The installation features Tibetan rugs and ritual utensils from the collection of Anthony dOffay, London, together with New York-based loans and works from the Museums own collection.
Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle) refers to the advanced school of Mahayana Buddhism practiced in Tibet. Vajrayana has, at its core, the pursuit of higher spiritual awareness and ultimate enlightenment through the study and mastery of ritual activities, whose purpose is to remove obstacles on this path. Those obstaclesignorance, greed and delusionhindering spiritual advancement are characterized as the three poisons; much of the ritual enactment is devoted to quelling the negative passions. Works on view includes a personified ritual dagger, Phurba Emanation of Padmasambhava as Guru Dragmar, which was used to slay these passions in an exorcism-type performance.
The installation includes colorful rugs and a rich assortment of ritual paraphernalia. Highlights are two large cloth paintings of the late 16th century depicting wrathful protective deitiessuch fearsome imagery was displayed in a Tibetan monasterys chapel dedicated to the wrathful protective deities, in a room reserved for tantric initiation rites. Mahakalaan emanation of transcendental Buddha Akshobhya, and the principal destroyer of the corporeal bonds tying human to material and physical existenceis represented in both tangka paintings and sculptures, along with an extraordinary sculpture of a wild ascetic, probably a mahasidda, one of the advanced yogic practitioners revered in Tibetan Buddhism. He drinks from a skull cup, celebrating his detachment from bodily concerns.
Rugs and Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism is organized by John Guy, Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art in the Metropolitan Museums Department of Asian Art.
In conjunction with the installation, gallery talks led by John Guy will be offered on November 3, December 13, and January 26.