11. Portrait of Tashipal 扎西华肖像

Tibet, probably Taglung Monastery 西藏,可能为达隆寺
13th Century

Distemper on cloth
14¾ by 11½ in. (37.5 by 29.2 cm.)

Axel Ball Collection

This important painting represents Tashipal (1142-1210), also known as Taglung Thangpa Chenpo, the founder of the Taglung monastery and the Taglung lineage within the Kargyupa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

He is represented here in the company of his guru and spiritual ancestors, as well as numerous protective deities.  In the center of this finely-painted thangka, Tashipal is seated in meditation in the vajraparyanka position, his hands forming the gesture of teaching (the dharmacakra mudra). His expression is serene and peaceful, and the emphasis on his eyes is designed to enhance the concentration of the devotee who gazes into them during certain ritual meditations on the painting. 

His relatively youthful facial features are characterized by his light beard, moustache, and hairline, and his somewhat round face is almost lacking cheekbones.  His slender wrists and hands do not indicate a corpulent body, although the voluminous monastic robes do not actually reveal his proportions.  His throne base has two tiers of jewels supported by lions, elephants, and small fabric decoration.  The back of the throne is a simple oval cushion flanked by two light blue vyala (Indian “griffons”) standing upon white elephants sporting red caparisons over their trunk and ears.  The vyala are spewing jewels from their mouths, as are the makara in the upper section of the throne. The apex of the throne features a small horned Garuda with the tails of two Naga emerging from his mouth, symbolic of the role of the Naga as guardians of the Buddha’s teachings.   The Garuda is positioned as the apex of a rainbow, a series of bands of color which represent the “rainbow body,” the aura which surrounds an accomplished Buddhist master after his death.  The rainbow enshrines the entire body and upper throne.  The throne is juxtaposed against a deep blue background, in turn surrounded by a pale, yellow arch. This arch is in fact a representation of the thatched roof of the hut in which Tashipal meditated, situated inside multi-color staves of rocks to indicate the remote setting conducive to meditation inside the hut.