Avalokiteshvara Mandala, India, Dharamsala, September 1991; painting on cloth; image: 22 3/4 x 22 3/4 in., framed: 29 3/4 x 29 1/2 in.; Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, 92.11.1025.

Avalokiteshvara Mandala, India, Dharamsala, September 1991; painting on cloth; image: 22 3/4 x 22 3/4 in., framed: 29 3/4 x 29 1/2 in.; Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, 92.11.1025.

Today’s post comes from Benno Orlinsky, class of 2015 and multimedia assistant for the Art Center.

Last semester, I took professor of art Karen Lucic’s course “Embodying Compassion in Buddhist Art: A Curatorial Seminar.” The course was centered on the exhibition at the Art Center, which focuses on the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, a central figure in the Buddhist tradition venerated for his compassion. The exhibition features the bodhisattva depicted in works spanning across cultures and centuries. I and the other students worked with Professor Lucic to curate the exhibition, research specific works, write wall labels, design the exhibition website, and coordinate with a team of Duke students to create an exhibition app.

My research focused on a Tibetan mandala dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. In Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice, the mandala is an image used to guide thought and introspection. Mandalas take many forms depending on specific tradition and country, but one of the most common is a bird’s eye view of a temple. These works are created using a range of materials, often produced as impermanent images made out of colored sand. This particular mandala uses paint on a cloth surface.

What I find particularly fascinating about this iteration of the mandala is how it functions as a map on multiple levels. In addition to depicting the temple floorplan, the mandala also operates as a map of the cosmos, with the architectural aspects of the temple doubling as facets of the universe. This conflation of the micro and

Avalokiteshvara, One of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, Eastern Tibet, 18th century; pigment on cloth with silk mount; 39 3/8 x 20 3/4 x 1/2 in.; The Rubin Museum of Art, New York, C2008.9.

Image showing Avalokiteshvara with a lotus: Avalokiteshvara, One of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, Eastern Tibet, 18th century; pigment on cloth with silk mount; 39 3/8 x 20 3/4 x 1/2 in.; The Rubin Museum of Art, New York, C2008.9.

macro conveys the central Buddhist theory of the interconnectedness of all things. Additionally, the mandala serves as a map for personal reflection, guiding the viewer through meditation and opening understanding into the interconnectedness of the world and their place within it.

This particular mandala was created in 1991 in honor of the Dalai Lama’s visit to the Jacques Marchais Museum on Staten Island. Avalokiteshvara was chosen as the focus of the mandala in order to demonstrate the view that the Dalai Lama is an earthly extension of the bodhisattva’s compassion. Although many mandalas depict a holy figure at the center of the temple, this artist opted for a more symbolic route, placing an eight-petaled lotus flower in the center to represent the bodhisattva.

The lotus flower is one of the symbols most directly connected with Avalokiteshvara. The bodhisattva is often seen holding a lotus, and images of the deity are adorned with the flower’s petals. The lotus, whose long stem grows out of the muddy swamp to support a beautiful flower, represents Avalokiteshvara’s ability to transcend the muck of existence through compassion and charity.

This mandala, along with many other incredible works from across Asia, will be on view throughout the run of the exhibition, April 23 – June 28, 2015.

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