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Sacred arts of Tibet

Discover the sacred arts of Tibet. Learn more about Tibet on the Asian Art Museum's education website. Created by Asian Art Museum.

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Video transcript

The Buddhism of Tibet has been influential throughout the Himalayan region. What function does art play in Tibetan Buddhism? The Tibetans don't really have a word for "art." The term is "gunda," something which is like the body. And the term "body" is an honorific term, so it's "like the body of the Buddha." A painting or a statue is not considered complete unless it's been consecrated. In a ritual, the spirit of that deity is made to enter into, that's physically enter into and inhabit, that painting or that statue, not as if it were the deity, it is the deity in a very important sense. Many artworks can be used as tools for meditation. The mandala is the Buddha Field, where the Buddha lives. So when you do the practice, then you have to have the model of the Buddha Field. So the mandala actually has two meanings: one is the model for your visualization, the other meaning is the ritual. Ritual objects play an important part in Tibetan ceremonies. In practice, the thunderbolt and bell are manipulated by monks and prescribed movements. Monasteries are the center of Buddhist life, where monks spend much of the day debating Buddhist philosophy. Tibetan Buddhism, to me, looks more like a philosophy. So the debating is the practice to analyze and to understand the philosophy part. Ordinary Tibetans worship using prayer wheels and prayer beads. They make pilgrimages to sacred places. At festivals, the monks bring out special objects and perform sacred music and dance. Tibetan Buddhism has become increasingly popular worldwide. Its practices are becoming better understood, and scholars of medicine, religion, philosophy, and psychology have begun to look to it for inspiration and insight.