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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Freeman exhibit celebrates the beautry and history of Buddhism

September 22, 2008

By Claire Greenwood
Wesleyan Argus - Middletown, CT
September 19, 2008

Standing in front of the “Incantation Wheel of Garuda to Conquer
Enemies,” a thangka at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian
Studies, I had to bow my head and put my hands together in praise. Not
all visitors to “Pearl of the Snowlands: Buddhist Prints from the Derge
Parkhang,” will be Buddhist practitioners like myself, but the art at
the Center’s current exhibit is detailed enough to inspire respect from
even the most atheistic postmodernist. “Incantation” is a thangka
(traditionally a painted or embroidered Buddhist banner) woodcut print
displaying a disk made entirely of Tibetan text. In the center of the
disk is the symbol for “OM,” and rippling out from this point is a
seemingly infinite number of mantras in Tibetan. The whole thangka was
created from one woodblock. The effect of looking at such a work is
hypnotic; the viewer feels like they are falling into a whirlpool of
text. How much time the woodcut took to make may never be known, but the
love and devotion that went into its production is apparent and contagious.

“Pearl of the Snowlands” is a collection of woodcuts and thangkas from
the Derge Parkhang (also called the Derge Sutra Painting Temple) in
Tibet. The Derge Parkhang is famous in Tibet for its output ?" 70
percent of Tibet’s classical literature is represented on the woodblocks
at Derge. Although the Kangyur (the 108-volume collected teachings of
the Buddha) and the Dengyur (the 224-volume collected commentaries and
analyses of his teachings) are the most important works Derge produced,
Curator Patrick Dowdey chose to display mostly other work, like
illustrations, instead.

“Westerners can’t read Tibetan, but they can appreciate the artwork,” he

The show consists of 10 prints on cloth that are mounted as thangka and
24 woodcuts. One volume of the 108-volume Kangyur sits in a glass case
at the end of the gallery. The Kangyur is printed on long, horizontal
strips of paper to mimic the shape of the original holy texts, which
were written on palm leaf.

As Dowdey promises, there are plenty of beautiful illustrations for
those uninterested in Buddhist texts. One compelling example is “Mandala
Group of Manjushri Dorje in a Tantric Pose,” a woodcut that depicts a
wrathful emanation of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjushri, in sexual
embrace with a consort. For someone unfamiliar with Tibetan Buddhism,
these sorts of images are confusing to say the least. Manjushri, in
addition to having sex with a female deity, has multiple arms holding
skull-cups of blood. Naked, wrathful goddesses with skull necklaces
surround the happy couple. It’s hard to look at this and not be somehow

Other illustrations around the room depict scenes from the life of the
Buddha, the eight emanations of Padmasambhava, and illustrations of
ritual objects.

Despite the incredible beauty and intricacy of the woodcuts, several of
them lack the artists’ names. This is because, for the artist, creating
the thangka is an act of selflessness ?" a selflessness that is almost
mind-boggling when you consider the time and labor that went into these

Walking through “Pearl of the Snowlands” you can sense the history and
devotion behind the art: a history that evokes the mystery of a
religious tradition that has survived and evolved for thousands of years.

“Pearl of the Snowlands: Buddhist Prints from the Derge Parkhang” runs
until Dec. 7 at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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