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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?"

The Buddha Image...Out Of Uddiyana: A Conversation with Collector Nik Douglas, plus a Forward by Tibet House's President Robert Thurman

October 13, 2010

Mike Ragogna
The Huffington Post
October 8, 2010

The following is the "Foreword" from The Buddha
Image: Out of Uddiyana  show catalogue courtesy
of Tibet House US. It was written by Robert
Thurman, president of Tibet House, and it is
followed by an interview with collector Nik
Douglas whose exhibition has been extended beyond
its original October run to November 16th.


In Mahayana Buddhist teaching, it is proposed
that a perfectly enlightened buddha has three
bodies: a truth body (dharmakaya), a beatific
body (sambhogakaya), and an emanation body (nirmanakaya).

The first of these is the absolute oneness of all
buddhas, non-buddhas, and things, experienced as
the truth of reality by a buddha.

The second is a subtle body of bliss, nondual
from the absolute body but personally enjoyed by
each buddha being and only perceived by other
beings very close to that attainment.

The third is the myriad embodiments buddhas
manifest in order to communicate with alienated
beings: It has three types, ideal (parama --
Shakyamuni Buddha et al.), incarnational (janma
-- all sorts of beings who introduce others to
freedom and happiness), and artistic (silpa --
all sorts of artistic representations of buddhas'
bodies, speech, and mind). The objects in this
milestone exhibition are traces of the artistic
emanation body, manifesting the great variety and
creativity of many peoples throughout the hard
history of Asia who were inspired by some sort of
encounter with higher beings who walked among them.

It is with a great sense of pride and delight
that we present the "Out of Uddiyana" exhibit for
the first time in the Tibet House gallery. We in
this way wish to honor Nik Douglas' life's work
of dedication to the Dharma, interdisciplinary
scholarship and research, avid connoisseurship
and arduous efforts to collect an extraordinary
body of work documenting this central vein of the
artistic emanation body. Our highest hope in
doing so is to inspire a modern day emperor
Ashoka to take the entire collection and manifest
it in various venues throughout the world,
ultimately, ideally, resting in a national museum
in a culturally liberated Free Tibet. As Von
Schroeder has so skillfully documented, Tibet's
dedicated lama scholars had already been
collecting an extraordinary range of Buddha
images from other lands, and the amazing
manifestations in this exhibit would complement
them wonderfully. Imperishable Tibet, of course,
has been broken open as the last bastion of the
living tradition of human education for freedom
that came "Out of Uddiyana," and nevertheless
will be the seminal font whence the undying
tradition will burst forth yet again to give life
around the world of suffering beings, as promised
long ago and still today by the compassionate
Shakyamuni as the Kalachakra Buddha (planetary
Time Machine for the positive evolution of all beings).

Even if this imperiled planet is not fortunate
enough to see this happen and the Buckingham
Collection does not find a permanent home where
it most surely definitely belongs, we hope that
the manifestations gathered in the exhibition
will find their way here and there to continue to
inspire individuals to use their precious human
lives in the evolutionarily most meaningful way
to create real human values in themselves and others.

We are thankful to Nik Douglas and his family for
choosing our humble venue in which to exhibit the
treasures he has been collecting for many decades.

Robert A. F. "Tenzin" Thurman
President, Tibet House US

A Conversation with Collector Nik Douglas
Mike Ragogna: You have an exhibition coming up
called The Buddha Image: Out Of Uddiyana. Where
did the artifacts come from that will be featured in this exhibit?

Nik Douglas: They come from an area that mostly
would have been called Uddiyana in the old
days--in the days when Alexander The Great went
through Afghanistan and Pakistan with his army,
so we're talking about 300 BC. A lot of his
Greeks remained there, and that area today is
called Swat in Northern Pakistan. Primarily, the
area extends into Afghanistan in one direction,
into India in the other direction, and it's a
verdant, sort of paradisaical land where the
Buddha's image probably first evolved. Swat, of
course, these days, has been in the news,
especially because of the Taliban and because of
the floods, and I think a couple of years ago,
the earthquakes. So, they've had some really hard
times. Most of the monasteries that were there
are now in ruins, and most of the artifacts have
been dispersed all over the world. Most of what I
collected came through the family of the Wali of
Swat, which was a family that ruled in Swat at
one time. Eventually, they were, basically,
removed by the authorities, and the family moved
to London. So, I started acquiring these things
in the early to mid-sixties. I was doing a little
self-discovery, and I just began to collect the
artifacts to understand where the Buddha imagery
evolved out of, which it turns out, was out of
Uddiyana. I was also interested in how it
evolved, and the impact of the imagery on the
neighboring areas, like along the Silk Road,
ultimately, into China, leading the spread of
Buddhism out of Uddiyana into different countries
as far away as Japan, China, and Korea.

MR: That's amazing. Most people don't know the
history of how artifacts emerged from that region.

ND: It's a little obscure, I know.

MR: And this is your private collection?

ND: Yes, it's a collection assembled by me over a
forty-four year period. It's been in boxes,
storage spaces, and so forth all those years. It
is the largest collection anywhere, and it's
large, especially in the precious areas, meaning
we have a lot of very precious imagery--bronzes
which have never been seen before, and what is
probably the largest collection of early bronze
Buddha imagery. It's probably more than all the
museums in the world combined. It's a very, very
large collection, indeed. There is also very
exquisite imagery in gold and crystal, as well as
the more normally seen Gandhara style stone and
stucco sculptures of the Buddha, portraits of the Buddha, and so forth.

MR: What is a normal day for you when you're working on this collection?

ND: For me, my normal day has changed. Obviously,
I'm in New York now, curating this exhibition. In
the old days, first of all, I lived in India for
ten years. By India, I mean the greater Indian
area, which includes the mountains of Pakistan,
Afghanistan, and the area where Buddha's life
story was basically evolving. I visited all those
places, all the various pilgrimage places
associated with Buddha's life story, and along
the way, I familiarized myself with what was
available there in the art, and here and there, I was able to acquire things.

MR: What is your relationship to the Buckingham collections?

ND: The Buckingham collections are from a family
name, and we are a family of collectors--we have
been for about three-hundred years in my family.
Originally, once upon a time, they were the Dukes
of Buckingham, and our family home was what is
now Buckingham Palace, but that's a long story of
all that was lost a long time back. All that
remained in our family was the collecting
impulse, I suppose. My mother and my grandfather
were great collectors, and I guess I kind of
picked up on that and continued with it.

MR: How young were you when you became conscious of your own collector nature?

ND: Very young. When I was four years old, my
father bought a house in Cypress, then later sold
the house with everything in it. But actually, he
gave me, at the age of four, all of the Egyptian
artifacts, so they were my toys and they were the
things that I was brought up with. I wanted, at
one point, to be an Egyptologist, but I ended up
going to India, eventually, after a stint in the
rock 'n' roll business in England.

MR: What did you do in rock 'n' roll?

ND: I was involved early on with the development
and production of rhythm and blues, with groups
that eventually turned into Cream, for example,
and The Moody Blues. The original group I worked
with was a group called The Graham Bond
Organization, and I also was involved with pirate
radio--Radio Caroline--in the early days in
England, when BBC wouldn't play pop music, but
that's a long story. I left all that, eventually,
to go to India, and I stayed there about ten years.

MR: Now, having spent all that time in India, did
you acquire artifacts from other traditions such as Hinduism?

ND: The Buckingham Collections include Hindu
material, but this exhibition is very, very
focused on the Buddha imagery, so it is strictly
Buddhist material. I say, without exaggeration,
it's the greatest collection of its type
anywhere, and I am honored to be able to show it
at Tibet House, which is a great venue. It's not
really a stuffy, museum-type exhibition
space--it's more a living space. You can walk
around the exhibits, we have a lot of information
about the pieces, and I think that people who
come will be surprised at how nice it is.

MR: Can you tell us about Tibet House?

ND: Tibet House is sort of run by Bob Thurman,
who is the president here. He has always been,
for a long time, close with the Dalai Lama, he's
been a friend of mine for forty years, and of
course, he's the father of Uma Thurman, the
actress. The Thurman family sort of reigns here,
in fact -- Bob's son Ganden runs the day-to-day activities.

MR: Do you remember when the two giant statues, I
think they were statues of Buddha...

ND: ... when they were blown up by the Taliban?

MR: Yes. There has been a campaign to eliminate
Buddhism in that region, hasn't there been?

ND: Absolutely. I mean, Islam in general--I don't
want to generalize too much--has been against
what they consider idolatry. Obviously, it's not
idolatry any more than images of Jesus Christ are
idolatry. I always like to make the comparison
that if you had a great teacher or somebody who
impressed you, you would want to have a
photograph of them. Well, likewise, I think the
Buddha was a great teacher, I'm sure he was, and
I'm sure his followers wanted to have an image of
him so they could be reminded of him. So, what we
have are representations of, basically, the
philosopher teach, which is actually a Greek
idea. The Greeks did this--made statues of their
philosopher teachers--and reminded themselves of
their presence. So, what happened in Afghanistan
is really a travesty, as these cultural icons were blown-up by ignorant people.

MR: Can you point out some of the highlights of
this exhibit for some of the people who will be navigating it?

ND: Sure. By they way, a lot of it is also
online. You can see it at, and you can also
link to it through Tibet House U.S. I would start
with seventeen of the best Indo-Greek sculptures,
which begin with the faces of the Buddha, events
in the life of the Buddha, the miracles of the
Buddha, and various important events beautifully
portrayed in sculpture. Then, there is a series
of reliquary stupas, which are basically small
commemorative structures made of crystal, gold,
and bronze. They are really, truly unique and
marvelous works of art in themselves. There is
wonderful gold granulation work, which is very,
very fine, jewelry-type workmanship. Then, a
series of very important bronze Buddhas -- the
largest gathering of bronze Buddhas from between
the second and fifth centuries AD. That type of
Buddha, which is a specific kind of Buddha that
we call the Uddiyana Buddha, has a certain type
of drapery to the robe, and was considered to be
the original icon of the Buddha. It was
transmitted out of Uddiyana, along the Silk
route, eventually reaching as far away as Korea
and Japan; but this is the way the image was
transmitted--through this single type of icon,
from this small area of Uddiyana/Swat, in
Pakistan. Obviously, these days in Pakistan, you
don't have any appreciation or understanding,
really, of the importance. So, luckily, these
things have survived outside of that domain.

MR: Nik, is there any advice that you might have
for up-and-coming archivists or collectors?

ND: Yeah, definitely. It's an obsessive type of
behavior that you need to cultivate. Never give
up on the things that you are looking for because
you definitely get wonderful feedback when you do
find out about what they mean and you get to see
other examples. It's a life enriching type of
experience. I want to add one more thing about
the exhibition. There is a part two to the
exhibition, which is the tantric element, which
is also out of Uddiyana. The so-called second
Buddha, the person that established tantric
Buddhism in Tibet, a man called Padmassambhava
also came out of this same Uddiyana place. The
part two of the exhibition at the Tibet House is
a series of twelve very large tantric sculptures
in bronze, and twenty-four smaller ones, all
collected by the tantric order in America, which
you could almost say was a cult, though I don't
generally like the word. It was a group or
movement that started in the early 1900s, and was
actually responsible for introducing yoga to
America. So, these are the artifacts from that
group. The founder of that group died in '55, so
we're talking about a time that was pre-beatniks
and pre-psychedelic '60s. So, we have gathered
together all the best of that material in part two of the show.

Tibet House Us Presents...the Buddha Image: Out Of Uddiyana
Exhibition has been extended through November 16, 2010

"A lifetime collection of awesome majesty by one
of the great adventurers, scholars and
connoisseurs of Buddhist art, following the
origins of the Buddha image from Uddiyana up to
modern times. It is with a great sense of pride
and delight that we present the "Out of Uddiyana"
exhibit for the first time at Tibet House." - Bob
Thurman, Jey Tsong Kappa Professor of
Indo-Tibetan Studies Columbia University and President of Tibet House

A one-of-a-kind collection featuring precious
materials and rare artifacts, including 12 large
Tantric sculptures available for public viewing
for the first time at Tibet House US

"A lifetime collection of awesome majesty by one
of the great adventurers, scholars and
connoisseurs of Buddhist art, following the
origins of the Buddha image from Uddiyana up to
modern times. It is with a great sense of pride
and delight that we present the "Out of Uddiyana"
exhibit for the first time at Tibet House." - Bob
Thurman, Jey Tsong Kappa Professor of
Indo-Tibetan Studies Columbia University and President of Tibet House

New York, NY (September 30, 2010) -Tibet House US
announces that its acclaimed exhibition, The
Buddha Image: Out of Uddiyana, will be extended
through November 16, 2o10. Displayed works
include rare bronze Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from
Gandhara and Swat; significant stupas of
differing sizes, styles, and materials;
reliquaries in precious materials such as gold
and silver; 'pilgrimage' items; and important
Buddhas recovered from early Chinese cultures.
This exhibition is from the Buckingham
Collections and brought to the public for the
first time by Tibet House US from Buckingham
descendent Nik Douglas, who spent the past 40
years assembling this vast collection.

The exhibit features hundreds of early Buddhist
artifacts, including rare Gandharan sculptures
that depict the Buddha in Indo-Greco aesthetic.
The exhibit provides a fascinating insight into
the origins and evolution of the Buddha imagery
as it traveled from Uddiyana, now known as Swat,
in Northern Pakistan, along the Silk Road
throughout different cultures. Many of the pieces
are believed to be created in the 2ndCentury A.D.
with some pieces dating back even further.

Also on display are large bronze castings of
Buddhist tantric deities from the Himalayas.
These were created by master artisans using the
lost wax method and exemplify the mystic ideas of
Mahayana Buddhism and the legacy of the tantric
master Padmasambhava, who was born in Uddiyana
and transmitted tantric Buddhism to Tibet in the
8th century. Among these castings are Dakinis --
or energetic female spiritual idealizations.
These castings derive directly from the Tantrik
Order in America - founded in the early 1900's by
Pierre Bernard. His wife Blanche De Vries was a
pioneer of Hatha Yoga instruction in America.

You can take a virtual tour of the exhibit here:

The Tibet House U.S.
22 West 15th Street
New York, NY

* Mike Ragogna -- Radio Personality on Solar-Powered KRUU-FM, Music Biz Vet
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