The Divine Feminine in Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism

Exhibition open from Sat Apr 30 2016 to Sun Aug 14 2016

Detail of Shri Devi (Palden Lhamo) Tibet, c. 18th century Bronze, gilding and pigment Crow Collection of Asian Art 1982.38

Detail of Shri Devi (Palden Lhamo), Tibet, c. 18th century
Bronze, gilding and pigment, 6.25 x 4.75 x 2.5 in., Crow Collection of Asian Art
1982.38

Tibetan Buddhism comprises the foundational teachings of Buddhism but focuses on teachings of the Vajrayana, also known as Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism. Tantric Buddhism uses meditations, visualizations, mantras, and the performance of rituals to cultivate the spiritual powers of body, speech, and mind to enable the practitioner to transform obstructions to enlightenment into the energy of its realization. A Buddha is one who has achieved complete spiritual perfection or enlightenment, and has clearly realized the true nature of all things. In general, Tibetan Buddhism considers both men and women, regardless of race or status, to be equal in their enlightenment potential and capacity for Buddha-hood.

Buddhas and bodhisattvas are often represented as embodying both male and female aspects.

The prominence and proliferation of female Buddhas and bodhisattvas in Tibetan sacred art has existed for centuries, long connected to pre-Buddhist Indian gods and goddesses. Many Tibetan Tantric systems have a female Buddha as their principal deity, where a male practitioner would meditate upon this female form, just as would a female practitioner meditate upon a male Buddha form, and see themselves as being both male and female simultaneously. Buddhas and bodhisattvas are often represented as embodying both male and female aspects.

This exhibition features a selection of Tibetan bronze statues from the Crow Collection of Asian Art that emphasize the many manifestations of the feminine divine in Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism, ranging from well-known forms such as benevolent bodhisattvas to fierce guardians and forest goddesses. In Buddhism, with the bliss of enlightenment, divisions and differentiations of sex and gender are ultimately illusory.