Ceremonial Objects

 
 
Prayer Wheel (mani lag ╬khor)  
Nepal, 20th century  
Brass and copper, with a wooden handle  
12 1/2 x 3 in. (31.8 x 7.6 cm.)  
(On loan from Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and the Ligmincha Institute
Tibetan Buddhists believe that through rotating the metal canister of the prayer wheel (which is filled with a paper roll of printed prayers and mantras), they will accumulate merit and virtuous karma which will in turn assure them of rebirth in one of the three higher realms of cyclic existence (samsara, ╬khor ba), i.e., the realms of the gods, demi-gods, and human beings. Prayer wheels are usually used by lay Buddhists in conjunction with other popular lay-practices such as mantra recitation and circumambulation of pilgrimage sites. Lay people, lacking the time and expertise, probably favor such practices over the more rigorous and technically demanding practices employed by religious specialists. Each rotation of the wheel is thought be equivalent to reciting however many mantras are inside the canister, allowing the practitioner to rapidly amass the merit necessary to avoid unwanted suffering in future lives. The rotation of the canister is maintained by deft movements of the wrist, aided by a weight which is attached to the canister by a short length of wire chain.
Ritual Scepter and Bell (vajra-ghanta, rdo rje dril bu)  
India, 20th century  
Metal alloys  
Bell: 8 5/8 x 4 1/2 in.(22 x 11.5 cm.) Scepter: 6 1/2 in. (16.6 cm.)  
(On loan from Bryan J. Cuevas)
The ritual scepter (vajra, rdo rje) and bell (ghanta, dril bu) are the most important ritual elements in Vajrayana Buddhism. The vajra, from which Vajrayana Buddhism takes its name, symbolizes the active male aspect of enlightenment often equated with skillful means, compassion, or bliss. The vajra evolved from the thunderbolt-scepter wielded by the Vedic god Indra. When used in ritual, the vajra is paired with the bell which represents the feminine principle of wisdom. These twin principles of compassion and wisdom are indispensable to the attainment of enlightenment. Although the use of the vajra and bell varies from ritual to ritual, they are used primarily in tandem with ritual gestures (mudra, phyag rgya) to evoke the Buddhas and Bodhi-sattvas, or to make musical offerings to various deities.
Crystal Rosary (shel gyi ╬phreng ba)  
Nepal (?), 20th century  
crystal, string  
21 in. (53.3 cm.)  
(On loan from Nawang Thokmay)  
 
This rosary (mala, ╬phreng ba) consists of 108 crystal beads. Rosaries are very important religious objects for all Tibetan Buddhists, whether lay or clergy. They are most commonly used for calculating the number of mantras one has accumulated over a period of time. The mala or rosary may be used to compute the number of mantras one recites in a formal session of meditation, or informally as one engages in other daily activities. Malas made from crystal or seeds are said to be appropriate for practices that focus on serene Buddhas and deities, and crystal malas are also used by lamas to perform divinations. Bone malas are most appropriate for meditation on fierce deities.
Offering Mandala  
Nepal, 20th century  
Hammered copper  
Base: 6 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (16.5 x 11.5 cm.)  
(On loan from Gregory and Maricel Hillis)
In ceremonial use the mandala offering plate is piled with rice or other cereal grains mixed with beads, semi-precious stones, coins, etc., using three successively smaller rings to create a small round stepped tower upon which a wheel ornament, symbolizing Buddhist doctrine, is placed. This model is a ritual representation of the entire universe as it is described in Buddhist cosmological texts. The practitioner first meditates upon the 'empty' (shunya, stong pa) nature of all phenomena and then imagines that from within this state he or she is creating the cosmos from the ground up by carefully placing mounds of rice in the cardinal and intermediate directions to represent its important features: the mountain at the center of the world, the various continents, goddesses, auspicious symbols, the sun and moon, etc. Once the practitioner has completed the ritual construction of the world in this way, he or she then presents the model to an object of devotion, whether a teacher, image, or visualized Buddha, thereby attaining the merit required to achieve a happy rebirth (bde ╬gro) and ultimately nirvana or enlightenment.
Ritual Scepter and Bell (vajra-ghanta, rdo rje dril bu)  
India, 20th century  
Metal alloys  
Bell: 8 5/8 x 4 1/2 in.(22 x 11.5 cm.) Scepter: 6 1/2 in. (16.6 cm.)  
(On loan from Gregory and Maricel Hillis)
This ritual scepter (vajra, rdo rje) and bell (ghanta, dril bu) are similar to, but slightly smaller than, those displayed elsewhere in the exhibit.
Offering Bowls (ting)  
Nepal, 20th century  
White metal  
(On loan from Nawang Thokmey)
The seven offering bowls (ting), often referred to as the 'seven magnificences' (bdun mtshar), together with illumination in the form of a butter lamp or candle (or an electric light today), represent the eight traditional Tibetan offerings. These derive from the Indian custom, still practiced today, of offering eight hospitalities to a guest at one's home: water for drinking, water for washing one's feet, flowers, incense, illumination, scented unguent, fruit, and music. Alternatively, water can be offered in all seven bowls. The bowls are filled with cool, clear, clean water (yön chap) every morning and are emptied each evening. Offering bowls range in quality according to one's means and may be exquisitely crafted from precious metals and jewels.
Drum Used for Exorcism  
Nepal, 20th century  
Wood, cotton, and skin, with padded cloth case  
8 1/4 x 4 in. (21 x 10.2 cm.)  
(On loan from Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and the Ligmincha Institute)
This large pellet drum is used together with a bell and trumpet fashioned from a human thigh bone to create an eerie musical accompaniment for the esoteric 'cutting' or Ńchödń (gcod) ritual. The drum is made of two shallow wooden bowls joined at their bases, with the two open sides covered with a green stained skin. A heavy woven strip of fabric is tied around the drum, leaving a length to serve as the handle. Also attached are two cords, one on either side, with a pellet of stitched cloth at the end of each to produce the sound when the drum is rotated. Although popularly thought to be an exorcism rite, on a deeper level the Ńchödń ceremony has the aim of 'cutting through' (gcod) conceptual distortions (vikalpa, rnam rtog) which give rise to the process of duality in the apparent world, i.e. the belief in a real apprehending subject and apprehended object. This sense of duality leads to all egotism and emotional conditions, the presence of which keeps sentient beings separated from the realization of their own true nature, i.e., Buddha-Nature (tathagatagarbha, de bzhin snying po). Therefore it is necessary to eliminate or sever these discursive processes. Having done so, one becomes free from all dichotomies including fear of birth and death, etc. The meditation that accompanies the ritual takes the form of a sacrifice in which the practitioner imaginatively offers his or her body, senses, and life itself to a female manifestation of the Buddha. The rite is an hallucinatory evocation during which terrifying deities and demons appear to the meditator. In fact, it is recommended that the practice of chöd be carried out in cementeries filled with corpses, jackals, vultures, etc. so that the practitioner's deeply held sense of ego manifests even more strongly than usual in order that it may be completely sacrificed.
Ritual Dagger (kila, phur pa)  
Tibet, 17th-18th centuries  
Gilded copper alloy, iron, pigments, turquoise  
11 x 1 3/4 x 1 3/4 in. (28 x 4.4 x 4.4 cm.)  
(On loan from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Acc. 93.18 Gift of Arthur Glasgow by exchange, ©1997 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)
The phurba (kila, phur pa) or ritual dagger is a tantric ritual implement used symbolically to conquer evil spirits or negative emotional states, as well as avert obstacles. Phurbas are used in esoteric rites by high level tantric practitioners. The phurba is made in three separate segments: the head, the shank, and the triangular blade. The three-sided blade has two serpent-like creatures called nagas (klu) entwined around it, and above each of the corners of the blade there is a gilded crocodile (makara). The shank is comprised of two inverted lotuses at the center, with what appear to be decorative knot-designs on either side. Finally, at the top of the dagger are the three heads of the deity Vajrakilaya, each with three eyes, blazing bushy hair and eyebrows and skull crowns with turquoise inlay. The triple-head is crowned with a miniature half-vajra. When using the phurba, the meditator recites the appropriate liturgy, and invites the actual deity to abide within the dagger. The practitioner then imagines that he or she is frightening and subduing the evil spirits by impaling them with the blade.
Ritual Crown (dbu rgyan) with Royal Topknot  
Nepal (?), 20th century  
Copper alloy with gold paint, cotton  
Crown: Each panel 6 1/2 x 2 in. (16.5 x 5 cm.); Topknot: 10 in. (25.4 cm.)  
(On loan from Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and the Ligmincha Institute)
A lama 'crown' consisting of five thin copper (?) panels with arched tops, painted gold, and attached to each other with a red cord. In the center of each panel is a Sanskrit syllable corresponding to one of the five meditational or Ńcosmicń Buddhas (dhyani-buddha). The crown is worn together with a stitched fabric topknot with loosely hanging strands of cotton in the rear. Such crowns are used by lamas and monks during certain religious ceremonies such as tantric initiations rituals (abhisheka, dbang), and are styled after the iconographic representations of 'Enjoyment Body' (sambhogakaya, longs sku) Buddhas' ornaments, which are in turn based upon the traditional garb of the royal class. While wearing the crown, the lama or monk visualizes himself as the actual deity. Such crowns may be worn by several initiates at once during a large initiation ceremony, or individually by a single monk during a 'self-initiation' ceremony. They may also be worn during certain ritual dances.
Bone Armlet (gdu bu)  
Tibet, 18th-19th centuries  
Bone, beads, string  
4 1/2 x  32 1/4 x 1/2 in. (11.4 x 81.6 x 1.1 cm.)  
(On loan from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Acc. #91.490, Gift of Mr. Orrin Hein, ©1997 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)
These carved bone figures, strung together with bone, wood, and coral beads, depict wrathful faces, meditating yogins, a lotus with a Sanskrit syllable (possibly Om), a 'Wheel of Doctrine' (dharma-cakra, chos kyi ╬khor lo), a vajra, in addition to other purely decorative elements. This piece is part of a larger ceremonial costume that normally includes bone bracelets, anklets, crown, apron, and chest plate. Such costumes were used during important tantric rituals and performances, and were ideally made from human bone. They are based on the ornaments usually associated with the wrathful (heruka) deities of the highest classification of tantra (anuttara-tantra, bla na med paÔi rgyud).
Bone Rosary (rus kyi ╬phreng ba) 
Nepal (?), 20th century 
Bone, string 
21 in. (53.3 cm.) 
(On loan from Bryan J. Cuevas)
This rosary (mala, ╬phreng ba) of 108 miniature carved skulls is probably made from yak bone. Rosaries are very important religious objects for all Tibetan Buddhists, whether lay or clergy. They are most commonly used for calculating the specific number of mantras one has accumulated over a period of time. The mala or rosary may be used formally to compute the number of mantras one recites in a session of meditation, or informally as one engages in other daily activities. Whereas malas made from seeds or crystal are thought to be appropriate for practices that focus on serene Buddhas and deities, bone malas of this type are most appropriate for meditation on fierce deities. This type of rosary is not particularly common among Tibetans, and was probably made in Nepal for sale to tourists.
 

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