The line drawings featured in the Clay Sanskrit Library volumes were selected from the portfolios displayed in
Robert Beer’s Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs.
Illustrated here are examples of unusual rock formations that typically populate the landscapes of Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese Zen paintings, and which form simulacra of angular caves where sacred artefacts, such as ‘hidden treasure texts’ may be found.
This drawing depicts examples of adamantine ‘vajra’ rock formations, upon which the lotus-thrones of various powerful Indo-Tibetan deities may abide. The vajra, as the ‘lord of stones’, was the weapon wielded by the Vedic sky-god Indra, and in Vajrayana Buddhism the vajra serves as an important right hand-held attribute of many tantric deities. Often equated with the diamond, the vajra exemplifies the unshakeable, indivisible and indestructible nature of a fully enlightened being. In the upper area of this drawing are sharply-pointed rock formations, which traditionally encircle the mandala or ‘sacred abode’ of certain wrathful deities.
Illustrated here are dynamic examples of extremely turbulent water, which typically appear in many schools of oriental art, with the Japanese artist Hokusai serving as a prime example. Here, small swirling wave crests mass above the larger deeper and denser wave lines, appearing like curving little white tongues that momentarily cast out perfect little globules of water.
The billowing masses of flames that encircle wrathful deities are described as a ‘blazing awareness fire’, which is inexhaustible like the Sun. In Sanskrit this fire is known as kalagni, the ‘fire at the end of time’, and is identified with the Vedic fire-god, Agni. Extremely fierce deities are traditionally depicted within a swirling mass of orange-red flames, while less-wrathful forms may be encircled by a repeating aura of benign and more graceful flames.
Illustrated here are complex cumulus cloud formations, with truncated mare’s tail clouds drifting across the upper area, and upward-billowing altocumulus clouds in the lower area. While at the centre are a stack of symmetrical cumulus clouds with little spirals of rain-bearing ‘nipples’ at their centres.
This composition depicts a variety of cloud formations that swirl and billow around high-altitude mountain peaks: with drifting cumulus and mare’s-tail clouds in the upper area, and with horizontal cloudbanks and cloud-streets in the lower middle area.
As a symbol of spiritual purity, the lotus (Skt. padma) grows from the dark watery mire while it buds and blossoms remain unstained by it. Thus birth from a lotus implies an immaculate conception, untainted by karmic faults. As a left-handed female polarity symbol it is often coupled with the male vajra that is held in the right hand, as the ‘jewel in the lotus’. A variety of stylized lotus buds, blossoms, and water-born leaves are depicted in this drawing.
Illustrated here are examples of fully-opened flower blossoms, such as the lotus, peony and chrysanthemum, which are traditionally depicted with a compact budding centre encircled by an outer circle of petals. Often there is a gap in the two lower petals, where the main stem bifurcates into two or three separate stems.
This drawing shows a composition of foliated flowers, buds and leaves, with those in the upper area typically appearing behind the auras or haloes of deities. Frequently the main flower stem divides into three as it ascends, with the left and right stems culminating into a seed-pod and a bud. Collectively, these three stems represent the ‘buddhas of the three times’; past (seed-pod), present (main blossom), and future (bud).
Depicted here are a variety of stylised and graceful flower buds, such as those of the lotus, lily, chrysanthemum, poppy and peony.
Depicted here are a variety of stylised leaves, with those in the central five rows being typical of the blossoming and graceful leaf formations that encircle the auras of peaceful deities.
In the upper left corner of this drawing hang branches of the weeping willow, whose stems are used to sprinkle consecrated water. In the upper right corner are the fruit, leaves and branches of a mango tree, while behind is the dense foliage of a stylised fruit tree with fronds hanging below. Branches of the long-life pine and the entwining trunk of a fruit tree appear to the left and right of centre, with the long convoluted leaves of the banana plant below. At the bottom centre is a rock formation with various kinds of bamboo growing in front of it.
At the top are many pear-shaped leaf clusters of trees like the cypress, ashoka or evergreen bushes, where the leaf-clusters themselves assume the shape of a leaf. To the left appears the entwining trunk and branches of the sacred fig and peony tree. Behind these trunks are bamboo branches, with banana leaves growing in the bottom left, and a flowering peony bush in the bottom right. Behind the peonies are other stylized oriental trees, and a long-leafed plant with an auspicious triple-fruit at its centre.
Three illustrated examples of fig-like clusters displaying leaf, flower, fruit and seed simultaneously appear in the top row, with a variety of radiating leaf, flower and fruit clusters appearing below. In the lower area are clusters of triple fruits, which represent the ‘Three Jewels’ of the buddha (teacher), dharma (teachings), and sangha (spiritual community); along with some stylized seed-pods that represent abundance.
Illustrated here are two stylized tigers at the top, with a leopard and two white Tibetan snow-lions below, with turquoise manes, tails, and lower bodily hair. Below are another pair of Tibetan or Chinese lion pups, who play with a toy ball adorned with silk ribbons, known as a ‘wheel of joy, while their mother looks on. Below is the silk and saddle adorned precious wind-horse, which is flanked by a pair of graceful Tibetan kyang or wild mules; and below again another wild kyang, flanked by an antelope and two deer.
At the centre is the ‘precious white elephant’ who appears as one of the ‘seven precious ornaments’ of the Indian chakravartin, or universal ‘wheel-turning’ monarch, who bears the precious eight-faceted gem upon his saddle-blanket. Various other elephants appear on this page, including the head of Airavata - the six-tusked white vehicle of the sky-god Indra. The black spots on the elephant at the bottom centre indicate the sensitive marma or acupuncture-like points, which the sharp hook of the mahout or elephant driver uses to control his vehicle.
Deer are frequently depicted in Buddhist art, mainly in relation to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni giving his first teaching in the Deer Park at Sarnath in India. In recognition of this event the image of a male and female deer seated on either side of a dharmachakra or ‘wheel of dharma’ traditionally crown the gateways of Buddhist monasteries and temples. Deer or antelope skins likewise serve as the meditational seat for yogins and yoginis, emphasizing the solitary and gentle nature of the deer. A mythical single-horned deer and a musk deer appears at the top right, with a musk deer and two saiga antelopes to the right, and various depictions of deer below.
This page illustrates various oriental birds, with the Indian parrot and myna bird in the top left area, and with birds of prey, such as the falcon, buzzard and kite in the upper right with cuckoos below. Beneath the parrots are small birds such as finches, canaries, tits and swallows, and below a kingfisher, raven, crow and snipe, with a peacock, hoopoe, vulture and a bird-of-paradise across the middle area. In the lower left are a flying peacock, two golden pheasants, and three mythical Chinese phoenixes with twelve or thirteen tail feathers.
At the top are three drawings of cranes in flight, with a Chinese-style diving crane to the lower left, a white snow goose spreading its wings, while another goose is strutting. Below again are a white egret lapping water, a bar-headed goose gazing backward, a crane gazing upwards; and below again are three drawings of herons, and a graceful demoiselle crane standing on one foot. At the bottom are drawings of swans, ducks and geese gliding or landing upon flowing water, with mother ducks shepherding their young.
This Sino-Tibetan drawing illustrates the six long-life symbols, with the old sage turning the beads of a rosary with his left hand, as he feeds the root of immortality to the long-lived stag at his feet. The fruit tree, paired cranes, auspicious conch-shaped rock, and the cascading waters of longevity complete the harmonious landscape that surrounds him. A bowl of peaches is placed before him, and this image symbolizes the natural harmony of the recluse, who lives a long life of contentment, peace and harmony.
The ‘Eight Auspicious Symbols’ of Buddhism are traditionally listed as: the parasol; the pair of golden fishes; the treasure vase; the lotus; the white right-spiralling conch shell; the eternal knot; the banner of victory, and the eight-spoked golden wheel. Here these eight symbols are depicted singularly in roundels in the top two rows, and more elaborately in the bottom two rows. Originally these eight symbols related to the investiture of an India king, with variations in the Hindu, Jain and Newar traditions of India and Nepal.
Depicted here are variations of some of the ‘Eight Auspicious Symbols’: with two drawings of the endless or eternal knot; two drawings of the lotus; one drawing of an elaborate victory banner, four drawings of white conch shells, and ten drawings of the paired golden fishes.
© Illustrations Copyright Courtesy of Robert Beer, tibetanart.com, from: “The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs.” Shambhala Publications, USA.