Tibet’s different traditions of Buddhism have sometimes conflicted with one another in the course of history. The creators of this unusual painting were part of a movement to transcend these differences. The movement was known as rime, which can be translated as “unbiased” or “non-sectarian.” It sought to minimize sectarian tension by incorporating the full range of Tibet’s Buddhist traditions. Practitioners were encouraged to see all traditions as valid paths. Rime flourished in Eastern Tibet, where this painting was created, outside the control of the Lhasa government that ruled Central Tibet. Though the movement is sometimes interpreted as resisting the hegemony of the Dalai Lama’s Geluk tradition, Tibet’s other traditions (Kagyu, Sakya, Nyingma, and Jonangpa) were better able to preserve their own identities through non-sectarian unity.
The painting displays an unusual style, involving the heavy use of ink and a controlled tonality influenced by Chinese styles. It contains an unusually eclectic selection of figures from different traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and historical eras. From the Kagyu tradition, at top right is the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), wearing his signature black hat, and Situ Panchen, wearing a red notched hat. Rangjung Dorje’s work Prayer to the Great Seal was a major source for the Rime movement, and Situ Panchen (1700–1774) revived the Karma Kagyu tradition as well as a distinctive style of art associated with it. One of the founders of the Sakya tradition, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo at inside left, represents that tradition, and Longchen Rabjampa (1308–1364) represents the Nyingma tradition; he systematized that tradition’s distinctive treasure teachings. The Jonang tradition, which barely survived Geluk persecution, is represented by the great scholar Taranatha (1575–1634). One of the leaders of the rime tradition, Jomgon Kongtrul (1813–1899), claimed to be his incarnation.
Come view our Art of the Week in the exhibition Masterworks of Himalayan Art.
C2005.34.1, HAR 65562