The All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide focuses on an exceptional set of paintings in the intimate format of album leaves from 18th-century China that illustrate the meditation practice of Sarvavid Vairochana, a primordial Buddha central to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The album is one of only two of its kind in existence to depict visually a secret esoteric practice. The presentation at the Rubin is the first time that these important paintings are exhibited in the United States.
The 54 richly detailed paintings provide step-by-step guidance to visualization of the Buddha Sarvavid Vairochana and offer unique insight into the meditation and rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. These practices are normally not meant to be depicted and are usually restricted to oral transmission by a teacher to his initiated disciple. The album is displayed at the Rubin alongside an array of sculptures and paintings that provide an artistic, religious, and historical context for Buddhist practices related to Vairochana.
On loan to the Rubin from the Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp, Belgium, the album was first brought to the West in 1923 by a Christian missionary who acquired it from a Buddhist monastery in Jehol, Inner Mongolia. It is believed to have been commissioned by a Mongolian patron during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), whose rulers sponsored extensive artistic production and supported Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. Drawing together Tibetan Buddhist content with the aesthetic traditions of Qing-era Chinese art in Inner Mongolia, the album exemplifies the rich patterns of cross-cultural exchange that characterized the period and region.
Curated by Karl Debreczeny and Elena Pakhoutova
The All-Knowing Buddha will be accompanied by a publication.
Support of this exhibition has been provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation, and by the 2013 and 2014 Exhibitions Funds.
Image Credit: Sarvavid Vairochana Album Leaf (detail); China/Inner Mongolia; ca. 18th -19th c.; Pigments on paper; 26.3 x 27 cm; Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp AE.1977.0026.043