The Rubin is transforming. Read important updates from our Executive Director.

App Icon Apple Podcasts

App Icon Spotify Podcasts

Read the transcript of this episode.

Is it possible to bridge the sacred with everyday, ordinary life? In this episode, we speak with artist Tsherin Sherpa, whose work suggests that the sacred and mundane are not separate but inseparable. He shares the story of being trained by his father in the art of traditional thangka painting, discovering his own artistic voice as a contemporary artist, and how he finds potential for awakening in the simple moments of life, like enjoying a cup of coffee.

Tsherin begins by introducing us to the painting Protector, one of his artworks featured in the exhibition Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment, in which he abstracted an image of a deity in search of its essence.


Tsherin Sherpa was born in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1968, and he currently lives, works, and resides between California and Nepal. From the age of 12, he studied traditional Tibetan thangka painting with his father, Master Urgen Dorje.

In 1998, Sherpa immigrated to California, where he taught traditional thangka painting at various Buddhist centers until he began to explore his own style, reimagining tantric motifs, symbols, colors, and gestures placed in resolutely contemporary compositions. Sherpa also borrows imagery from classical Tibetan Buddhist iconography and abstracts, fragments, and reconstructs these traditional images to investigate and explore his personal diasporic experiences and the dichotomy found where sacred and secular culture collide. By referencing the ubiquitous noise of mass culture, Sherpa imports these representations into a heightened dialogue where Buddhist icons and global affairs are renegotiated into a mirror-like transmutation.


Tsherin Sherpa (American, b. 1968, Nepal); Protector, 2013; Gold leaf, acrylic and ink on canvas; Shelley and Donald Rubin Collection, C2013.213

The journey toward awakening is an unfolding process of recognition, the gradual discernment of patterns within the disorder of everyday experience. By analogy, this painting’s swirl of vibrant colors will soon take shape. Although distorted, it is a form of an enlightened being similar to the one we will encounter at the core of the mandala. As is apparent in the painting, we still cannot quite see the deity but for a clearly indicated center and a sense of direction. We are at this point in between, poised to encounter the world we aspire to understand.


AWAKEN is produced by the Rubin Museum of Art with Vincent Baker, Dawn Eshelman, Jamie Lawyer, Sandrine Milet, Elena Pakhoutouva, and Dawnette Samuels. It was produced in collaboration with Sound Made Public, with Tania Ketenjian, Katie McCutcheon, and Philip Wood.

Special thanks to Karen Sorensen for additional consulting.

All music for AWAKEN was created by Blue Dot Sessions, Podington Bear, Tendinite, and Siddhartha Corthus.


This podcast is supported by Barbara Bowman, the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation, The Prospect Hill Foundation, Bob and Lois Baylis, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, as well as by generous donations from the Museum’s Board of Trustees, individual donors, and members.

AWAKEN is sponsored by Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, a print and digital magazine dedicated to making Buddhist teachings broadly available.