Are all thangkas "official"?

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Nalanda
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Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Nalanda »

I know it's best to acquire from a Buddhist temple but what if a thangka is sold in a regular store online, like those dharma stores, even Etsy, etc? Are those official? And how do you know the meaning behind what you're buying or find the associated practice for a particular thangka?
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Nalanda wrote: Sat Oct 01, 2022 1:11 pm I know it's best to acquire from a Buddhist temple but what if a thangka is sold in a regular store online, like those dharma stores, even Etsy, etc?
The main functions of a thangka is to represent a Buddha or deity, such as a Buddha, or a non-person image such as a mandala or the wheel of samsara, to be used as a focus of reverence, and also as an aid in visualization.

There are mass-produced thangkas and there are exquisitely done thangkas. Technically, either one is fine for practice as long as the information portrayed on them is accurate. Mass-produced thangkas are often done by thangka-painting students who are practicing to eventually paint exquisite thangkas. The paint may be of lower quality, the images not as refined, and there will be less detail. These are often made in Nepal for the tourist trade, although I think now there are many coming out of China too. They can be found for less than $100.

I once bought a wherl-of-samsara thangka at a state fair for $40 which was very well done, with lots of detail and colors. But the thing I liked most about it was, that traditional picture includes a guy holding onto an arrow that is stuck in his eye. But for some reason, the artist had neglected to paint in the arrow!

Exquisitely done thangkas are often commissioned by patrons, and can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. They use traditional pigments made from crushed gems such as lapis lazuli, or may include gold, and the detail is exquisite, incorporating all sorts of images and color graduations. The artist may spend months on a single painting.
Are those official?
“Official” can mean a couple of things. First, that the imagery is accurate. So, for example, a thangka of four-armed Chenrezig would not have images of wrathful-deity offerings set before or it.

Second, a thangka would be consecrated or blessed by a lama, which might include inscribing OM AH HUM on the back of it, perhaps affixing a seal or a blessed pill attached under a patch on the reverse side.

But if you see a thangka you like, and you want to buy it, and you can afford it, go for it. You can ask a lama to bless it for you at a later date.
And how do you know the meaning behind what you're buying or find the associated practice for a particular thangka?
Usually as a practitioner, you would know the practice first, and then afterwards look for a thangka. Many nice thangkas are available as reproductions, even as posters and in card sizes, often laminated. For someone who just wants exotic decoration, they would probably just buy the thangka first and ask questions later.

( I mentioned lapis lazuli. Brfote the invention of synthetic pigments, non-fading colors were often obtained by grinding up different color minerals and mixing the powered stone with a binder medium. An interesting bit of religious-art-trivia is that the reason why Virgin Mary is usually shown wearing blue is because lapis was the most expensive pigment, being imported from Afghanistan. So, Mary got that color. But the artists would sometimes acquire the lesser-quality blue stone sodalite to grind up, and they’d charge the patron for lapis, and then pocket the difference!)

This photo shows nice mass-produced thangkas for sale for $150 at an Indian grocery store near my house (United States).
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Nalanda wrote: Sat Oct 01, 2022 1:11 pm I know it's best to acquire from a Buddhist temple but what if a thangka is sold in a regular store online, like those dharma stores, even Etsy, etc? Are those official? And how do you know the meaning behind what you're buying or find the associated practice for a particular thangka?
One of the issues I’ve seen is incorrect depiction of deities, implements, etc. in some of the cheaper knock-offs.

No, they aren’t all ‘official’ and some are a cheaper product clearly with less effort put into them. I’m sure there are some that are just consumer products too with little connections to Dharma.

Not saying you should get top of the line, just caveat emptor.
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Norwegian »

Nalanda wrote: Sat Oct 01, 2022 1:11 pm I know it's best to acquire from a Buddhist temple but what if a thangka is sold in a regular store online, like those dharma stores, even Etsy, etc? Are those official? And how do you know the meaning behind what you're buying or find the associated practice for a particular thangka?
Why is it best to acquire from a Buddhist temple and who says it is?

If you are serious about getting a thangka, then one assumes that you know what it is that you need to get (e.g., what particular kind of deity or content depicted, and then also what specific kind of lineage, its particular details, and so on.) It's not at all certain that a "Buddhist temple" carries this. Who creates thangkas? The artist, in other words the painter. And Dharma items are often sold in Dharma stores, physical or online, and not necessarily in a Buddhist temple.

If I were to get a thangka, I would look for something that is exactly as described from the practice I've received. If it exists already, then good. If there's different presentations of it, then I get what I like the best, or is the most accurate. If it doesn't exist, then I'll commission a qualified thangka painter of my choice to make it. And then make sure it's consecrated in the end.
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Zhen Li »

I have some strong opinions about this, because this is one of the fairly exploitative tourist industries in Nepal.

You want to be careful even with thangkas that cost around $100 USD but also up to $1000 USD. Rich Chinese and Bhutanese tourists with too much money to spend were inflating the prices in Nepal, and many of these prices have not come down, despite the pandemic. This created a demand, then a massive supply, but the demand no longer meets the supply. There are far too many thangka art students who are never going to make a realistic career from their craft, and I feel bad that they are always getting ripped off by the salesmen who are usually misers.

Buying online is something I would only recommend if your teacher recommends a store that he knows specifically. Otherwise, you should try to see the thangka in person before buying.

I firmly believe that you should only support good quality thangka art, and if the store does have some work by students, at least it should be alongside the top quality works.
See how the shading and colour is done: is the colour flat, or does it have gradation and shading?
Do the smaller figures look like they have giant fish eyes or look like cartoon characters, or does the artist spend as much care painting the smaller details as he/she does painting the main image?
If it is older, is it fading (if it is lower quality, it will fade and look like an antique in only 15 years)? — In this case, be careful about any claims made about age, don't buy "antiques," because they are easy to fake and if they are really antiques, they are illegal to buy anyway.
Do they paint on-site? In which case, you can ask the painter about their experience or how to commission something. If the store buys the thangkas from elsewhere, ask where and be careful about stores where the salesman rips off the painters (I have seen painters get 10% or less of what the salesmen ask). As Norwegian said, its best to commission one yourself—and if the store facilitates this, and they have professional artists on-site who can do this, then it is the best kind.
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Yeah I’ve seen “tourist” thangkas from Nepal with incorrect or nonsensical mantra, weird “combo” deities that don’t exist and stuff like that.

I think Norwegians advice is pretty good, know what you’re looking for and decide from that.
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by tobes »

There's something to be said for one of the refuge vows to consider all depictions of the Buddha etc as equally virtuous, no matter the quality. And that most practices do not depend on visual consciousness.

I also like the notion that good supports for practice emerge out of practice (i.e. karmically).
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Lingpupa »

"Official" - what do you mean? Properly consecrated is another matter, and the answer is that commercially available ones generally are not.
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by jamesrigzin »

Nalanda wrote: Sat Oct 01, 2022 1:11 pm I know it's best to acquire from a Buddhist temple but what if a thangka is sold in a regular store online, like those dharma stores, even Etsy, etc? Are those official? And how do you know the meaning behind what you're buying or find the associated practice for a particular thangka?

Legit thangka painter:

https://ugyalpo.wordpress.com/thangka-paintings/

He lives in Toronto.
Nalanda
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Nalanda »

Apparently, there are a lot of mistakes in thangka today made by younger artists.

https://issuu.com/tarangmagazine/docs/edition_8/32
IF YOU PRACTICE WITH A STRONG BELIEF IN WHAT
YOU ARE DOING, THEN THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT
YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH WITH YOUR PRACTICE.

CHAKUNG JIGME WANGDRAK RINPOCHE

amentemente
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by amentemente »

Dear Ones,
So what I hear from my husband that is a Traditional Himalayan artist that paint in Bhutan, Nepal and India for many years: there are many beautiful thangkas with small or big mistakes and not so beautiful thangkas that are correct under the texts.
The Art is one of the 5 major Sciences of Buddhism than it has traditions, lineages, rules etc... this is what I learnt translating my husband for his students. This year one of his teachers passed away in Bhutan, legendary Master Painter, Lhadrip Ugyen from Mongar

Thank you all for sharing many precious words.

Ana
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Zhen Li
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Zhen Li »

Nalanda wrote: Sun Oct 09, 2022 10:19 am Apparently, there are a lot of mistakes in thangka today made by younger artists.

https://issuu.com/tarangmagazine/docs/edition_8/32
Frankly, this is because thangkas, for a time, were easy money in places like Nepal. With only a fraction of the training it takes to become a master, people could sell low-quality thangkas for ridiculous amounts to tourists from China and the west. Now the market is drying up due to the travel restrictions. As the article you linked says, the good quality ones can be quickly seen in the attention paid to small figures and details.
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PeterC
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by PeterC »

A thangka is a support for practice. You can put whatever you want onto a personal one. Typically people will put the mandala and ancillary figures (protectors etc) for a cycle, but I’ve seen personal thangkas that are just a compilation of a lama’s main (deity) practices.

The idea of buying a thangka then seeking out the practices is a bit odd - really that’s getting it backwards, you should get a thangka as a support for practice/s you do.
amentemente
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by amentemente »

Zhen Li wrote: Tue Oct 18, 2022 3:01 am
Nalanda wrote: Sun Oct 09, 2022 10:19 am Apparently, there are a lot of mistakes in thangka today made by younger artists.

https://issuu.com/tarangmagazine/docs/edition_8/32
Frankly, this is because thangkas, for a time, were easy money in places like Nepal. With only a fraction of the training it takes to become a master, people could sell low-quality thangkas for ridiculous amounts to tourists from China and the west. Now the market is drying up due to the travel restrictions. As the article you linked says, the good quality ones can be quickly seen in the attention paid to small figures and details.

It happens "become easily master paints", as some people become "lawyer" or "MD" by Google... one weekend retreat or reading one book become self proclamade Dzogchen Master...
Anyway what I learn with Ngawang Loday is there is long term training to be a real Master Arts (first training 9 years than as himself more 5 years and all life), and also is necessary have some training as a Dharma practioner (in his case he start Dharma training since 4 yo with father, uncle, grandfather, and some Masters at 80's in Bhutan).
And I see he reads recites texts, studies and practices every single day.
As it is.
Love
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Nalanda
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Nalanda »

PeterC wrote: Tue Oct 18, 2022 2:13 pm A thangka is a support for practice. You can put whatever you want onto a personal one. Typically people will put the mandala and ancillary figures (protectors etc) for a cycle, but I’ve seen personal thangkas that are just a compilation of a lama’s main (deity) practices.

The idea of buying a thangka then seeking out the practices is a bit odd - really that’s getting it backwards, you should get a thangka as a support for practice/s you do.

For beginners it's fine to follow the thangka at the temple right, to follow Ngondro for instance?
IF YOU PRACTICE WITH A STRONG BELIEF IN WHAT
YOU ARE DOING, THEN THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT
YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH WITH YOUR PRACTICE.

CHAKUNG JIGME WANGDRAK RINPOCHE

PeterC
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by PeterC »

Nalanda wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 2:42 pm
PeterC wrote: Tue Oct 18, 2022 2:13 pm A thangka is a support for practice. You can put whatever you want onto a personal one. Typically people will put the mandala and ancillary figures (protectors etc) for a cycle, but I’ve seen personal thangkas that are just a compilation of a lama’s main (deity) practices.

The idea of buying a thangka then seeking out the practices is a bit odd - really that’s getting it backwards, you should get a thangka as a support for practice/s you do.

For beginners it's fine to follow the thangka at the temple right, to follow Ngondro for instance?
You should follow the instructions in the sadhana or from your teacher. No reason to believe that a thangka hanging in a temple is what you should be visualizing for your specific sadhana or even that it was done correctly
Nalanda
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by Nalanda »

PeterC wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 3:05 pm
Nalanda wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 2:42 pm
PeterC wrote: Tue Oct 18, 2022 2:13 pm A thangka is a support for practice. You can put whatever you want onto a personal one. Typically people will put the mandala and ancillary figures (protectors etc) for a cycle, but I’ve seen personal thangkas that are just a compilation of a lama’s main (deity) practices.

The idea of buying a thangka then seeking out the practices is a bit odd - really that’s getting it backwards, you should get a thangka as a support for practice/s you do.

For beginners it's fine to follow the thangka at the temple right, to follow Ngondro for instance?
You should follow the instructions in the sadhana or from your teacher. No reason to believe that a thangka hanging in a temple is what you should be visualizing for your specific sadhana or even that it was done correctly
Yeah I meant the Thangka the monk teacher gave me from the temple which is part of my sadhana as instructed.
IF YOU PRACTICE WITH A STRONG BELIEF IN WHAT
YOU ARE DOING, THEN THERE IS NO LIMIT TO WHAT
YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH WITH YOUR PRACTICE.

CHAKUNG JIGME WANGDRAK RINPOCHE

PeterC
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by PeterC »

Nalanda wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 5:10 pm
PeterC wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 3:05 pm
Nalanda wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 2:42 pm


For beginners it's fine to follow the thangka at the temple right, to follow Ngondro for instance?
You should follow the instructions in the sadhana or from your teacher. No reason to believe that a thangka hanging in a temple is what you should be visualizing for your specific sadhana or even that it was done correctly
Yeah I meant the Thangka the monk teacher gave me from the temple which is part of my sadhana as instructed.
You'd hope he would have checked, but without knowing the lama who knows. In any case the sadhana you're doing is the authoritative description. If it says that some figure holds a vajra and a kapala and the thangka has them holding a vajra and a damaru, the thangka is wrong.
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by stoneinfocus »

PeterC wrote: Wed Nov 02, 2022 2:46 am
Nalanda wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 5:10 pm
PeterC wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 3:05 pm

You should follow the instructions in the sadhana or from your teacher. No reason to believe that a thangka hanging in a temple is what you should be visualizing for your specific sadhana or even that it was done correctly
Yeah I meant the Thangka the monk teacher gave me from the temple which is part of my sadhana as instructed.
You'd hope he would have checked, but without knowing the lama who knows. In any case the sadhana you're doing is the authoritative description. If it says that some figure holds a vajra and a kapala and the thangka has them holding a vajra and a damaru, the thangka is wrong.
Worth learning a tiny bit of Tibetan and making sure the translation matches, at least in a general sense. There are so many mistakes and misprints in English sadhana translations. If the sadhana says kapala, best to check the Tibetan too to be sure imo!
PeterC
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Re: Are all thangkas "official"?

Post by PeterC »

stoneinfocus wrote: Wed Nov 02, 2022 4:17 am
PeterC wrote: Wed Nov 02, 2022 2:46 am
Nalanda wrote: Tue Nov 01, 2022 5:10 pm

Yeah I meant the Thangka the monk teacher gave me from the temple which is part of my sadhana as instructed.
You'd hope he would have checked, but without knowing the lama who knows. In any case the sadhana you're doing is the authoritative description. If it says that some figure holds a vajra and a kapala and the thangka has them holding a vajra and a damaru, the thangka is wrong.
Worth learning a tiny bit of Tibetan and making sure the translation matches, at least in a general sense. There are so many mistakes and misprints in English sadhana translations. If the sadhana says kapala, best to check the Tibetan too to be sure imo!
Yes, also true. Accuracy and transparency of translations is of critical importance to all practitioners
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