Posted on November 1, 2017
To the master of magical illusion,
Who can make anything appear at all:
Beyond all worlds
And the ecstasy coupled to it.
He is my father, my Lama, my Lord,
Who holds the diamond.
To your feet, to the one who steals away
The terror of this cycle of pain, this enemy of mine.
from Naked Dressed in the Robe of Emptiness by His Holiness the First Panchen Lama
Here is my completed work paying homage to the lineage of mahamudra teachings stemming from Lord Manjushri to Lama Tsongkapa to His Holiness the First Panchen Lama.
The idea for this image came to life when I began creating my current work on Vajra Bhairava. As I sketched out the landscape for that image I reflected on the story I wanted to tell; a story in which Lama Tsongkapa, His Holiness the First Panchen Lama, and Lord Manjushri were all positioned in the sky above Vajra Bhairava. Since half of the work involved in creating a thangka is represented by the line work alone (and I had to draw the lines anyway) I decided at that point to take a little detour and create an additional work. It is a homage to these three magical beings – and their role in bringing the wisdom of mahamudra into the hearts and minds of practitioners.
The real meaning of this thangka is revealed in the imagery of pouring water into water. In Tibetan this is called chula chu shakpa (Wylie: chu la chu bzhag pa): and it is a special phrase used to describe the nature of the subject mind and object mind during the direct perception of emptiness, when they become a “oneness,” like water poured into water.
To my mind there is no end to the number of ways we could misunderstand this concept. Generally, when we read words, a mental image appears in our mind. Ideally, it carries their intended meaning: this is the function of language. If this were always the case, however, whenever we read the Dharma then the mental image arising in our mind would be exactly the same as the realisation that was being described. There would be no discrepancy at all between them.
What mental image arises in our minds as we hear the words ‘like water poured into water?’ I wonder if that meaning – the mental image of that meaning – is in any way the same as the mental image in the midstreams of Lord Manjushri, Lama Tsongkapa, and His Holiness the First Panchen Lama as they write or speak of the very same state, or use the very same words?
I am quite uncomfortable with the idea that Dharma realisations are somehow a personal thing and we each have our own individual experiences of realisations such as refuge, renunciation, Bodhicitta and emptiness. To reinterpret the Dharma to a point where it serves our own afflicted ideas is to rob ourselves of the ultimate goal, one where we reach a parity of mind with our Lama and the Buddha. Not a state where we each somehow find our own paths to a different result.
Consider instead the extraordinary day on which you reach the consummate state where the subject mind of great bliss and the object of emptiness come together inseparably in your mind; perfectly, and free of any elaboration. Were you to meet Manjushri on that day and describe to him this most indescribable of experiences, you might well say that it was not unlike…“water pouring into water.” At that point the meaning in your mind and the meaning in Lord Manjushri’s mind would be the same; and in that way you would have reached a kind of union.
In our own attempts to bring our mind into a state of parity with Lord Manjushri’s wisdom, we follow the threefold method of learning, contemplation and meditation. We study the perfection of wisdom from the lips of our own perfect Lama, then we use our own reasoning, comparing our current understanding against the perfect elucidation of the Middle Way as described by Lama Tsongkapa. Finally, we take that most profound method of meditation – mahamudra – just as it is described by His Holiness, the First Panchen Lama, to reach a state of mind equivalent to Manjushri’s own.
To reach a state of mind equivalent to Manjushri’s own is to meet our own mind, “face to face.” On this day we will become an Arya, having truly realised the meaning of the words “like water poured into water.”
His Holiness the First Panchen Lama affirms that the texts of the great lineage masters of the Geleg-Kagyu tradition, together with the inspiration and instructions of our own Spiritual Master, can lead us to this very experience, wherein we come to know the mind “face to face.” We can experience this on two levels, He explains: on the so-called “relative” or “conventional” level; and on the ultimate level in which how the mind exists – its emptiness – is revealed.
In The Light of Crystal Clarity, his extended commentary on the mahamudra root text which follows the precious tradition of the Gelugpa oral linage, the Great First resorts to the poetry for which he is renowned, to reiterate this point by way of conclusion:
I have churned the vast expanse
Of all the open and secret teachings,
And this is their ultimate essence.
Mahamudra is the crux
Behind the true intent
Of every single sage and saint
In India and Tibet;
It is the path that’s traveled
By every holy truth-seeker
Of highest attainments.
And on this day, the sun
Of its revelation dawns.
As Lama Tsongkapa states in his Exegesis of the “Steps of Exposition:”
“The way to manifest the clear light is this: Once you have “completely withdrawn” the “beholder,” that is, conditioned consciousness, and once even the subtle dual appearance – in which the objective field that is the ultimate, and the subject state of mind that is pristine awareness, seem to be two – is purified, one remains indivisibly, like water poured into water.”
The Lamas want so much to show us the clear light. That we could come to abide, indivisible from the clear light, like water poured into water, in a realm below all ideas of held and holder, is the great wish in their hearts. In the final words of his matchless commentary His Holiness explains why…
Now here is a place of rest,
A grove where we can frolic;
A view that lights a perfect path
For limitless numbers of beings;
A system which is embraced
By the greatest holy beings.
This is Mahamudra,
That crystal mirror which reflects
Every exquisite form,
Clear and unblemished.
It breaks the chains that bind us—
The chains of those eight worldly thoughts
About all that appears.
This teaching is a Lama —
The One who will impart the path,
Pure and unmistaken,
To the many with enough goodness
To play to their heart’s content
Within the bliss of stillness
In a place of solitude.
Now I take whatever virtue
That I may have gathered
From all my efforts here—
Pure white, like the soft moon light
That opens the jasmine flower—
And dedicate it to the goal
Of Highest enlightenment
So that I may free
All my mother living beings.
Through the mystic power of this deed,
May every single wandering being
Revel in the greatest bliss
Of the Union of the Two
Filled with the sweet nectar
Of the eloquent teachings of Mahamudra
Which joins together both the ways,
The open and the secret,
Within the Stainless Vessel
Known as mind.
I hope you like this image and you find inspiration in the pictures and the words.
May you find the perfect teachings of Mahamudra,
Passed down to us from Lord Manjushri,
Through to our own perfect Lama.
May you find a perfect place,
And a perfect time to practice.
May each of us reach our perfect wisdom goal.
On this day they will call us Arya,
For we will have tasted perfectly,
The meaning of the words,
‘like water poured into water’…
Ben (Jampay Dorje)
Here is a video showing the process I used to arrive at the finished image of Black Manjushri.
This was a tough image to create, and I really struggled up until the last few days. One night it all came together and it was all down hill after that. I am glad that I pursued the image as I saw it in my mind, it was a difficult process but I learned a lot from it and I now feel much more confident as a landscape painter. I hope you also like the image.
If you would like access to a high resolution copy of this work, and my ongoing work, please consider supporting me on Patreon by clicking on the link below.
The practice of Black Manjushri, as it was passed on to me through the holy words of my Lama, is all about healing. Its a little like Medicine Buddha in that way. To those of you who are unwell physically or mentally, I send you my love and offer this image to help speed your recovery and send you swiftly on the path to enlightenment and the end of suffering.
Ben (Jampay Dorje)
In the Heart Sutra Lord Buddha spoke to us about the emptiness of the parts of a person. He said that “form is empty… the same is true of your feelings, and your ability to discriminate between things, and the other factors that make you up, and all the different kinds of awareness that you possess: all of them are empty”
In the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra we attempt to replace these five suffering parts of a person with a non-suffering, divine version of each. In the beginning we do so only in our imagination and then later, if we were to be successful, then the actual transformation would take place, perfectly and permanently.
Whether it is by imagination (the path to the goal) or actually (the result), it is the very same emptiness that Lord Buddha teaches in the Heart Sutra that makes this possible.
Here in this picture we see the syllable Hung, surrounded by four skull cups, all supported by a lotus and sun cushion. The Hung syllable and skull cups represent each of the five parts to a person that Lord Buddha mentioned in the Heart Sutra. The lotus represents the heart/mind state of the meditator.
The main story of this picture is represented by the skull cups, each contains the ambrosia of deathlessness. The metaphor of the skull cup and nectar is very complex and difficult to understand, but if it intrigues you please read on…
The outer appearance of the skull cup is of something revolting, of blood and brain and gore. It is hard to imagine how this could be something divine.
It is very common in Australia to find dead kangaroos on the road, I see this every time I travel from my retreat centre to town. The carcass rots in the hot Australian sun and I wind up the window as I drive carefully past to avoid the stench. Sometimes there are a whole host of birds feeding on the carcass, and maggots everywhere. I wonder how the birds and maggots could be enjoying something so disgusting to me.
I think of emptiness. The very same emptiness that Lord Buddha taught in the Heart Sutra. It doesn’t help, I still find it disgusting and feel that the birds and maggots must suffer horrible being forced to eat this putrid fare. But then I think in a different way… I accept that I find this disgusting but try a different approach… I accept that it isn’t pleasant, let alone divine, but I try to find this ‘lack of divinity’ within the rotting corps, as something inherent, or attached to it by its very nature. When I look this way I come up empty handed. I don’t see the corps as divine but I can’t say that it is disgusting by its nature… so where is the disgusting, where is the lack of divinity?
So the skull cups are like this, the only difference is that in this instance they represent the ‘skandas’, ‘heaps’ or ‘parts to a person’.
Here is a short video showing some of the work I created during the period between 2008 and 2016. All work was completed using Photoshop with some help from Artrage, Blender and Poser. In general I create all my linework in Artrage and then move over to Photoshop for colouring and shading. Occasionally I will use Poser for help with the human figure, and in the past I used Blender 3D quite a lot for illustrating the subtle inner body. These days I try to move away from a computer generated look as much as I can, preferring to make my images look as traditional as I can.
In the video you can see a few of my thangkas as well as a couple of images illustrating the subtle body.
I hope you enjoy the video,
Ben (Jampay Dorje)
I needed to create a skull necklace for the thangka I am currently working on. I found the best reference I could in an oldish thangka depicting Mahaka. I chose to copy the skulls directly from it. The original work is an absolute masterpiece and is available from the Himalayan Art Resource under the catalogue number 6500
It is undoubtably one of the greatest masterpieces of old Tibet, and an incredible example of both a ‘black ground thangka’ and Panjarnata Mahakala.
Seeing as I needed to repaint the skulls I though it a wonderful opportunity to produce another tutorial on Digital Thangka Restoration. My other tutorial on this subject matter can be found here http://jampaydorje.com/index.php/2015/08/02/dtw-tutorial-4-pt-2-digital-restoration/
I hope you enjoy the tutorial and the following images showing the before and the after…
Best wishes for your practice,
Ben (Jampay Dorje)
Digital Thangka Workshop – In this tutorial I work on painting and shading a common form of offering depicted as a skull cup full of nectar. We do the usual shading techniques working on a file that will later be used as a smart object and then composited into our main work.
This vignette forms part of a larger image depicting Troma Nagmo from the Gelugpa Chod tradition.
I cant show the completed image, however I will add some other vignettes over the next two weeks as it reaches completion.
Wishing a happy Tsechu to all those secret yogis,
Those who hold that sweetest Dharma,
Of Emptiness and Bodhicitta in their mindstreams.
Combined as a single song,
May it be firm and continue to grow forever.
Ben (Jampay Dorje)
I have been asked to create a simple image of a rare form of Kalachakra. Know as Sahaja or Innate Kalachakra this form is much easier to visualise than the traditional form, yet retains the entire blessing of the original form. Being a rare form it is hard to find many works to reference. Infact in my research I was only able to find two images dedicated to this form and another two which depicted them as minor figures. I hope I can do them justice, there is quite a bit of pressure to get this right, since it is inevitable that this work will be used to reference this form in the future due to its rarity.
In this tutorial I work on creating some light ray effects to surround the central figures of Kalachakra Sahaja and Vishvamata. We create a custom brush then use the pen tool to stroke the line in Photoshop.
Posted on January 29, 2016
Digital Thangka Workshop – In this tutorial I work on the upper part of the thangka and attempt to add some rainbow effects surrounding the minor figures of Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri. I use the pen tool in Photoshop to create an outline, then create masks, add some colour, and then finally move over to Artrage for some finishing touches.
I hope you enjoy the tutorial.
I just finished another work and have added some small vignettes for you. I cant show the full image as it requires empowerment. If you know the Lake Born Vajra practice and have the empowerment, maybe send me an email and request the image.
Just as the meditator meets the mind of the Buddha,
and the scholar meets the speech of the Buddha,
The artist meets the body of the Buddha.
How wonderful then to meditate, study and paint!
I was thinking a little about the words of His Holiness the First Panchen Lama when he said that we live in a time where no one can say with genuine certainty that the Buddhas still walk amongst us. Its a powerful statement particularly delivered, as it was, during the peak of Tibetan Buddhism in the 1500’s. How much more degenerate the times have become, yet there is such a fight for goodness in the world today.
Generally you would say that, although we don’t live in a time when the Buddha still walks the earth, we can still reach an approximation of their Body, Speech and Mind in the following ways. When we read or listen to the Dharma we can make contact with the Buddha’s speech. This is why books are such holy objects. If we become a proficient meditator we can meet an aspect of the Buddha’s mind in the form of the Dharmakaya. The Body of a Buddha is revealed in two ways, “Body” can refer to two things; the actual Body of the Buddha, or the actions of the Buddha.
As artists I think we are particularly lucky to spend so much time with the Body of the Buddha, hours each day. It doesn’t matter if we are a good artist or not, I think anyone can learn to draw the shape of the Buddha. If that person were to consider that drawing to be a representation of the Buddha, then it would be a wonderful thing.
If you are interested enough to have read this far then maybe pick up some tracing paper one day and copy the outline of a Buddha, I guarantee you will feel something special.
Ben (Jampay Dorje)