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This thangka, painted by Pema Wangyal, depicts Four-armed Avalokiteshvara as the central figure in a nine-deity assembly, which collectively represent the three trinities of virtue, longevity, and accomplishment.
The trinity of virtue represents the Buddha's enlightened qualities of wisdom, compassion and power that are embodied in the forms of the three great bodhisattvas, Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani, who are collectively known as the 'Lords of the Three Families'. Manjushri is the 'Lord of the Tathagata or Buddha Family', which emphasizes the transformation of ignorance into wisdom or discriminating awareness. Avalokiteshvara is the 'Lord of the Padma or Lotus Family', which emphasizes the transmutation of desire into compassion. And Vajrapani is the 'Lord of the Vajra Family', which emphasizes the transformation of anger or aversion into spiritual power or energy.
Four-armed Avalokiteshvara, who is more commonly known by his Tibetan name Chenrezig, dominates the centre of this composition, as he sits in vajra-posture upon a white moon disc and a multicoloured lotus that arises from a lake. He is white in colour, and adorned with the thirteen silk and jewel ornaments of a bodhisattva. With his first pair of hands palms-folded in front of his heart he holds a wish-granting gem. And with his second pair of right and left hands he holds aloft a crystal rosary, and the stem of an immaculate lotus that blossoms at the level of his ear.
Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, appears upon the cloudbank in the upper right corner. He is orange-yellow in colour, and wields his fiery wisdom-sword with his raised right hand, while with his left hand he holds the stem of a lotus in front of his heart. Resting on top of this lotus is a sutra-text on the 'perfection of wisdom'.
Directly below Manjushri is Vajrapani, the bodhisattva of power or energy, who is wrathful and dark-blue in colour, and stands in alidha-posture upon a golden sun-disc and lotus amidst a blazing mass of wisdom fire. He has three bulging eyes, bared fangs and upward-streaming hair, and he wears bone ornaments, a five-skull crown, a serpent necklace and a tiger-skin loincloth. With his right hand he wields aloft a five-pointed golden vajra, and with his left hand he makes the threatening tarjani gesture in front of his heart.
The trinity of long-life deities comprises of Amitayus (top centre), White Tara (bottom left), and Ushnishavijaya (bottom right), who each sit in vajra-posture upon a white moon disc and a lotus. Amitayus, meaning 'Infinite Life', is the long-life aspect of Amitabha Buddha. He is red in colour, appears within a circle of rainbow light, and wears with the divine silk and jewel ornaments of a bodhisattva. With both hands resting upon his lap in the dhyana-mudra of meditation he holds a golden long-life vase, which is filled with the nectar of immortal wisdom and sealed with a red gemstone.
White Tara is adorned with the divine silk and jewel ornaments of a goddess, and her radiant face, hands and feet are adorned with seven bow-shaped eyes. The three eyes on her face represent the purity of her body, speech and mind, and the four eyes on her palms and soles represent the 'four immeasurables' of her boundless compassion, love, joy and equanimity. With her right hand she makes the varada-mudra of supreme generosity, and with her left hand she makes the gesture of giving refuge while holding the stem of a lotus in front of her heart.
Ushnishavijaya, the 'Victorious Crown-protuberance', is white in colour with three faces and eight arms. Her white central face is slightly wrathful, her right face is yellow and peaceful, her left face is blue and wrathful, and each face has three eyes. With her first right hand she holds a crossed-vajra in front of her heart; with her second right hand she holds aloft an image of red Amitabha Buddha; with her third right hand she holds an arrow, and with her fourth right hand she makes the varada-mudra of supreme generosity. With her first left hand she makes the threatening tarjani gesture while holding a rope-snare in front of her heart; with her raised second left hand she makes the abhaya-mudra of protection; with her third left hand she holds a bow; and with her fourth left hand resting upon her lap she holds a golden flask full of long-life nectar, the top of which is sealed with a small wish-granting tree.
The third trinity of deities consists of Vajrasattva (top left), Jambhala (bottom left), and Hayagriva (middle left), which essentially represent the accomplishments of purifying or pacifying, increase or prosperity, and subjugating or controlling.
Vajrasattva, the 'Indestructible Hero', is white in colour and sits in vajra-posture upon a moon disc and lotus that rests upon a cloudbank. He wears the divine silk and jewel ornaments of a bodhisattva, and with his right hand he holds a five-pointed vajra in front of his heart, while with his left hand he holds a bell at the level of his hip. Vajrasattva's hundred-syllable mantra is believed to be particularly effective in purifying the defilements of anger and aggression.
Jambhala is the Buddhist god of wealth and prosperity, who appears in the form of a yaksha, with a powerful and corpulent golden-yellow body and a semi-wrathful expression with two bulging eyes. He sits in a posture of royal-ease upon a moon disc and lotus, with his right foot resting upon a white conch shell. He is adorned with the divine silk and jeweled ornaments, and a garland of flowers. With his right hand he makes the boon-granting varada-mudra as he holds a large citron fruit. And with his left hand he holds a treasure-mongoose that disgorges a stream of jewels from its mouth.
Hayagriva, the 'Horse-necked', is considered to be a wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, and his unique symbol is a neighing green horse's head that appears above his crown. He is wrathful and red in colour, and he stands in alidha-posture upon two corpses, a golden sun-disc and a lotus amidst a blazing mass of wisdom fire. He has three bulging eyes, bared fangs and upward-streaming hair, and he wears bone ornaments, a five-skull crown, and a garland of severed heads. As garments he wears a tiger-skin loincloth, a human-skin shawl, and the flayed skin of an elephant that he stretches across his back. With his right hand he wields aloft a skull-topped club, while with his left hand he makes the threatening tarjani gesture in front of his heart.
The assembled offerings of the eight auspicious substances - mirror, medicine, yoghurt, durva grass, bilva fruit, conch (coral), vermilion powder, and mustard seed - appear at the left above White Tara. And the five sensory offerings - mirror (sight), lute (sound), bowl of fruit (taste), conch filled with perfume (smell), and silk ribbons (touch) - appear at the right above Ushnishavijaya. These five sensory offerings are also shown again to the left and right of Jambhala, and below Jambhala is a stack of precious jewels, with seven of the eight auspicious substances appearing behind them.
© text by Robert Beer