The Tantric Spiritual Art of Nadean O'Brien

Mandalas by Rampal





"Buddha's Dream"
Vajrasattva and Consort

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(acrylic on canvas 36" x 36" embellished with crystals and gold leaf)

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One of my more contemporary Tantric paintings, this lovely and peaceful mandala has emerged in a manner quite different from any of my previous work. New techniques include glazes, dimensional paint and an open style not usually found in traditional Tibetan Buddhist art. More a thangka than a geometric mandala, it is nonetheless square with four stylized "gates" around the inner temple where the deities reside.

Mandala painting, for me, is to enter a process whereby human talent and skill are surrendered to the inherent wisdom of the mandala and what is to be revealed on canvas. The task of the artist is to bring forth a perfect universe (or microcosm) which can be entered in meditation and serve as a doorway to one's own inner wisdom. It's not about real people or the world we know so well.

The artistic inspiration for "Buddha's Dream" comes from a Japanese sliding screen at the head of my bed and a small bronze statue of Vajrasattva and his consort Vajratopa that sits on my night table. They represent the Buddha as cosmic consciousness prior to division and manifestation in the physical world and are also a powerful image for purifying mind and body in meditation. The color white symbolizes their purity.

The actual painting of "Buddha's Dream" was a joy and delight. The mandala's beauty, elegance and innocence never fail to attract attention wherever it is shown. You can feel the "Buddha essence" that radiates like moonlight in and through all things. An appropriate throne for the deities, the moon is a symbol of the primordial waters from which all life flows.


The Symbolism of Tibetan Tantric Buddhist Art

The father mother symbolism ("yab yum") is not an example of erotic art but is considered by the devout to be a manifestation of the Buddha's highest spiritual essence. It is concrete evidence presented in a most striking and graphic manner of the existence of enlightenment, denoting the highest stage of yoga in which there is no polarity, no discrimination and the truth is indivisible. There in meditation in the presence of this artistic revelation, one can discover infinite bliss and ultimate self-realization.

The feminine symbol (mother) represents transcendent wisdom, the direct awareness of reality as experienced and taught by the Buddha. The masculine (father) represents compassion for all beings which is the natural expression of such wisdom. Their sacred union is believed to generate waves of bliss and harmony, turning the world into a mandala and showering a rain of nectar that satisfies the spiritual hunger in the hearts of humankind.

Today, statues and paintings of "yab yums" are sought by collectors and boldly displayed in museums, while traditionally in Tibet they were created and meant to be seen by only the initiated. The arcane rituals associated with their display were also not for public consumption. Modern depth psychology has recognized that this imagery represents the deepest archetypes of the unconscious, integrating powerful instinctual energies of life into a consciously sublimated and exalted state. As a result, we are fascinated by this beautiful art form, wanting to possess it whether we are Tantric Buddhists or not!

On a final note, Tantra itself is derived from the verbal root tan, meaning to weave. Many things are interwoven on the Tantric path, including the lives of men and women. The Buddha couples of Tantric iconography celebrate the profound harmony of the sexes and the creation of partnerships devoted to the realization of the ultimate truth.

Om Mani Padme Hum

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