The Tantric Spiritual Art of Nadean O'Brien

Mandalas by Rampal





"In the Beginning"
Samantabadhra and Consort

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(acrylic on canvas 36" x 36" embellished with crystals, gold leaf, dimensional paint and semi-precious gems)

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Samantabadhra in union with his consort Samantabadhri is possibly one of the most familiar images of Tibetan Tantric  Buddhist art in the Western world. He is unmistakably deep blue in color, symbolizing the sky and emptiness of mind; she is white in color, symbolizing clarity of mind. Totally nude and without ornaments, they are free from all thought constructs and have the ability to perceive the empty nature of the mind directly.  Another emanation of Adi Buddha, they represent the ever-present potential for Buddhahood that has always been and always will be.

"In the Beginning" depicts the simultaneous emergence in sacred union of divine masculine (compassionate method) and feminine (wisdom) principles from the void or nothingness. It is only in our manifest world of duality that we experience a separation. Our life's quest then becomes returning to that original state of oneness. The world's troubles would cease if each one of us could take responsibility for balancing our own inner masculine and feminine energies. It has nothing to do with sex or gender, and is why I am so devoted to telling about the symbolism of "yab yum".

A pair of dragonflies accompanies the deities on their emergence from the void. They symbolize going past self-created illusions that limit our growing and changing. Inhabitants of both water and air, they are fantastic fliers that can dart like light, change directions and even go backwards as the need arises. Dragonflies are powerful reminders that we are light and can reflect light in powerful ways if we choose to do so. "Let there be light" is the divine prompting to allow your own light to shine in a new vision.

Detail from the Mandala

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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