Everyone knows that the Tibetan masters
can levitate and fly. Marco Polo, the first Westerner to formally
record an encounter with the Tibetan lamas, reported witnessing
the phenomenon over seven hundred years ago (and Italians never
lie). The modern adventurer Madame Alexander David Neil also
wrote of her sightings of lamas on the wing (and, again, the
French never exaggerate).
Traditional Tibetan literature similarly
tells of Buddhist mystics who have taken off in joyful flight.
Buddha himself is said to have done so on several occasions, as
did Indian masters such as Nagarjuna and Padma Sambhava. The legacy
was adopted by Tibetan mystics in the eighth century, with the
yogini Yeshey Tsogyal as a prime example, and continued over the
centuries. The eleventh century yogi and poet Milarepa is another
The historical anecdotes in Tibetan literature
and oral tradition that speak of mystics with powers of levitation
and flight find their way into Tibetan art. The North American
viewing public would be enthralled with the theme, both as an
exhibition and as a reader.
Some months ago Jeff and I discussed the
possibility of developing an exhibit along these lines. One of
his reservations is that the flying/levitating deeds in the lives
of these masters are generally depicted as details in tangkas
rather than as central images. However, my feeling is that this
feature adds to rather than subtracts from the charm, and does
not create a problem for either the exhibit or the reader/catalog.
Paranormal abilities of this nature are considered secondary to
the primary goal of Tantric Buddhism, which is the inner realization
of mahamudra. Levitation and flight are an expression of tunmong
gi ngo-drup, or "common siddhi," and are side-effects
of the inner realization of mahamudra, the exclusive siddhi of
realization (tunmong ma yinpai ngo-drup). This is made evident
in the artistic representations. With the catalog, we can present
the full tangka in small format, just to give a sense of the piece,
and blow up the flying/levitating aspect on the opposite page.
Of course, telling the stories of the legendary
events of levitating/flying masters will be a lot of fun.
This truly unique exhibition features Tibetan
art which depicts the literary and oral legacy of levitation and
flight among Tibetan mystics. The legacy itself dates back to
eighth century Tibet, with the yogini Yeshey Tsogyal as a prime
example, and has continued over the centuries since that time.
The exhibition includes works from important private collections
as well as the Rubin
Museum of Art.
To view additional images from the Rubin
Museum collection and other collections, visit www.himalayanart.org.
A full color exhibition catalog
written by exhibition curator Glenn
H. Mullin, world renowned scholar of Tibetan culture and student
of the Dalai Lama, will be available during the exhibition.
exhibition is sponsored by:
for the Arts | Bigelow