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Tibet Anonymous,
Tibetan Thangka Painting, 1750-1800
Tempera on Silk
50 in. x 39 3/4 in. (127 cm x 100.97 cm)

Object Type: Scroll
Technique: Brushwork
Period: Ch'ing Dynasty (China, 1644-1912)
Credit Line: Gift of Ms. Dorothy Cooke
Accession Number: 80.4.1

Featured at the center of this painting are two Vajrayāna Buddhist deities—Vajrakila and Triptachakra—joined in a passionate sexual embrace known as yab-yum. In the Tibetan language, yab-yum translates directly to “father-mother.” In the Vajrayāna Buddhism of Tibet and its surrounding regions, yab represents the masculine energy of karuṇā and upaya—meaning compassion and “skillful means,” or the various methods by which the Buddha’s teachings are taught to unenlightened beings, respectively—whereas yum represents the feminine energy of prajña, meaning wisdom or insight.

The union of the masculine yab and feminine yum energies, in a very general sense, exemplifies the supremely compassionate and wise state of being necessary for attaining enlightenment. On a deeper level, the merging of masculinity and femininity that takes place in the yab-yum alludes to the Buddhist understanding of all phenomena as ‘nondual,’ or, as constantly subject to change, and therefore lacking a true ‘identity.’

-Anabella Walser ’22, Peggy Phelps Curatorial Intern

The two deities Vajrakila and Triptachakra are in reproductive union, symbolizing the masculinized perfection of compassion and the feminized perfection of wisdom which “births” enlightenment in practitioners. Above are Samanthabadra and Samanthabadri, representing the Primordial Buddha and the awakened mind. At upper left is Vajrasattva, the great purifier of the negative forces that obscure one’s inner Buddha nature. At top right is the Bodhisattva of Compassion Avalokotesvara (depicted elsewhere in this exhibition). Surrounding the couple are teachers and guardians who eliminate distractions from meditation.

- Dr. Bruce A. Coats, 2022

"No CZZ" in lower left in ink.

Object Description
Image of a six-armed blue-skinned wrathful deity with consort. Mounted on blue silk, with cover.

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