How to Draw the Buddha: Explore an Elegant Tibetan Manual from the 18th-Century

Some reli­gions pro­hib­it the depic­tion of their sacred per­son­ages. Tibetan Bud­dhism isn’t quite so strict, but it does ask that, if you’re going to depict the Bud­dha, you do it right. Hence aids like the Tibetan Book of Pro­por­tions, which pro­vides “36 ink draw­ings show­ing pre­cise icono­met­ric guide­lines for depict­ing the Bud­dha and Bod­hisatt­va fig­ures.” That descrip­tion comes from the Pub­lic Domain Review, where you can behold many of those pages. Print­ed in the 18th cen­tu­ry, “the book is like­ly to have been pro­duced in Nepal for use in Tibet.” Now you’ll find it at the Get­ty Cen­ter in Los Ange­les, which had made the book free to read at its dig­i­tal col­lec­tions.

To read it prop­er­ly, of course, you’ll have to know your Newari script and Tibetan numer­als. But even with­out them, any­one can appre­ci­ate the ele­gance of not just the book’s rec­om­mend­ed pro­por­tions — all pre­sent­ed on a stan­dard­ized and notat­ed grid — but of the book itself as well.

By the time this vol­ume appeared, the print­ing used for texts relat­ed to Tibetan Bud­dhism had long since shown itself to be a cut above: take the 15th-cen­tu­ry col­lec­tion of recita­tion texts, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, print­ed forty years before the Guten­berg Bible. Only a print­ing cul­ture that had mas­tered this lev­el of detail could pro­duce a book like the Tibetan Book of Pro­por­tions, visu­al exac­ti­tude being its entire rai­son d’être.

“The con­cept of the ‘ide­al image’ of the Bud­dha emerged dur­ing the Gold­en Age of Gup­ta rule, from the 4th to 6th cen­tu­ry,” says the Pub­lic Domain Review. Dur­ing that Indi­an empire’s dom­i­nance, the impor­tance of such depic­tions extend­ed even beyond pro­por­tions to details like “num­ber of teeth, col­or of eyes, direc­tion of hairs.” Sure­ly when it comes to show­ing one who has attained nir­vana — or a bod­hisatt­va, the des­ig­na­tion for those on their way to nir­vana — one can’t be too care­ful. Nev­er­the­less, art­works in the form of the Bud­dha (of which the Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um offer a small sam­pling on their web site) have tak­en dif­fer­ent shapes in dif­fer­ent times and places. No mat­ter how well-defined the ide­al, the earth­ly realm always finds a way to intro­duce some vari­ety.

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Ele­gant Math­e­mat­ics of Vit­ru­vian Man, Leonar­do da Vinci’s Most Famous Draw­ing: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

Breath­tak­ing­ly Detailed Tibetan Book Print­ed 40 Years Before the Guten­berg Bible

The World’s Largest Col­lec­tion of Tibetan Bud­dhist Lit­er­a­ture Now Online

Leonard Cohen Nar­rates Film on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Fea­tur­ing the Dalai Lama (1994)

Tibetan Musi­cal Nota­tion Is Beau­ti­ful

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.