“A Gift of 5 Tibetan Buddhist Ritual Objects”

KASDORF, KATHERINE E. “A GIFT OF FIVE TIBETAN BUDDHIST RITUAL OBJECTS.” The Journal of the Walters Art Museum, vol. 73, 2018, pp. 57–64. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26537579. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

In “A Gift of 5 Tibetan Buddhist Ritual Objects”, curator Katherine E. Kasdorf tells the story of how 5 traditional Buddhist items, including two thangkas and a mandala, hold more value than meets the eye through a shared ritualistic interplay. The five specific artifacts discussed in this essay include two gilded metal statues, two thangkas, and one, surprisingly large, mandala. The objects were originally in the possession of professor Walter Hauser, who believed that the objects would have more value in a museum. Furthermore, Professor Hauser only kept the artifacts around his home for their aesthetic value, but he knew that donating them to the Walter Museum would give others the opportunity to uncover these Buddhist artifact’s true value.  

Being a curator at The Walter Art Museum, Katherine Kasdorf found the religious and spiritual connection that all five artifacts share. The first object discussed by Kasdorf was a gilded metal statue of a male and female deity interlocked in sexual union. In the Buddhist religion, this union represents complete enlightenment. Specifically, the male deity stands as a representation of compassion, intention, and action while the female stands as a representation of wisdom and enlightenment. The thangkas that Professor Hauser donated also stand as representations of aspects of Buddhism. Furthermore, the thangkas include imagery of the Karmapa Lama, a spiritual teacher with sacred knowledge that leads to enlightenment. Hand and footprints of past Lama’s are seen on both thangkas donated. The last object discussed by Kasdorf was the mandala. Unlike many two dimensional mandalas, the one in this collection is comparable to a cone made of circular layers which can hold large quantities of granular objects. In practice, this mandala is meant to have each consecutive layer filled with grains, the size of rice. Each layer being filled with grain stands as a signal that each piece of the donated set, including both thangkas and both statues, are being worshiped upon. Kasdorf explains that, in Buddhist practice, after filling the layers, the practitioner takes the grain and dumps it onto themselves bringing the spirit, wisdom, and guidance from the statues and thangkas into their own personal realm. 

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this chapter because it felt relatable to what we are working on in class. Kassdorf meticulously studied every detail, connection, and piece of history relevant to the objects donated to her museum’s collection to find their individual meanings and collective value.

Author: Ryan Mach

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