Portable Shrine

Portable Shrine

c. 1500

Wood with mineral pigments

Diameter: 16.2 cm (6 3/8 in.); Overall: 25.4 cm (10 in.)

Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund 1968.214



This portable shrine was made from a solid log carved inside and out. Tantric practice can be performed alone in any location; this shrine could be used by a traveling practitioner for meditation, visualization, prayer, and recitation of mantras.

The interior is filled with rows of tantric forms of enlightened beings and guardians sculpted in high relief. The central figure of the top row is Padmasambhava (Indian, active in Tibet in the 740s), a tantric yogi and Buddhist saint from a region in present-day northeastern Pakistan. He was instrumental in transmitting tantric teachings to Tibet, and he is venerated as the founder of one of the four main Tibetan monastic orders.

The exterior has finely incised imagery of wrathful protectors and a stupa (chorten in Tibetan), a sacred Buddhist monument in the form of a solid hemispherical dome topped by rows of stylized umbrellas. Also carved on the shrine’s exterior are mantras written in Tibetan script, including the most fundamental mantra, om mani padme hum, which is recited specifically to focus the mind and rally the power of compassion.

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