Tibet, Vairocana – buddha appearance

14th century, Tibet, Vairocana, copper alloy with traces of gilding, private collection.

14th century, Tibet, Vairocana, copper alloy with traces of gilding, private collection on Himalayan Art Resources.

In Tibetan sculpture, this dhyani buddha is occasionally represented in buddha appearance (monastic robe, no jewellery). His hands are normally held at heart level in the gesture of supreme enlightenment or vajra mudra, which consists in closing the top hand like a fist around the index of the lower hand.

14th-15th c., Tibet, Vairocana, gilt copper alloy, photo by Koller.

14th-15th c., Tibet, Vairocana, gilt copper alloy, photo by Koller.

Sometimes his hands are doing the dharmachakra mudra but so does Shakyamuni.

16th-17th c., Central Tibet, Vairocana, copper alloy and cold gold, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

16th-17th c., Central Tibet, Vairocana, copper alloy and cold gold, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

He may be sitting on a throne, like this one supported by two lions and a yaksha, reminiscent of 7th-8th century Kashmiri works. Vairocana’s throne normally has an eight-spoke wheel at the front, this may be Shakyamuni…

2 thoughts on “Tibet, Vairocana – buddha appearance

  1. Dear Himalayan Buddhist Art

    Ross in Melbourne Australia here. Am enjoying your sensitive blog immensely.

    Was wondering, given the second and third examples below, how do we distinguish Vairochana from Shakyamuni Buddha in teaching mudra?

    Regards Ross Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Good question! Apart from the vajra mudra (one fist holding the index of the fist below), the other mudra associated with Vairocana is the dharmacakra/dharmachakra mudra (turning the wheel of dharma) not the teaching mudra, but there are sculptures of Shakyamuni doing the dharmachakra. With paintings there is no possible confusion because the bodies have different colours. With sculptures it is sometimes impossible to distinguish a dyani buddha from the historical buddha and it is then a question of choosing one name or the other, as we have seen with Akshobhya. Those two sculptures could depict Shakyamuni rather than Vairocana, although that is how they were labelled. Thank you for your interest and for highlighting this fact, and glad you enjoy the blog!

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