As reported by the Washington Post,

There are two things most Westerners think they know about Buddhism: It’s the one religion that can accommodate atheists, and one of its goals is to escape the material cycles of this world in favor of an immaterial enlightenment.

That’s why “Lama, Patron, Artist: The Great Situ Panchen,” newly opened at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, may come as a surprise. This landmark show, which was organized by the Rubin Museum for Himalayan art in New York, seems to have a fully religious, god-filled sensibility — no atheistic doubt in sight — as expressed through the most deluxe of material goods.

Situ Panchen was the powerful Tibetan lama who made or designed or commissioned the featured objects in this show, in the early and middle years of the 18th century. After many decades of nasty sectarian strife, during which Situ’s religious order, called the Karma Kagyu, almost got wiped out, Situ set about bringing it back to health and prosperity. He’d grown up in the far southeast of Tibet, around the kingdom of Derge near the border with China, and as an adult he used his semi-autonomous native land as a power base, founding the grand new Karma Kagyu monastery of Palpung and spreading its influence all the way to Beijing. This show makes clear that the rebirth Situ had in mind for his order had a rebirth in its art placed front and center.

For the Himalayan Art Resources page on Tai Situ Chokyi Jungne, click Here


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