06 June 2016

The Gaze of the Guru: Part 1

"This looks like me. ...Now, it is the same as me."  

- Guru Rinpoche upon seeing the portrait of him commission by King Trisong Deutsen of Tibet in the 7-8th CE.

The next project for AKSHA is a small statue based on the Guru Ngadrama. (As far as I have seen in my research, the word ngadrama, is used to refer to sculptural portraits from life, as opposed to idealized representations.)

Known as Guru Rinpoche's "Looks Like Me" statue, the Guru Ngadrama is one of the most historically significant and sacred works of art in the Tibetan Buddhist world. Created in the 8th CE and installed in the earliest days of Samye Monastery, it is said that it was seen and blessed by Padmasambhava himself as he undertook the task of establishing Buddhism in Tibet. 

It stood slightly larger than life size* for 1200 years at Samye, surviving at least one devastating fire, until it was destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Only one original photograph of the statue is known to be in existence. It was taken in the 1930's by the King of Sikkim. (See the black and white photo.) It has since been digitally enhanced and colored, and reproduced innumerable times as it has been distributed throughout the world.

For this project, I studied both the original and the later digitally manipulated version. Here is a video that juxtaposes both images on a grid. https://vimeo.com/166306545

In the end, what is important for us is to represent, as intimately as possible, the gaze and presence of the guru, so wonderfully captured by the original sculptor. It is a gaze that is both powerful and soft, piercing and peaceful.

This gaze and presence comes thru not just in the facial features, but also in the slight tilt of the head and shoulders. It is a graceful posture, representative of the finest Indian influences of the time. Orgyen Topgyal Rinpoche believes that the original sculptor came from Nepal and the statue was in the Indian style. Indeed, there is a good probability that many of the finest artists of sacred art of the time studied the manuscripts and methods of Indian Art. 

So to reproduce the statue, we must begin from the inside out, and take the journey of the original sculptors as well.