Art and Medicine Merge in Tibetan Medical Exhibit
Nine Tibetan Lamas from the Drepung Loseling Monastery created a “Medicine Buddha” sand mandala after a prayer ceremony that included meditation, chanting and instrument playing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, as part of an exhibit that merged science and art through Tibetan medical painting.
Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan, the abbot of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet, explained to visitors of the museum that they were creating the mandala for the “benefit of all sentient beings.” The mandala, he said, is like a GPS for a spiritual journey, guiding the prayers of all who came to participate. He explained the process of making the mandala, which would be completed over a six-day period. The whole process was visible to guests at the museum.
A class of first-grade students from the Carl C. Icahn Charter School in the Bronx watched intently as the monks performed the opening ceremony. Their teacher, Lissette Aldebot, has been teaching her students to meditate and practice yoga every morning. She said the positive change in the students’ behavior was major after she started the meditation lessons.
The Lamas made a procession through the museum to the Body and Spirit exhibit of Tibetan medical paintings.
Laila Williamson, the curator of the exhibit and the senior scientific assistant in the division of anthropology, said that the 64 paintings on display are painstaking reproductions done from works originally commissioned by the fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century for the medical college in Lhasa, Tibet. The original set, which was intended as a visual aid for medical students, was reproduced in the early 1900s. The paintings hanging in the museum’s Audubon Gallery now are reproductions of that set.
One of the objectives of the exhibit is to show the history of medicine not only in Tibet, but in the world at the time, Williamson said.
Romio Shrestha, the Nepalese artist who created the paintings in the 1990s with the help of his students, said that the paintings were made the same way the original set was created, with handmade canvas and ground-up minerals and vegetables used for paint.
He said that he decided to recreate the series because he saw unanswered questions in the modern scientific world. Modern medicine deals with symptoms, he said, which lacks the holistic approach that Eastern medicine embraces.
Shrestha was born in Kathmandu, Nepal and was told when he was six years old that he was the reincarnation of the master Tibetan medical painter Arniko. When asked how he learned how to paint, he said simply that was never taught, but knew from his previous life.
“I have no religion,” he said, and went on to explain that he was born into a Hindu family, went to a Roman Catholic school, became a Buddhist monk and married a Protestant. “All religions need to come together,” he said.
“Body and Spirit: Tibetan Medical Paintings” will be on view until July 17. #