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SHAMBHALA ART SCHOOL- ICONOGRAPHY

A central focus in my career has been research into traditional Shambhala imagery. It started in the 1980's when Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche asked me to paint a full set of the Dharmarajas and Rigdens - the Kings of Shambhala. Then when I was back in India I discovered a text, the Collected Teachings of Khathok Lama Tsewang Norbu. The text contained detailed descriptions of the Kings of Shambhala. But I did not know this to be a definitive text at that time. Trungpa Rinpoche felt I should base the thangkas on some available images (13 of 33 Shambhala Kings) from the Boston Museum collection. It was confusing since these did not at all match the text descriptions. Nevertheless I started the project according to Rinpoche's direction. Over the next 15 years, with various sponsors, I completed a set of small thangkas. Half are on permanent display in the Boulder Shambhala Center and half are in Halifax.

Still I was not completely satisfied. The set that I created relied partly on the text and partly on the museum collection but it was still unclear whether any of this was definitive iconography.

It wasn't until 2005 that Lama Ugyen Topgyal showed me a set of photographs of thangkas painted by, or perhaps under the close direction of, the fifth Situpa Chokyi Jungne. It was very exciting. These thangkas are a great treasure of Palpung monastery, painted in the finest Gadri style. They are a delight to see, but more importantly they match the description in Tsewang Norbu's text down to the very small detail.

All this time I had been frustrated that nothing matched but this text had always impressed me because in style it did not stick to the convention of poetic verse description. Rather it seemed like the great lama was writing down the details as he saw them displayed in a vision, without any linguistic niceties. It was only then that I realized that Tsewang Norbu had been the teacher of Situpa. So I finally understood. This text and the corresponding paintings are a completely authoritative, invaluable record of a vision of Shambhala.

At present I have a commission to paint Shambhala Refugee Tree thangka for the Shambhala International Center. We had to do lots of research, because it has never been painted in the past as far as we could tell. So the project has been inspiring and challenging at the same time. We hope to complete the large thangka by summer of 2013.

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©2007 Shambhala Art school • Noedup Rongae • Director