In this hand-stitched silk appliqué thangka, Buddha Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha) sits on a jeweled throne, supported by snow lions representing fearlessness. He is surrounded by symbols of the Six Perfections — generosity, ethical discipline, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, meditative stability, and wisdom. His left hand is in the position of meditation and his right hand touches the ground symbolizing his victory over interferences to achieve Awakening.
At the back of the thangka, now hidden by a cotton backing, are the three syllables of enlightenment — OM for enlightened body or action (at the forehead), AH for enlightened speech or voice (at the throat), and HUM for enlightened mind (at the heart).
I made this thangka at the completion of my traditional apprenticeship in Dharamsala, India. In 1997, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet granted me a private audience (a high point of my life!) and expressed his appreciation for the thangka, encouraging me to continue my work in Tibetan appliqué and to apply its techniques to non-Buddhist imagery that would inspire a wider audience of spiritual seekers.
His Holiness always encourages attendees at his public talks to take inspiration and practical tips from his teachings but not to become Buddhists. Rather, he encourages each person to become more deeply appreciative of his or her own tradition and to use whatever tools it offers, along with the Buddha’s insights, to become kinder, more compassionate, more connected, and more aware.
By encouraging me to use Tibetan stitching techniques to create images from other faiths, he extended this deeply respectful message that is clearly essential to his world view. The Buddhist teachings and practices are tools to be used as best suited and most helpful to each individual in connecting us more deeply to one another and to our ground of being in the kindest, gentlest, most heartfelt way possible.