Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice Across Asia

Lotus Lama

Lotus lamaWhat is it made of? Precious silk, couching threads (horsehair wrapped in silk and gold foil), leather, and pearls
Where was it made? Historical Tibet
When was it made? 1834


Although many Tibetan hanging artworks (thangkas) are painted, this one was made using a technique called appliqué. To make an appliqué thangka, an artist stitches together small pieces of fabric to create pictures or patterns.

In the center of this thangka, we see the great Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsongkhapa (pronounced Tsong-ka-pa) seated in deep meditation. Two lotus flowers rise over his shoulders: a flaming sword stands on the left flower, and a book with a red cover rests atop the other bloom. These two objects symbolize Tsongkhapa’s extraordinary wisdom.


Thangkas are commonly used as tools to help Buddhists understand spiritual teachings. They may also be used as images to focus on while meditating. Thangkas of all kinds hang in shrines and behind altars, but some are only displayed for special events. The rest of the time, they are rolled up and stored for safekeeping.


Sewing together fabric pieces to create flowers and other shapes in this thangka took a long time and a lot of concentration. Imagine yourself as a Tibetan artist. Do you think you would have the patience to stitch such complicated patterns? Might you be able to do the same thing through painting or collage?


Some people meditate while sitting in the same pose that Tsongkhapa is in. It’s called the lotus pose because it makes your feet look like the petals of lotus flower. With practice, you can sit like this for hours. Try for yourself, and see how long you can hold it!

Central Tibet, Lhasa, 1834
Appliqué using Chinese (Qing) and Russian brocades, leather, pearls, and couching threads (horsehair wrapped in silk with gold foil)
154.9 x 106.7 cm (61 x 42 in)
The Alice S. Kandell Collection