271st Meeting – Tuesday, February 14th  2006

The Giant Appliqué Thangkas of Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet

A talk and video presentation by Terris and Leslie Nguyen Temple

Present: Louis Gabaude, Bonnie Brereton, Carol & Bob Stratton, Annabel Coulet, Otome Klein Hutheesing, Maarten & Els Klein, Lucie Belton, Sophie Belton, Thomas Ohlson, Juergen Polte, Dianne & Mark Barber-Riley, Clarence and Vanvadee Shettlesworth, Paul Barber-Riley, Jeanette Pembroke, Guy Cardinal, Peter Hoare, John Cadet, Steve Epstein, Samphe Lmalungpa, Carina zur Strassen, Bodil Blokker. An audience of 25  

About Terris and Leslie

Terris Temple (USA) has been involved in studying, creating and teaching Tibetan thangka art for the last thirty years. Prior to working on this project he focused on teaching thangka iconography and painting to his students. He is presently re-editing the Tsurphu Thangka film.
Leslie Nguyen (UK), who is a former psychology graduate and art therapist, assisted him on the work. Both artists had together earlier taken a growing interest in learning about appliqué thangkas, particularly those made in the Amdo region, which are glued and folded to create a traditional image using a combination of silks, brocades and painted details.

Terris Nguyen Temple is the first westerner trained in the tradition of making thangkas.
He studied in Nepal from 1966 to 1975. Originally taught at Naropa University in Boulder Co. USA in 1974, and from 1977 to the present at Buddhist Centers in Hawaii and Arizona. In 1969, with his teacher he painted the murals in Tarkegang Gompa, N. Nepal. Since the discovery in 1992 of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, (head of the 1,000 year old Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism) he and his wife Leslie Nguyen Temple are the artists to His Holiness and Tsurphu Monastery. They are the creators of the two Giant Tsurphu Appliqués. Presently they are involved in new projects in Tibet.

A summary of his talk prepared by Terris and Leslie
Tsurphu monastery dates from 1187 when the first Karmapa - Dusum Kyenpa - identified the auspicious location for his dwelling. It was with that Karmapa that the tradition of reincarnating lamas was introduced in Tibet throughout the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Significantly, the present constructive energy at Tsurphu has arisen with the arrival of the reincarnate 17th Karmapa - Urgyen Drodul Tinley Dorje b. 1985, who was enthroned at Tsurphu in September 1992.

The creation of such huge images as the thangkas is traditional throughout Tibet. They are referred to as "gos.sKu." (pronounced Kye-gu) in Tibetan, which literally means "Satin-image". These hangings are, in fact, constructed using a range of heavy brocades, silks and satins sewn together in the appliqué technique. The intricate line work is translated using a technique similar to that found in Tibetan tent design, typical of this culturally nomadic people. The Karmapas, in particular, were renowned for their elaborate tent settlements. In addition, styles in art and iconography differ according to the various religious schools. The Karma Kagyu style of painting, known as Karma Gadri, was established in 1500 and reflects influence from India (in its form), China (in its coloring) and Tibet (in its composition).

The 35 x 23 meter thangka that my wife and I created for the Tsurphu Temple features nine figures: Sakyamuni Buddha in the center (9m high); Manjusri and Maitreya Bodhisattvas (7m high) flanking him; with the Primordial Buddha at the top center and a fierce wrathful protector at the bottom center. At each corner of the image sits a great Lama of the lineage - The First and Second Karmapas are in the upper corners; and the Sixteenth Karmapa, who passed away in 1981, and the Third Jamgon Kontrul, one of the Karmapa's foremost disciples who passed away in 1992, are featured in the lower corners.

Over 1,500 meters of silks and brocades were used to make the Tsurphu gos.sKu. Seventy shades of color were chosen and a large part of this palette was specifically dyed in Hong Kong to meet the requirement of a Karma Gadri design, which is noted for its use of pastel shades. Additional materials for finishing the thangka include: backing cloth (2,000m), a protective cover (1,100m), a brocade border (90m) and a 24-meter leather bag for storage. For ceremonial purposes, a 24-meter canopy to be positioned above the gos.sKu was made. In addition, banners, umbrellas and 140 meters of multicolored traditional streamers were all required and made for the unveiling ceremony.

Creating such a large image as the Tsurphu thangka demanded quite a different approach to the creation of smaller images; most notably a workforce of sewers to prepare and assemble large pieces of the fabrics together. From researching the various sewing techniques used mainly in the Lhasa tent making factories, Leslie and I found the perfect team of tailors who immediately accepted to participate in the work. The White Conch factory, based in Lhasa, makes an array of Tibetan handicrafts ranging from huge elaborate festival tents to traditional opera costumes and temple hangings. It was the first time that a group from the factory’s 70 strong worker force had been involved in the making of a huge religious image.

As well as designing and drawing the thangka, and recruiting the team of sewers in Lhasa, Leslie and I were also responsible for acquiring best quality materials, and, more urgently, raising the funds necessary to make the image. In order to secure financial support, we pledged to make the main patron a 3 x 2 meter replica of the Tsurphu gos.sKu. The Tsurphu thangka was completed in 1994 and is now shown for several hours each year for the Saga Dawa festival, which is attended by thousands of pilgrims.

Your convenor writes: Terris showed a video he and Leslie had made of the production of the thangka, the highlight of which was the finished 35 x 23 meter thangka unfurling down the steps cut into the mountain side on the other side of the valley opposite the Tsurphu Temple. As moving as it was on the screen, one can only imagine the emotions that must have welled up for Terris and Leslie, the 17th Karmapa, the workers, the monks, and all of the Tibetan people present on this momentous occasion.

As well as showing the video and explaining its significance, Terris gave a brief introduction to Buddhist Iconography, and its sacred geometry. Terris and Leslie have a web site for contact or further information.