About the Shechen Frescos

By Matthieu Ricard

The frescoes at Shechen monastery in Nepal were painted in the 1980’s by two of the best artists of the time with a number of assistants under the attentive supervision of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

The frescoes were quite unique as they depicted great masters from the Eight Chariots* of Tibetan Buddhism, the eight principal traditions that ‘transported’ the Buddhist teachings from India to Tibet. Khyentse Rinpoche used to refer to the frescos the Eight Chariots, although some masters of the Shije (Padampa Sangye) and Cho (Machik Labdron), as well as Kalachakra, are not illustrated. However their lineages are represented in the frescos as the Jonang masters practiced Kalachakra and the Cho and Shije traditions were practiced by many of the other lineages.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche based the frescos on a text** written by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820 -1892) describing how to draw a series of seven thangkas illustrating the main holders of the Buddhist teachings in Tibet.

Based on this text, Khyentse Rinpoche added a number of elements: On the west wall, he included the two main lineages of Nyingma (Kahma represented by the central figure Nyak Jnanakumara, and Terma with Nyangrel Nima Oser). He also added the masters of the Shechen and Mindrolling lineages. In addition, he added a few masters down to our time. The main teachers of each tradition are depicted as central figures, with surrounding salient features of their lives.

Konchog Lhadrepa, the main artist who painted the original frescoes 30 years ago is now Dean of the Tsering Art School at Shechen. Under his supervision, its most expert students and graduates will undertake the paintings of a new sets of frescoes, based on the originals, painted in the Karma Gadri style of Eastern Tibet.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche was renowned for his understanding, respect and support for all the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. These frescoes have deep spiritual significance as well as being an important contribution to the authentic artistic tradition of Tibet.

South B Shechen wall 1.jpg

The Importance of the Shechen Frescos

By Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche

This tradition of painting is not something created by the Tibetan lamas. It existed at the time of Buddha. The story goes that during Sakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime, a princess from Sri Lanka heard the sound of the teachings spread by merchants. She was very inspired and since she could not travel to see the Buddha, she asked him to send her his portrait. And thus the first thangka was painted.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche himself instructed how each and every aspect of the frescos should be depicted– who should be included, the implements they hold, their postures, their appearance, if they are thin or fat, have a mustache or not, their facial expressions. Sometimes he would confer with Deshung Rinpoche, a scholar and teacher from the Sakya tradition, about these details. These murals are very special because they must be the last frescos really instructed by the master himself.

Because of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s nonsectarian approach, once a year at Shechen Monastery one hundred thousand tsok offerings are done, sponsored by the Tibetan government in exile. The different schools of Tibetan Buddhism in the Kathmandu area gather together in our temple. They hold this offering ceremony there because of the non-sectarian approach of the frescos. Everyone can relate to our monastery because the frescos depict, not just one, but all the Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

In the Buddhist tradition, accumulating merit is very important although many Westerners do not really understand it. Building a temple or stupa, publishing Dharma texts, and painting thangkas and frescos are all a way of accumulating merit.

We believe in liberation by seeing. Just through seeing these paintings, thousands of people will be benefited and connect to the Dharma. So, if you could sponsor even one section of the fresco, you will contribute to something that will benefit so many. That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?

About the Eight Great Chariots*

1. Ngagyur Nyingma— the original tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the study and practice based on the sutras and tantras that were translated during the first translation period (8th century) when Buddhism was introduced into Tibet. This was made possible because of Khenpo Shantarakshita, Guru Padmasambhava (known as “the second buddha”), and the Dharma-King Trisong Deutsen. Ngagyur Nyingma includes the teachings of the kahma (long, uninterrupted lineage), terma (revealed spiritual treasures, and danang (pure visions) that had been transmitted through countless accomplished masters. The other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism appeared later during the period known as the “New Translation” (Sarma) that began with Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo (958-1051).

2. Kadam—the teachings brought to Tibet by Atisha and further developed in the Geluk tradition by Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa.

3. Lamdre/Sakya—the essential instructions of the “Path with its Result,” the heart-essence teachings of the mahasiddha Virupa. These teachings came down to the Sakyapa founders including Jetsun Trakpa Gyaltsen, Sakya Pandita, and their heirs and were then passed on by various lineages including those of Sakya, Ngor, and Tsar.

4. Marpa Kagyu—the main lineage of teachings of the Kagyu tradition, which originated in India with Tilopa and Naropa. It was spread in Tibet by Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa, and later branched out to form the four major and eight minor Kagyu lineages.

5. Shangpa Kagyu—the doctrine of the dakini Niguma that originated from the master Khyungpo Naljor.

6. Kalachakra—also known as the “Six-Branched Application,” emphasizes the Vajra Yoga of the perfection stage of the Kalachakra. It was introduced into Tibet in three phrases by the Dharmakings of India and other masters such as Kalapada and developed into seventeen traditions. These were later combined and passed on by Tukjé Tsöndru and others.

7. Shije—(“Pacifying of Suffering”) teachings derived from Padampa Sangye and the practice of Cho (“severing grasping”) that were transmitted by Machik Lapdron and others.

8. Orgyen Nyendrup—(“Approach and Accomplishment of Orgyen”), teachings on the “Three Vajras” that were bestowed on the Mahasiddha Orgyenpa Rinchen Pal by Vajrayogini.

Adapted from Rigpa Wiki

About the Text**

“A Guide to Drawing Seven Thangka and Tsaklis About the Abbot, the Master and the King (Shantarakshita, Guru Padmasambhava and King Trisong Deutsen) and Other Representatives of the Buddhist teachings in Tibet.” Gangs can bstan pa yong rdzogs bris thang bdun gyi gtso bo mkhan slob chos gsum grtsor gyur dang tsakli sogs kyi bri yig. From The collected works (gsung 'bum) of the great 'jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dban po Vol. 17 (Tsa) (vol Tha of original edition) p. 407-535, published by Gonpo Tseten, Gangtok, 1977-1980.