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Series: Naropa Institute: Iconography of Buddhist Tantra (10 Talks, 1975)

Chogyam Trungpa presents his vision of perception and symbolism according to tantric principles, emphasizing the continuity between ordinary life and Buddhist iconography in this groundbreaking seminar. Hundreds of students arrived at this seminar thinking they were attending a course on Tibetan Buddhist art and symbolism, but Trungpa Rinpoche focused largely on how to develop one's own mind and perceptual capacities in order to properly perceive not just Buddhist symbols, but the symbolism inherent in everyday life.  He directly addresses the current trend in American society to exoticize and fetishize Tibetan and other spiritual traditions, saying he does not want to present "California-style tantric symbolism."  Instead, he gives guidance on how to see, drawing connections between aspects of mind and tantric symbolism. About a third of the way through, Trungpa Rinpoche does begin to introduce specific examples of Tibetan Buddhist iconography, showing slide presentations of traditional thangkas along with his own photographs.  He outlines the difference between "relative" and "absolute" symbolism, stressing that seeing on absolute level is necessary for"dharma art", the now well-established artistic practice of making art from a place of egolessness.  Trungpa Rinpoche also encourages perception of "natural magic" that exists in the world, and says the purpose of tantra is to "rais[e] one's individuality" even as we shed ego, so that one's true nature can shine through. In final talks, there is in-depth discussion of specific tantric iconography, including the five buddha families, protectors, traditional figures and deities of vajrayana Buddhism, including a famous thangka of Vajradhara, the archetypal symbol of the Kagyu lineage who represents space and indivisibility of bliss and emptiness. This seminar became the basis of the book DHARMA ART (1996), which was later updated and expanded to TRUE PERCEPTION (2008)
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