Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Universality of Primary Hues

One of the first things that captured me about the Tibetan Buddhist design tradition was the color scheme. It originally struck me, and still does, as elementary. Elementary in that best sense of the word, straightforward and universal.

If you have ever seen a Tibetan prayer flag rippling in the wind, you should recall the bright spread of primary colors. The same scheme is integrated in Tibetan Buddhist temple and building design worldwide, both exteriorly (when possible) and interiorly.

White relates to the element of Space/all encompassing space/buddha

Green relates to the element of Wind/all encompassing wisdom/karma

Red relates to the element of Fire/discriminating awareness wisdom/padma

Blue relates to the element of Water/mirror like wisdom/vajra

Yellow relates to the element of Earth/wisdom of equanimity/ratna

The above photo of Kagyu Shenpen Tharchin in Richmond, Virginia is, in my opinion, a quite humble and pretty example of a small sangha's ceremonial and practice space, with a prominent interior use of the yellow and red hues. Why wood floors seem to be always be most fitting, atmospherically, aesthetically and even, religiously, in spiritual centers is a question that seems simple to me but which I haven't got the answer to yet.

Established in 1993, the center is, to date, the only Tibetan Buddhist centre in Richmond, Virginia. The center is part of Ekoji Buddhist Sangha which is host to other sanghas of Buddhist tradition: a Vipassana group, a Zen group and a Pure Land Group. This truly makes Ekoji a multi-dimensional center, to serve as host to different Buddhist traditions as well as be encouragingly open door to those who do not claim a lineage, tradition or faith.

The Tibetan Buddhist sangha at Ekoji, Kagyu Shenpen Tharchin, was established through the efforts of Lama Norlha, the founder of Kagyu Thubten Chöling Monastery in upstate New York. The story of many Tibetan Buddhist leaders journeys, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century, is layered with several different geographies and, of course, the story of cultures adapting to religious tradition, or perhaps, more critically, vice versa. Diamond Vehicle is a film in the works about Lama Norlha, that appears to have captured all of this, along with the political backdrop that has served as the catalyst for the perhaps, unexpected, yet completely global reading and interest in the Vajrayana.

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