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The Tibetan Book of Proportions


This manuscript contains a precise guide that explains how the Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama and the Bodhisattvas that accompany him must be represented.

Siddhārtha Gautama left a body of knowledge that eventually gave life to Buddhism. When this philosophy began to spread, its practitioners paid particular attention to the pictorial representations of the historical Buddha, thus creating iconometric guides and manuals describing exactly how he had to be represented.

A recently recovered book from the 18th century describes precisely how Buddha, the protectors and the Bodhisattvas, must be portrayed: The Tibetan Book of Proportions is a sort of golden testimony around one of the most inspiring representations in human history.

Written in Newari script with Tibetan numerals, the book was apparently produced in Nepal for use in Tibet. The concept of the “ideal image” of the Buddha emerged between the 4th and the 6th century, and as well as the proportions, other aspects of the depiction (such as number of teeth, the direction of the hair and the exact placement of the fingers) are taken into consideration. His representations must obey 32 greater Laksanas and 80 minor ones, and must also include certain traits such as wavy hair, long fingers, a lion’s torso and “sapphire blue eyes”.

The tankas, which are the tapestries or Buddhist paintings that follow these specifications of proportions, are not just valuable in terms of their iconography, but also seen as multi-dimensional and multi-sensorial devices designed to assist the evolution of consciousness. Creating a good tanka requires a great deal of knowledge and skill: each one is a window towards the complete system of the philosophy imbued in Tibetan Buddhism.

In addition to virtually guaranteeing a correct representation of the fundamental figures of Buddhism, the book also proves the importance of certain variables within this tradition, for example numerical precision, graphic organization of symbols, chromatic relationships and, in sum, it channels aesthetics for the benefit of spiritual development.

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