EAST ASIA: Artist Escapes from the Buddhist Wheel of Life

Source: International Mission Board, November 13, 2017

Harshil Tamang once fashioned artwork depicting the traditional Buddhist understanding of existence. His work represented the recurring cycle of life while expressing a longing for an elusive escape from reincarnation to nirvana, the ultimate spiritual goal.

Like his father before him, he learned to paint thangkas, Tibetan Buddhist paintings on cotton or silk. The Wheel of Life painting is the most well-known thangka. It’s a visual representation of life, death, and rebirth for Tibetan Buddhists. For eighteen years, Harshil painted traditional thangkas and taught others to do the same.

When Harshil’s grandmother passed away, a priest commissioned him to make a thangka to make merit on her behalf. Harshil asked his father about the symbolism of art created for the dead. The thangka is like a god, his father said, and making one was a way to serve his grandmother.

The idea that his artwork held god-like status stunned Harshil. He remembers wondering who his art made him if it was a god. If his art could work for salvation, who was he? He knew he was not more powerful than a god.

So his Buddhist faith waned. “There is no god in this universe. Man is god,” Harshil recalls thinking. “I am also god,” he declared.

Not long after making this bold claim, a storm struck and flooded his home and destroyed 300 thangkas representing months of work and rendering a devastating financial loss.

He wondered if the Lord was challenging his claim to divinity.

» Full story includes a video and images Harshil’s art today.

» See also The Spirit of Tibetan Buddhism (OMF International). I had no idea that the Tibetan Buddhism has so much in common with the church of Luther’s day! (Hint: merit.)

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