Monday 25 April 2016

Thönmi Sambhota Thangka

Thönmi Sambhota Thangka description

This is a traditional thangka* painting, which was especially commissioned by Tashi Mannox on the rarely depicted great calligrapher and scholar Thönmi Sambhota.
Sambhota is reputed to be a historical figure responsible for developing the foundation of the Tibetan writing systems in the seventh century A.D, which form the basis of the Tibetan language today. See below for the History of the Tibetan Writing System.

In this thangka, Thönmi Sambhota is shown as the main figure wearing traditional attire of a Tibetan layperson, though wears a white turban in reference to his many years spent in Northern India studying chiefly Sanskrit with Brahmins and Pandits.


He holds in his lap a tablet inscribed with a rendition of a Mani mantra, oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ, which was presented to Dharmaraja King Songtsen Gampo as the first sample he created of the Tibetan Uchen script. The original writing of this mantra was carved on a rock in Rigsum Gompo temple in central Tibet, which was unfortunately destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

On a table before Sambhota are laid out calligraphy implements such as ink and bamboo pens, cut from the bamboo grove behind him. Tibetan manuscripts also sit before and behind referring to Sambhota’s scholarly achievements and the Tibetan grammar and punctuation he composed.

Emanating from Sambhota on rainbow beams are two golden disks marked with the letter Aa ཨ the last letter of the Tibetan alphabet, which is also considered the essence and expression of the entire alphabet in one.  On the left is Aa ཨ in the classical Uchen script and on the right is the same letter Aa ཨ in the Umed class of scripts. These represent the two main groups of script styles he created and still in use to the present day.

The thangka painter Sahil Bhopal entrusted Tashi to personally add the two principle letters Aa  to the golden disks, as well as the Mani mantra within the thangka.

To Sambhota’s below right is a student in practice of calligraphy. While above is a scene of nature, more typical of the Karma Gadri style of thangka painting, with trees and a cascading waterfall bringing prosperity. 
In the far distance are five mountains of Manjushri, the deity of learning, or can also represent the five Wisdom Buddha families.

 In the sky above is Sakymuni Buddha, who crowns Thönmi Sambhota representing his Buddhist belonging, and motivation to benefit all.

*Tibetan thangka painting is one of the great arts of Asia. A particular stylistic development of painting in natural mineral media, normally on cloth which is mounted in a brocade frame, designed to role up as a portable scroll.
Thangkas are typically rich in iconography of their religious content that communicate the highest Buddhist ideals, often as a visual aid to be meditated upon or to depict historical figures and spiritual events. For a Tibetan Buddhist, thangkas are considered inspirational sacred paintings in their physical support to a practitioner as an embodiment of enlightenment.

History of the Tibetan Writing System 

It was during the seventh century reign of Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo, and under his direction, that the first iteration of what would become the modern day Tibetan written language came into existence. Prior to this Tibetans had used Mayig, a comparatively rudimentary system. But Songtsen Gampo was faced with the task of translating the wealth of existing Buddhist Sanskrit texts into Tibetan, and needed a coherent writing system with sufficiently rich symbolism. He turned to minister and great scholar, Thönmi Sambhota, who along with sixteen other wise ministers travelled to India to study Sanskrit. Only Sambhota would return suitably qualified. His journey had proved fruitful, however, and a new Tibetan writing system, based loosely on Indic Sanskrit was established. It is worth noting that the Tibetan spoken language remained the same; only written language was renovated. Sambhota had conceived an alphabet and standardised writing conventions, including grammar and punctuation, and would later also produce the first iteration of both the Uchen and Umed forms.
Different script styles developed over the next several hundred years. In the early ninth century the Tibetan script underwent another transformation and ‘Old Tibetan’ was standardised to ‘Classical Tibetan’. One thousand years passed, yet Tibetan calligraphy persevered, steadily evolving towards its contemporary form. By the nineteenth century the models of Uchen and Umed, the two main Tibetan script styles, had ossified and bore the exact proportions still in use today.

Tibetan Calligraphy & Tibetan Buddhism

From the offset, then, a notable bond existed between the Tibetan writing system and Buddhism – its creation being motivated primarily by a need to conserve and decipher Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts. To limit calligraphy and Tibetan Buddhism (and by association Tibetan culture’s) connection to simply a functional conception, however, does not do justice to their relationship. The two are largely inseparable and have remained so to the present day. Tibetan Buddhism is considered a ‘live’ tradition, comprised of many lineages in which a master will impress the totality of a line’s knowledge on a disciple. The lineage is also considered fluid, as the disciple then realises the wisdom of these teachings through meditation. Clearly, the academic and meditative aspects of Tibetan Buddhism are closely linked. Calligraphy’s role in this relationship as a key by which existing Buddhist teachings are unlocked compounds its status. Developing a written language certainly also had administrational benefits for the empire, with its use in legal and historical documents.

-Luke Purdye

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Sharjah 7th Calligraphy Biennial 2016

Tibetan Calligraphy in the UAE

'Sphere of Dharmata' Tashi Mannox 2016

Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial has always been known to be of one of the most remarkable events taking place in the region. It aims at revealing the power of the letter in bringing cultures together. Through predominantly Arabic Calligraphy from contemporary artists across the Islamic world, there are over 206 calligraphy artists taking part, including other calligraphy masters of different cultures and traditions, totalling of 683 works.

Sharjah is the neighbouring state of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. It is celebrated for its vast internationally attended universities and museums of the arts and Islamic culture.

So if you find yourself in Dubai Between 6th April – 6th June 2016 why not take the short drive to the Sharjah Calligraphy Museum to feast your eyes on the marvels of Islamic and other calligraphy disciplines of the world.

For the Sharjah Biennial in general, exhibition sites are a range of venues including the Sharjah Art Foundation Art Spaces, the Sharjah Art Museum, and the nearby traditional buildings and courtyards of the Arts and Heritage areas.

This is the third Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial that Tashi Mannox has been invited to partake, this time exhibiting two of his Tibetan calligrahy pieces especially created for this event, as seen above and below. 

'Born of Bindu' Tashi Mannox 2016

Sunday 3 April 2016

Tibetan Calligraphy Retreat 2016

The view of Hay Bluff from the retreat centre

Tibetan Calligraphy Retreat with Tashi Mannox

16th – 22nd July 2016

-- Limited Spaces available --

After last years very successful and joyous Tibetan Uchen Calligraphy Retreat, Tashi presents a unique opportunity to thoroughly learn the art of Tibetan Umed handwriting. Again held in the conducive and beautiful border countryside of Wales.

During the six-day (seven nights) calligraphy meditation retreat, Tashi will instruct how to properly construct the Tsugtung Umed script, from the foundation of the alphabet through to the many subjoined letters, onto forming words and sentences in a coherent and beautiful formation. The remaining days of the course will focus on forming traditional mantras as well as seed syllables as a useful aid to Buddhist visualisation practices.

There will also be meditation instruction and daily sitting practice that will help calm and prime the mind for the optimum approach and application, which is considered at the core of learning and creativity.

For the more dedicated practitioner, this course provides a discipline that lays a firm foundation in the art of Tibetan calligraphy. Suitable for beginners as well as those who wish to improve their already acquired handwriting skills.

It would be helpful for first-timers to at least become familiar with the Tibetan alphabet in the Uchen script before attending the course.

Tibetan Uchen Calligraphy Retreat 2015 

Location: The blessed abode of Karma Dechen Choling at New Inn Brilley is situated on the Welsh, Herefordshire border. Described as being ‘unique, authentic and a little bit quirky’ it boasts magnificent views across the Wye valley toward the majestic Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacon National Park, that evokes an ideally peaceful retreat atmosphere of clarity and focus.

Alastair Sawday B&B award winning New Inn at Brilley offers a variety of charming accommodation options to suite most needs, from camping, shared dormitories to the 'Self-catering suite' (though you will be catered for during the retreat) as well as the luxury of the Rose Pink and Mustard Yellow double bedrooms in the old Inn. 
Please see price tariff below. To choose the type of accommodation you would be most comfortable with, please look into the website of New Inn Brilley.
Please note that the Rising Sun, Wagon over the Valley, Angles and Mother Earth accommodations are not available in the calligraphy retreat package, all other accommodation types have been kindly offered at a 20% concession, making the course more affordable for all.

It may also be possible to book accommodation before and after the official course schedule, however costs will be at the regular prices as stated on the New Inn Brilley website.

There are also local B&B’s within a few minutes drive as well as many more in the near-by picturesque town of Hay-on-Wye, see below for course fees for ‘Attending course from outside of New Inn’.

All-inclusive prices for six-day course per person:
  • One person in double room - £595.  booking deposit: £238 GBP
  • Two people sharing same double - £485 each. booking deposit: £194 GBP each.
  • Single in dormitory - £495. booking deposit: £198 GBP
  • Camping - £372. booking deposit: £148 GBP
  • Attending course from outside of New Inn - £330. booking deposit: £132 GBP

Meals and refreshments are included in the course fee. Please let known any special dietary requirements prior to your visit. Food will be vegetarian.

To book: Please contact Tashi by email to check availability and secure your place. Course capacity and accommodation is limited. A booking deposit of 40% or in full is required as indicated above. Remaining paid within one months prior to arrival: (June 16th) 
Cancelations: booking deposit will not be refunded after June 16th. 

How to get there: By public transport, the nearest Local train station is Hereford with direct links from London Paddington. Across from Hereford station concourse is a local 39 bus, Brecon service*1 alight at Hay-on-Wye, taxi*2 ride of 8 minutes from Hay-on-Wye to New Inn at Brilley.Please follow the link for map and directions by car. 

What to bring: As the British weather is unpredictable, you may need clothing to suit cooler wet days to pleasant hot dry days, so flip flops and Wellington boots.

Please bring personal art materials, such as calligraphy pens*3, a straight rule, pencil, pencil-sharpener and eraser. Three to four A3 size pads preferably water-colour paper is advised, as working on a larger scale is better for learning and for best results.

3* Suggested pens can be a range of different size italic felt tip calligraphy pens, or more professional Pilot Parallel Pens in a range of different nib sizes, available on the Internet with ink cartridges.

2*  Local Taxi: Mike 07881 726547 

Course Program:
Arrive by Saturday 16th 
7 pm supper.

Sunday 17th
8 am sitting meditation followed by breakfast between 8.30 and 9.30 am.
10 am Welcome and Introduction talk.
11.30 tea-break
11.50 calligraphy session.
1 – 2 pm lunch
2.30 calligraphy session
4 pm tea-break
4.20 pm Meditation explanation and practice.
7 pm supper and free time until bed.

Daily Schedule:
8 am sitting meditation followed by breakfast between 8.30 and 9.30 am.
10 am calligraphy session.
11.30 tea-break
11.50 calligraphy session.
1 – 2 pm lunch
2.30 calligraphy session
4 pm tea-break
4.20 pm meditation and calligraphy practice/talk.
7 pm supper and free time until bed.

Saturday 23rd
8 am sitting meditation followed by breakfast between 8.30 and 10 am.
Depart New Inn Brilley before 12 noon.