How do political leaders come to power? What gives them the right to govern? Today in some governments we see that power comes from the democratic consent of the people. In other systems, power can only manifest itself through power or can be transmitted through a religious mandate. The power of religion to claim political power is a global phenomenon, and Tibetan Buddhism once offered such divine means of power and legitimacy to government.
The exhibition at the Rubin Museum explores the dynamic historical intersection of politics, religion and art in Tibetan Buddhism. With the help of more than 60 exhibits of the 8th – 19th centuries, the exhibition tells how Tibetan Buddhism presented a model of universal sacral reign, thanks to which the dedicated rulers were able to expand their kingdom with the help of ritual magic. Images were the main means of political propaganda, an integral part of magical tantric rites and the embodiment of power.
By the 11th century, Tibetan Buddhist masters became known throughout North Asia as donors of this anointed government and occult power. Tibetans also used the mechanism of reincarnation as a means of continuity, a unique form of political legitimacy that they brought to the empires in the east.
Through the prism of the powerful historical political role of Tibetan Buddhism in Asia, the Faith and Empire exhibition seeks to place Himalayan art in a wider global context and shed light on an important but little-known aspect of power in the Tibetan tradition.