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Teachers of Enlightenment
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Teachers of Enlightenment: Traditions in Tibetan Buddhism

Beginning with the historical Buddha who founded the tradition of Buddhism over 2,500 years ago, the teacher has occupied a central role within Buddhism. Teachers (gurus) serve as instructors for their students and are venerated by practitioners.

Within Vajrayana Buddhism, an esoteric form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet, the teacher is essential to guiding a student’s path to enlightenment. Specialized teachings, rituals, and practices are taught that can only be passed directly from a spiritually advanced teacher to an individual practitioner.

Works of art are key to disseminating the Buddhist tradition and actively used by students and teachers for worship. Sculptures and paintings (thangkas) depicting individual teachers serve as a focus for prayer and contemplation in Buddhist monasteries. Ritual objects are used by teachers and their initiates, and portable amulet boxes allow practitioners to take images of religious figures and protective charms with them. Gurus provide their student’s with tools that help them create a better tomorrow and alleviate lifetimes of suffering.

For groups interested in learning more about the artwork on view in this exhibition, please request a Religous Art Collection tour and request in the notes that the exhibition be included as part of the tour.

Learn More

The Rime Buddhist Center provides experiences to discover more about Tibet and Buddhism. Visit their website at to learn more about their programs and scheduled events.

Shakyamuni Buddha Tibetan sculpture

Shakyamuni Buddha with Transcendent Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Manifestations of Padmasambhava, 18th century, Tibetan. Colors on cotton, brocade border, cotton backing, Image: 26 inches x 11 11/16 inches, Framed: 52 inches x 29 1/8 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Bequest of Joseph H. Heil, 74-36/8. A Portrait of Padmasambhava, 15th century, Tibetan. Brass inlaid with silver and copper, with traces of black paint, 5 7/8 inches x 4 ¼ inches x 2 5/8 inches. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Bequest of Joseph H. Heil, 74-36/51.