Bodhisattvas of Wisdom, Compassion, and Power

March 27, 2021–October 30, 2022
Previously on view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 251
Exhibitions are free with Museum admission.

Within the Buddhist traditions of the Himalayas, three bodhisattvas emerge as personifications of Buddhist ideals. Manjushri, who cuts through ignorance and personifies correct knowledge; Avalokiteshvara, a compassionate protector of the devout that helps reveal the true nature of reality; and Vajrapani as the embodiment of the energy of enlightenment. Focusing on dramatic images, a worshipper could first evoke the subtle knowledge that Manjushri personifies, then with Avalokiteshvara’s aid, it is possible to proceed in a way free from self-imposed delusions, while Vajrapani’s transcendent power aids in destroying jealousy and hatred that stand in the way of enlightenment. Venerating these three bodhisattvas together has a long history, and they play an essential role in the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet. This exhibition draws together a dramatic group of paintings, sculptures, ritual objects, and illustrated manuscripts from the eleventh to eighteenth centuries, made primarily for Nepal and Tibet’s monastic institutions. Beautifully cast sculptures and accessible paintings showing peaceful manifestations of the bodhisattvas intended for the public are juxtaposed with complex tantric images of the highest quality done in portable media made for monastic elites. Vajrayana images offered powerful ways to access these bodhisattvas as a personal path to enlightenment, though often undertaking such rituals was done with a ruler’s sponsorship for the people’s benefit. This exhibition presents some of the sublime representations of these three bodhisattvas at the center of this great devotional tradition embraced across the Himalayas.

The exhibition is made possible by The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation Fund.

Exhibition Objects

Marquee: Detail of Manjushri, Mandala of Manjuvajra. Tibet, late 14th century. Distemper on cloth, 33 1/16 x 29 1/8 in. (83.9 x 74 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1977 (1977.340)