Tibetan calligraphy: a Buddhist pilgrimage

Since I put the art of Tibetan calligraphy in the limelight by setting a world record for the longest calligraphy scroll in the world (165 meters) in 2010, I have experimented with the art of calligraphy Tibetan, creating new works, posting regularly on social networks, exhibiting, talking, sharing and learning.

I don’t know how much I could inspire and encourage people around me. Yet I can say with certainty that the imagination of promoting Tibetan calligraphy as an art, in addition to acquiring the skill of beautiful writing, has spread like wildfire in Tibet. In 2017, they declared April 30 as the annual National Calligraphy Day to celebrate four vowels and 30 consonants (4:30 a.m.).

Calligraphy means beautiful writing. They call it ‘shufan, ‘a way of writing. In China, and very early on, calligraphy was not considered a mere form of decorative art; instead, it was considered the primary form of visual art, more valued than painting and sculpture, and ranked alongside poetry.

This Chinese calligraphy and poetry has been internationally recognized as one of the finest traditional arts, with dedicated connoisseurs, and more and more people have become its collectors. Art has become somewhat standardized and has developed its own particular conventions.

Thönmi Sambhota, one of the most competent ministers of the Tibetan rulers in the 7th century, was sent to India to develop an alphabet suitable for the Tibetan language. Thönmi derived the new script from the Devanagari script used in India.

Over the centuries, our ancestors developed at least 100 different styles of writing, broadly categorized into Uchen, Umed, and Druktsa styles. However, Tibet has devoted all of its state apparatus and the kingdom’s resources to the development of the Buddhist philosophy of “science of the mind” for the benefit of sentient beings.

Some 70,000 pages of Kangyur (“Translated words of Buddha) and 161,800 pages of Tengyur (Treaties translated) have been translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan. From a secular perspective, Tibet has produced many great scholars who have written poetry and other works on philosophy, metaphysics, medicine and astroscience, with one goal in mind: to benefit people. others.

The writings of great scholars like Je Tsongkhapa, the songs of Milarepa, the compositions of masters Sakya and Nyingma are relevant and are studied in all monasteries even to this day.

(Je Tsonkhapa (1357 to 1419) is a great Buddhist scholar, whose works laid the foundation for the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Milarepa (circa 1028 to 1111) is the venerable Tibetan siddha, or “Perfect Master,” and is the most accomplished student of Marpa, the “Great Translator,” who worked on original Sanskrit Buddhist texts.)

Unfortunately, everything other than spiritual practice has been neglected, such as art and entertainment.

What is Art?

Art is a visual or vocal expression of an artist’s innate feeling of his or her heart, unstructured, limitless and spontaneous. At the same time, craftsmanship refers to the activity of creating tangible objects using the hands and the brain.

Tibetan calligraphy is a skill that can be practiced, perfected and reproduced. Yig tsal, or the art of writing, may not be reproduced. It’s an art. Yig tsal is equivalent to ‘Shodo‘from Japan and’Shufan‘from China.

I use ‘kyug style ‘, a form of cursive writing from the central Tibetan region for the art of calligraphy.

Cursive writing has more flexibility, as it only maintains the essence of each character and expresses more personal effort. Therefore, its value lies in appreciation, sight, more than practicality. At the same time, the running hand makes full use of the connecting lines between two strokes.

Looking at art is also an art. The process of creating beautiful art, from the conception of an idea to the final expression on paper, is a deep meditative process. Art is a visual expression of the sound of an artist’s heart, and if the ‘tsa lung ”, perhaps called the“ Chi ”energy of an artist, is balanced and stable, the resulting visual art becomes a masterpiece.

Some say that “calligraphy speaks”. I have created over 200 styles of calligraphy art, and often friends ask me, “How did you come up with so many ideas?” I say lightly that Guru Rinpoche has opened his treasure to me!

But honestly, I have asked myself the same question over and over again. And only now am I starting to learn the answer. My experience is that I don’t have two ideas at the same time. It is only when I have finished performing a work, that I put my seal on it, that there is a blank or a void.

Slowly, the next idea takes shape. I know that the void or the white is vast, like an ocean. It is indeed the treasure of wisdom, without limits, and like a child with a small cup in his hand, I stand at the edge of this ocean, not strong enough to approach and seek water but confident that when the wind blows, a drop will fall into my cup. These droplets are the result of my collected works.

When I shared my personal experience with my spiritual master, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, he beautifully explained the following, which awakened my consciousness and put my thoughts into perspective.

I would call it a calligrapher’s journey into the nature of the mind.

Rinpoche says that there are four types of letters:

• A letter that is based on the natural state of mind

• A letter on ‘nadi‘(རྩ) energy or’tsa‘who moves with’prana‘(རླུང་), or the energy of the wind in the physical body

• A letter that produces a sound with the result of the movement of this wind energy

• The artist’s final expression is in the form of calligraphy.

We believe that our “nature of mind” is overwhelmingly pure, clear, and vast as the sky. He also holds wisdom which can dispel ignorance. A letter is a way to contact and impart information, and to dispel ignorance.

Sacred journey

Let’s see how this journey unfolds from the “nature of the mind” to visual form on paper.

The artist sits in a state of calm and tries to look into the nature of the mind. He picks up a drop from the ocean of wisdom. He then brings it to his own physical body and conjures up the energy of the letter on his’tsa‘(རྩ) or wind power or the’lung‘(རླུང་), whose nature is always in motion, takes the letter out’tsa‘and converts it to a letter of sound.

Using the necessary tools, such as a brush, an ink stick, paper and an ink plate, which the masters of Chinese calligraphy call the “four treasures of study”, and converts the letter of the its in one letter, called calligraphy. In this way, he expresses the inner world in an aesthetic sense for others to see.

It is almost a sacred journey that few can enjoy. It is an art to look at art, and only those who understand can fully marvel at such works.

Likewise, when you have such art on your wall, you can study it carefully, the strength of the strokes, the shades of darker and lighter inks, the flow of writing and, most importantly, the message that it tries to convey.

The viewer can trace the art of calligraphy in the form of its root, sound, letter on your ‘tsa lung ‘and finally to the immensity, to the purity of the nature of the spirit.


Our masters have, over the centuries, introduced varieties of skillful means for teaching Buddhism by introducing many types of deities by means of statues and thank you (spiritual scrolls), each for wealth, knowledge, strength, compassion and long life etc. Ultimately, all of these deities dissolve in your heart, and just as you put a drop of water in the oceans, it becomes one with the ocean, inseparable.

Therefore, practicing the art of calligraphy is also a skillful way to see your spirit nature, which is the ultimate goal of all Buddhist teachings. It is the best tool for practicing mindfulness besides promoting a unique traditional art. It is a gem that we have ignored. Hope the next generation gets a feel for what I’m trying to say. However, I would still say that looking at art is also an art.

Contribution from

Jamyang Dorjee

(The author is a seasoned ideologue-practitioner of Tibetan calligraphy, and has developed explicit varieties of it, exhibited around the world. He is based in Gangtok, Sikkim, India. E-mail: [email protected]

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