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Maitreya Gaus

Surrounding the Hundred Buddhas along the entire expanse of the side walls are the gilt Maitreya Gaus in their respective alcoves.
Maitreya Gaus in BTRTM

The gilt bronze case, handcrafted in Nepal, was designed by Venerable Shi Fa Zhao. It has a traditional stupa shape with two dragons on the sides reaching for the cintamani jewel at the top.

The Buddha Maitreya image placed inside the gau is carved from cypress wood. The Buddha Maitreya image is seated on the lion throne, with both legs on the lotus pedestal, with His hands at the chest level shown with Buddhist Dharmacakra (Turning the Wheel of the Dharma) mudra, and the lion protectors below.

Measuring 15 (height) × 12 (width) × 5 (depth) cm, the Maitreya Gau is a prime example of Sino-Tibetan Buddhist religious art. Encased within is a Chinese-styled Buddha Maitreya statue, with His main features resembling those of the larger Hundred Buddhas, except that He is depicted seated with His hands in the dharmachakra mudra, symbolising His readiness to descend from Tushita Pure Land to our world in the future. At His back is a ultramarine blue inner aureole and a bright red crimson fiery outer halo.

The gau dawang casing is an intricate gilded repoussé metal box with an upper torana-shaped façade and symmetrically mirrored designs on the left and right. The bottom is a long rectangular base area with multiple organic motifs densely packed and a monster mask called dzi bar or tsipatar in the middle. In front of the Buddha Maitreya statue is a row of eight tall vase-shaped offerings. Encircling the statue on its left and right are thick floral-patterned borders featuring two upwards flying, vertical chinese dragons and backwards looking phoenixes chasing a flaming pearl at its zenith. The whole gau is rimmed with flat beads and flower corners.

About Gaus

A Gau (Ghau, Gao) is a Tibetan Buddhist amulet container, prayer box, or potable shrine, usually made of metal, used to hold and carry powerful amuletic objects and Buddha statue. As used in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia, the Gau box usually contains a written prayer or a sacred yantra diagram such as the kalachakra. The prayers and yantras are usually hand- inscribed or block-printed by a priest and they are always blessed before use.

Vajrayana practitioners usually carry their gaus around their neck, for protection and for their spiritual practice.

The process of ornamenting metallic surfaces with designs in relief, forcefully impressed from the back by hand, (known as repoussé) has been applied to this portable shrine called a Gau. Traditionally, this handy temple contained an image of the traveller’s personal deity. Designed to protect the holder from evil spirits while travelling to strange lands, they also contain written prayers, ritual amulets and even earth or grass from the voyager’s homeland.

In a Tibetan home the Gau is fashioned in a form more familiar as a shrine, which is kept on an altar, but for the occasional explorer or the nomadic herder alike, this more manageable memorial can be worn over the shoulder, around the neck, or attached to a silk belt.

About Portable Shrines

In Buddhism, portable shrines were made so that devout travelers with nowhere to worship could carry their shrines with them. The shrines were two-piece, and could be shut together to preserve the artwork.

Miniature Buddhas and Goddesses could be carried in small lacquer cases, much resembling the portable phone cases of today, carried on the wrist.

In Tibet, the shrines were sometimes made of metal, and carried with over-the-shoulder straps.

Art

Found in areas influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, the Tibetan amulet-box, also known as gau (Tib. g’au) is essentially a protective hard container for all types of small sacred items to be kept whilst travelling.

The type of gau that the Maitreya gau is modelled on is called g’au dawang or g’au drepang and is type of large shrine-shaped amulet box worn by men in central or southern Tibet. It is called g’au chagab or g’au chengab in Eastern Tibet.

It is usually a three-piece metal item consisting of an ornate front, a detachable back and the enclosed object. Made of beaten bronze, silver or wood, its front is normally decorated with the eight auspicious symbols (also known as ashtamangala [tib. tashi tagye], refer to ‘About Ashtamangala’ in Maitreya Canopy) and interlocking floral patterns which may be inlaid with turquoise, amber or coral semi-precious stones. The front bottom is decorated with a monster mask called dzi bar or tsipatar (tib.) which was derived from the Indian kirtimukha or ‘face of glory’ (an emanation of Lord Siva found above temple entrances) but combined with the garuda. This winged monster has the sun/moon symbol on its head and grasps serpents or foliage with its two arms.

The front piece has an opening which mirrors the outside shape, through which the enclosed object can be seen. It is traditionally worn as a personal object of protection or charm inside thick Tibetan clothing.

The enclosed item—customarily a Buddha or deity image—can be made of metal, stone, wood or clay (such as tsa tsas). It could even be a minature religious painting (known as tsakli). The rest of its inner, unseen cavity may be filled with other items such as sandalwood, perfumed fillings, other important relics, precious stones, blessing cords, blessed medicine (known as mendrub) or rolled mantras.

The detachable back cover is commonly made of copper. It is usually quite plain but may bear some religious engravings.

By its very nature of being a portable shrine (albeit there are some large gaus clearly intended for shrines at home), the gau is made with side handles to facilitate securing by ropes, cloth or leather strips or chains.

Gaus are made in a myriad of shapes and sizes and these can be divided into the following five main categories:

  1. Boxes with letters
  2. Shrine-shaped (g’au dawang or g’au chagab)
  3. Square-shaped
  4. Round-shaped
  5. Others such as long cylindrical shapes or two intersecting squares.

Development of Maitreya Gaus

These exclusive traditional handcrafted Maitreya gau boxes were exquisitely designed by Venerable Shi Fa Zhao and specially made of bronze with gold gilt in Kathmandu, Nepal.
These Maitreya Buddha wood statues were produced by highly skilled carvers from Yueqing Global Arts and Crafts Factory of Zhejiang Province, China.
The gau looks majestic, robust and holy, like a castle. These 1,384 Maitreya gaus were fully sponsored at $5,000 each.

Bibliography:

  1. John Clarke, ‘Ga’u, the Tibetan Amulet Box’ , Arts of Asia, volume 31, number1, May-June 2001, pp.45-47
  2. John Clarke, Jewellery of Tibet and the Himalayas, London: V&A Publications, 2004
  3. RobertBeer, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, Boston: Shambahala, 1999, p.223

Websites:

  1. Portable shrine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  2. Tibetan Buddhist Gau
  3. Asian Art Exhibit
  4. Himalayan Art: Ritual Object: Amulet Box (Ga’u), retrieved 23 April 2012.
  5. Tibetisches Gau – Wikipedia, retrieved 23 April 2012
  6. Tibetaanse gau – Wikipedia, retrieved 23 April 2012.

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