Cover image for Monk dancers of Tibet
Monk dancers of Tibet
Ricard, Matthieu.
Personal Author:
First Shambhala edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Shambhala, [2003]

Physical Description:
125 pages : color illustrations ; 30 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BQ7699.D36 R53 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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In the midst of the devastation that has been wrought on their culture, the monk dancers in the Shechen monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, are devoted to preserving the sacred dances central to the Tantric tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The dances, which originated in India and flourished for centuries in Tibet, are teaching stories--each mask, costume, movement, and gesture has a specific significance and embodies the values of Buddhism. The dances are the monks' spiritual gift to the lay community.

The origin of the sacred Buddhist dance, or cham, goes back to the ninth century, when Guru Padmasambhava introduced Buddhism to Tibet. Through the ages, the practice has been advanced by great masters whose visionary experiences enriched and enhanced the dance forms. The sacred dances were then transmitted as accurately as possible by the masters' disciples from generation to generation.

The dances are now preserved in exile in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and have been presented in the West, by the monks of Shechen and other Tibetan monasteries, in the same spirit of sharing a profound inner experience. In vivid, full-color photos and illuminating text, the well-known author and photographer Matthiew Ricard reveals the painstaking preparations for and meanings behind the dances, as well as the intriguing history of this uniquely colorful teaching practice.

Author Notes

Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk residing in Katmandu, is a coauthor of "The Monk & the Philosopher" & is the official French translator of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Tibetan Buddhism, the most symbolic and esoteric of all Buddhist traditions, has a rich history of sacred dance in which every mask, costume, sound and gesture has spiritual significance. Most Tibetan dances, says Ricard, a French Buddhist monk, are based in the exploits of masters and great teachers, and seek to preserve their legacy. Since the Chinese occupation of Tibet, however, the dances have been restricted, and are now found mostly in exile communities in India, Nepal and Bhutan. The color photographs and illustrations are the real highlight of this book, which discusses the role of sacred dance in Tibetan Buddhism and, most interestingly, profiles what life is like for the monk dancers. The book makes it clear that dance is a meditative practice, and even the crafts associated with it-such as the making of masks and elaborate costumes-are sacred acts. A final section explores the ritual cycle of Tibetan Buddhism, and outlines which dances are performed for holidays and festivals. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

French Buddhist monk Ricard (The Quantum and the Lotus) combines a considerable talent for photography with a clear understanding of Buddhist concepts to create this valuable record of the sacred dance traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The dances, which are kept alive by the monks at the Shechen monastery in Kathmandu and at other locations in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, might seem esoteric or even primitive to an uninformed observer, but here they are carefully described in the context of the Buddhist doctrine that they serve to embody. The explanations presume no prior knowledge of Buddhism, and the early chapters serve as a clear, succinct summary of basic Buddhist ideas. This book achieves the difficult task of describing meaningfully something that begs for direct personal experience to be fully appreciated. And yet the photographs are the real treasures here. Beautifully composed and artfully arranged, they provide a perfect record of these profound spiritual practices that, like so many other aspects of the rich Tibetan culture, have a precarious existence in exile. Recommended for all collections.-Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Beautifully illustrated and produced, this tribute to the monk dancers of the Shechen monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, describes the philosophical and religious underpinnings of their tantric dances as well as occasions for their performance. Sacred Buddhist dance, or cham--which originated in Tibet as visionary experience and has been passed on in an oral tradition of disciples--continues today in monasteries built after the monks fled from Tibet in the 1950s. The book's brilliant photos of masked and rehearsing dancers, viewers, esteemed teachers, expansive environs, and sacred art linked to the dances' enactments and significance complement the explanatory text, which addresses the exile of the Tibetan Buddhists, the dance as a quest for pure vision, the dancing monks, and the three great cycles of the dance. As an introduction to the little-known and threatened sacred art of cham, the book is an important and aesthetically congenial contribution to both religion and performance art collections. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Large collections serving undergraduates through faculty, professionals, and general readers. J. L. Erdman Columbia College Chicago