Author Topic: Human skins!  (Read 16071 times)


  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4124
    • Email
Human skins!
« on: June 30, 2012, 11:29:25 AM »
I've been seeing human skins that are painted on thangkas as an offering to the Yidam:

I have no idea why is this, perhaps someone could explain this?

I know they are symbolic of something, but can anyone imagine offering real life human skins?

What is the purpose of offering real human skins? As we can see its the skin of 2 kids and an adult. This happened  before Tibet was taken over by China. What sort of logic would justify using real life human skins?


  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 722
Re: Human skins!
« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2012, 03:50:40 PM »
From my opinion, having human skin thangkas so that those beings can collect merits even though they are no longer around. Its an offering to the Yidam. It is the same as having High Lamas relic and ours in a stupa and when one circumambulate, they collect the merits.
Its another way to remind us of impermanence. If we do not contemplate on impermanence, we will not remind ourselves of the teachings and what Buddha went thru to become Enlightened. Meditating on death helps us destroy our delusions.

If we protect ourselves from the delusions by remembering impermanence and death, we become a guide for ourselves and we help ourselves. We become a guide for ourselves because we are kept away from following the delusions. If we experience the suffering result of following the delusions, at our death time we feel great distress. We have to leave the body without choice and we experience great fear and distress in our mind. If we remember impermanence and death, we will not be born in the lower realms—we will receive rebirth as a happy transmigrator and we will experience happiness in all our future lives. By practicing the gradual path of the lower being, which includes meditation on impermanence and death, as well as karma and refuge, there is great meaning. We will attain nirvana by following this path, and we can also attain enlightenment by entering the Mahayana path, so it is extremely useful.


  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 610
Re: Human skins!
« Reply #2 on: June 30, 2012, 03:55:04 PM »
There was an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art last year of Rugs and Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism . There was no real human skin on display, but there was explanation on why these rugs of flayed skin of an animal or human were used for.

This example depicts a bearded man, flayed (Tibetan: g.yang gzhi) and spread-eagle in a sea of blood—a gruesome image testifying to the power of sacrifice in the pacification of malevolent spirits.

The red patterning on the skin may suggest the internal organs or arteries. While such rugs were probably reserved for use by senior officiating lamas and as mats upon which to make tantric offerings, as recently as the nineteenth century, the use of actual human skins is recorded in descriptions of protector-deity worship.

The pioneering western scholar of Tibetan religions, the medical officer Augustine Waddell, clandestinely visited Tibet several times in the 1890s from his base at Darjeeling, and he recalled witnessing lifelike human figurines at a ceremony at Hemis monastery in Ladakh.

More info about the exhibition:

I have also read in Chod Practice in the Bon Tradition by Alejandro Chaoul that human skin is one of the implements that can be used in the practice, but not much details were given apart from that.

Below are samples of wool & cotton rugs at the exhibition.

Big Uncle

  • Moderator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1995
Re: Human skins!
« Reply #3 on: June 30, 2012, 04:47:33 PM »
Oh, I found a description from The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs by Robert Beér, Page 314-315. I have highlighted the answer in bold. Please bear in mind that human skins are meant to be a symbolic offering and even those actual skins used are offered by people who have committed evil crimes and wish to atone their sins upon their death. Check it out!

Flayed Skin Friezes of Wrathful Offering Assemblies

The illustration on Plate 136 depict three drawings of the upper frieze or canopy of flayed human and animal skins that crown wall paintings or thangkas of the assembly of wrathful offerings (Tib. rgyan tshos). As thangkas the assembly of wrathful offerings are most commonly painted on a black background and often take the form of long horizontal banners, with red brocade borders on the upper three sides and hanging silks valances along the bottom.  In this form they are hung upon, or represent, the walls of protective deity chapels (Tib. mgon khang), and are used in sacrificial ceremonies (Tib. bskang rdzas) to appease  the wrathful deities; where the slain enemies are offered as a quivering mound of skin and flesh, representing desire and a glistening pile of broken and dry bones, representing hatred.

The central images of these black thangkas depict only the attributes of the deities and not their bodily forms. Several deities may be represented on a single horizontal painting, with only their mounts, hand-held implements, ornaments and attire depicted against the subtle shading of the deities' wisdom flames.  A host of animal offerings - black horses, mules, yaks, buffaloes, dogs, goats, bears, camels, lions and tigers - with silk ribbons adorning their backs may stampede around the deities' invisible forms, showing that they have been ransomed from the butchers' knives and presented  to the deities' as sacrificial offerings. At the sides are assemblies of weapons, and the musical instruments used during the ritual invocations to the protective deities. Across the top of the wrathful assembly of offerings - as an applique banner, painted thangka, or wall mural - is depicted the canopy of flayed human and animals skins. This canopy represents the upper wall and ceiling of the protector chapel, which is commonly hung with iron weapons, and stuffed animals and birds.