In the movie Samsara by Pan Nalin, an older monk shows some sketches to the protagonist monk. The sketches are erotic in nature but when held in front of flame reveal true nature as skeletons. It's a very powerful teaching.

Do these sketches have any significance? What are they called?

This is the youtube link for the movie (look @44:37).

Screenshots from the movie are copied below -- they are hidden using 'spoiler' tags because they are "erotic in nature", so mouse-over the image if you want to make them visible.

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And after changing the angle of the 'paper' (there's light from a candle on the other side):

enter image description here

  • After a little more research, to me this looks like Vajrayana version of akusal bhava. but still not sure
    – user13135
    Aug 30 '18 at 17:00
  • "This video contains content from Miramax, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds." - for USA
    – Andrei Volkov
    Aug 30 '18 at 18:57
  • Isn't this simply Heat-Activated Invisible Ink - not specific to Tibetans?
    – Andrei Volkov
    Aug 30 '18 at 19:47
  • 1
    @AndreiVolkov I think it's more likely different drawings with regular inks on the two sides of the page -- the drawing on the reverse becomes apparent when light comes through the page from behind.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 30 '18 at 19:56
  • For those in the US who are getting the YouTube notice that Andrei mentioned, google “watch” and the title of the documentary and “online”, there is a free link. 😊
    – NuWin
    Aug 30 '18 at 21:55

The sketches you refer to are a combination of three influences: the core Buddhist teaching of impermanence, the Hindu imagery association of sex and death, and the Chinese drawing style for depictions of sexuality. The sketches are clearly from a non-Tantric school, because in Tantric Buddhism, sexual pleasure is seen as a beneficial act representative of the union of female and male Buddhas (when done correctly). The sketches seem to borrow from the 3 influences mentioned above to communicate the impermanent view on sexuality. This is not a common practice. In fact, strict guidelines existed on how to create the "correct" imagery. AFAIK there is no specific name for the sketches and their intent.

The strong association between sex and death stems from Indian culture. Buddhist cosmology is strongly influenced by Hinduism, the dominant religion at the time of the Buddha, and more generally Indian culture. Historically, Indian culture is almost diametrically opposed to the West in its liberal depiction and description of sexual pleasure and techniques (just think of the Kama Sutra). There is a very strong association between sex and death in Hinduism in the form of Kali, who is often depicted in coitus:

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Another goddess depicted in the same way in Hinduism is Chhinnamasta in Kundalini Yoga, which uses techniques westerners refer to as Tantrism. There are Tantric forms of both Hinduism and Buddhism, with very similar imagery in the form of Dakinis.

enter image description here

Another factor to consider is a statement from Robert Thurman, a Tantric Buddhist scholar in his translation of the Pancakrama:

Sexual union between coarse bodies is the only situation, other than death, in which all the neural wind-energies dissolve into the central channel.

The drawing style of the sketches however is definitely Chinese - the hair style is a "dead" giveaway. Like Indian culture, the Chinese were much more liberal in the depiction of sexuality. We find many images like this as early as the Yuan dynasty.

enter image description here

  • Thank you so much for the answer. This helps a lot.
    – user13135
    Aug 31 '18 at 17:07

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