Rubin Museum Gets More Zen with Expanded Buddhist Shrine Room

by Allison Meier,, October 23, 2015

New York, USA -- Flickering light and faint sounds of chanting accompany the Rubin Museum of Art’s expanded Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, where visitors to the Chelsea museum can pause in a space of contemplation. The new installation opens today alongside the Sacred Spaces exhibition, which encourages connections between spiritual practice and sacred moments in the everyday.

Detail of the Shrine Room at the Rubin Museum of Art

When it opened in 2010, the Rubin’s Shrine Room wasn’t intended to be permanent, as it started as a loan from the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. It has evolved over the years, with the current iteration helped along by a crowdfunding campaign. Now incorporating objects mostly from the Rubin’s collections, it acts not as a period room or re-creation, but a simulation of being immersed in a Tibetan Buddhist’s private household shrine. Rather than pick out the historic objects, which include 18th- to 19th-century cymbals from Mongolia with blue silk handles, a 19th-century drum made from a human skull, and an array of centuries-old statues of deities both wrathful and benevolent, the Shrine Room is an attempt to immerse visitors in a feeling of meditation.

There is a power to a shrine, with its accumulation of meaningful objects, its suggestion of past acts of ritual that will start again. In the new installation, offerings rest near butter lamps emitting waving light, brocade fabric adorns the traditional furniture, and the whole space is awash with red and gold. Before Sacred Spaces, the Shrine Room was accessed discreetly around a corner, and visitors could only lean against a wall if they wanted to spend time with it. The larger Shrine Room has fogged glass windows that can slide open on the fourth floor landing, so it’s possible to see that the room is there before entering, and once inside chairs are available to linger.

Alongside the revamped and more accessible Shrine Room are two art installations for Sacred Spaces to contextualize the experience, with the galleries envisioned by John Monaco, head of exhibition design at the Rubin, as their own reflective spaces. Chairs overlook a panoramic photograph by Jaroslav Poncar of a mountainous landscape in the province of Mustang in the north of Nepal, representing the natural forces significant to Tibetan Buddhism, and in another space visitors can watch a video installation by Deidi von Schaewen of a huge stone sculpture being doused with bright orange turmeric powder and white milk, an anointment that occurs every 12 years in Shravanabelagola, India.

This demonstrates how, although the objects in the Rubin are contained behind glass, or in the Shrine Room behind a barrier, in practice they are often directly touched. For example, one sculpture of Shiva Bhairava in the Rubin (not part of Sacred Spaces), has its face almost entirely worn down from all the touch and ritualistic oil adorned on its metal over the years before its protection at a museum. While touch is not part of the Shrine Room, it’s intended to get as close as possible to this interaction that’s a part of Tibetan Buddhism. At the entrance of Sacred Spaces, a large silver bowl is installed where you can leave a note about a space sacred to you, responses to which are being shared on a Collected Spaces Instagram. Whether deliberately spiritual, or more personal, Sacred Spaces is an instigation to consider the universal significance of our devotional spaces.

Sacred Spaces continues at the Rubin Museum of Art (150 West 17th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through March 27, 2017.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: