Buddhism, Spirituality, Mindfulness: NYC's Rubin Museum

by Martin Brauen, The Huffington Post, July 29, 2009

New York, USA -- The Rubin Museum of Art is in an interesting position. As stewards of one of the world's finest collections of Tibetan art, we're devoted to subject matter than might appear esoteric compared to the preoccupations of mainstream Americans.

But because we interpret works of art that manifest the Buddhist faith, we engage an extraordinarily broad range of concerns. At any one time, through our programs, exhibitions, or publications RMA raises questions about the place of worldly matters in the spiritual life, the notion of mindfulness, or the cultivation of inner peace.

Perhaps it is this urgent connection to real life that has made the Rubin Museum of Art something of a magnet for seekers of all sorts. The museum is only five years old, yet we're where New Yorkers come to hear the world-renowned Tibetan Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche discuss his latest book or the Bhutanese journalist Siok Sian Pek-Dorji his latest film. At the same time our friends know that we're the place to hear Tom Wolfe discuss the nature of language or Paul Simon perform solo. Singles sip cocktails at our K2 Lounge, yoga practitioners gather at lunch, and once a year New York kids get to climb Mt. Everest (in actuality, the museum's dramatic, central spiral staircase, designed by Andrée Putman for the former location of Barneys department store.)

Our next exhibition, opening Friday, August 14, is an example of how a seemingly esoteric subject in Himalayan Buddhism can open up wide vistas to secular New Yorkers. Mandala: The Perfect Circle surveys the history and meaning of the mandala, Himalayan Buddhism's artistic representation of man and the universe. It will take visitors from the 8th to the 21st century, displaying some of the oldest known mandalas in the world, large paintings found in the Dunhuang caves in northwestern China, alongside virtual, computer-generated varieties created by designers at Cornell University and Zurich University.

Mandala: The Perfect Circle is in fact the first of four exhibitions in a series exploring how different cultures have visually represented the universe, from the solar system to the self. In September, we will open a major exhibition of Jain art through which Jain practitioners have created a complex version of the cosmos in the shape of a man.

The third exhibition in The Cosmologies Series, opening in early October, promises to be something of an event, bringing into public view for the very first time a cultural touchstone--Carl Jung's famous Red Book, the notebook in which he developed his principal theories of archetypes, the collective unconscious, and the process of individuation over the course of 16 years. And in December we unroll Visions of the Cosmos: From Milky Ocean to Black Hole, an exhibition for which I've arranged a series of loans, from a leaf from a medieval manuscript depicting man at the center of the universe to photographs of the galaxies taken from the Hubble telescope.