Background and History
The Essence of Tibetan Art
Tsa Tsas are are a form of traditional Buddhist art that flourished for centuries in remote Himalayan Buddhist kingdoms, most notably Tibet. They are votive tablets traditionally made of clay (an example is shown here) and generally used as offerings at shrines. Like many Tibetan sacred objects, they are iconographic forms representing various meditational deities (Buddhas). The creation of holy objects such as tsa tsas, statues, and stupas is a practice said to result in great merit (positive energy) for the practitioner. Often a lama would give his students a certain number of tsa tsas to make as part of their preliminary practices, with a common number being 100,000.
In Tibet art flows into life and virtually all arts are sacred. Apart from tsa tsas, statues, and stupas, thangka paintings (scroll paintings of Buddhas, Buddhist deities, and other images) are another unique form of art that grew out of Tibetan Buddhism. The artists who create these holy objects do so for only one reason -- to benefit others and to inspire others to practice and meditate.
The study of Tibetan art is quite new in the west, and as one of its primary missions, the Tsa Tsa Studio seeks to bring awareness to essential aspects of Tibetan culture and its traditional artistic expression. The existence of sacred objects in the West, such as tsa tsas, is an extremely important element of Buddhist practice and is a reflection of the growing interest in Buddhism outside of Asia. The continuation within our cultural context is already in place through the Tsa Tsa Studio's use of a more refined, durable material used in the production of tsa tsas, offering a modern interpretation on the traditional Tibetan tsa tsa.
The History of Tsa Tsa Studio
In 1998, Blase Hents (now an ordained monk named Ven. Losang Monlam, photo shown below right) founded the "Tsa Tsa Factory/A Project of Tse Chen Ling." Tse Chen Ling/Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies is a center in San Francisco under whose auspices the Tsa Tsa Factory was established. The Tsa Tsa Factory was initially set up as a place for Blase to undertake his own tsa tsa commitment, given to him by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Other students connected to Tse Chen Ling were also invited to participate in casting tsa tsas as a part of their practice.
As an artist wishing to create the most beautiful and long-lasting images possible, Blase began to experiment with many different materials for making tsa tsas. Eventually he discovered the Forton MG casting system that the Tsa Tsa Studio currently uses, which allows not only the use of pigments and metals, but also creates tsa tsas that are extremely durable and strong.
As time went on, Blase saw that there were an increasing number of people who had tsa tsa commitments and who needed a place where they could learn about the materials and the casting process, as well as space and facilities in which to do their practice. Thus he conceived the idea that the Tsa Tsa Factory could benefit others greatly by becoming a center devoted to this purpose. In May 2000, his position as director was passed to the Studio's current director, Roberta Raine, and in March 2002, the Tsa Tsa Factory/A Project of Tse Chen Ling was incorporated in the state of California as Tsa Tsa Studio/Center for Tibetan Sacred Art.
The Tsa Tsa Studio is is affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), with Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche as our Spiritual Director. Our primary purpose as a center is to provide training and facilities to all those interested in learning tsa tsa practice, whether they have a practice commitment or simply would like to learn how to cast Buddha images, and to educate others about the different forms of Tibetan sacred art. With Tibetan Buddhism rapidly spreading in the West, it is critical that all aspects of Tibetan Buddhist practice are preserved and the lineages passed on to the current generation of practitioners.
At the Studio, we have had students casting tsa tsas for stupas, for their teachers, for their own practice commitments, or simply because they enjoy the practice and feel its benefits. In additon, the Studio has an active community of artists who use Buddhist imagery in their work, and the Studio holds regular classes in various aspects of Buddhist and sacred art, as well as occasional exhibits of sacred art.
In order to support the activities of the Studio, we offer our tsa tsas for purchase to individuals and to Dharma centers at a wholesale (trade) rate. We also occasionally undertake large commissions of tsa tsas for group events, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Medicine Buddha initiation in May 2001, when we created 8,000 Medicine Buddha tsa tsas.