Buddhist Visual Literacy: The Bodhisattva Ideal Throughout Asian Art - Nalandabodhi Seattle
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Buddhist Visual Literacy: The Bodhisattva Ideal Throughout Asian Art

Thu., March 3, 2022
9:00 am - 10:30 am

On Zoom: Thursdays, March 3 – April 28  9:00 -10:30 am PT (6:00 -7:30 pm CET)

Offered by Nitartha Institute & Nalandabodhi Seattle

What is Buddhist Visual Literacy?

“Literacy” is the ability to interpret and create meaning from symbols in the form of letters and words. “Visual” extends the meaning beyond words and is based on the notion that pictures can be “read”. Buddhist Visual Literacy (BVL) uses classic Buddhist teachings on perception and conception to unlock the power of Buddhist iconography and teaches us how to apply this new found literacy to connect with the Buddhist path.

This nine part series delves into questions about the great bodhisattvas: Who, what, when, and why are they? Are they relevant on a personal and practical level? If so, how? How do the artistic representations of the bodhisattvas differ by culture and eras? Do these differences affect the qualities being conveyed? What does bodhisattva look like in this day and age?

What will we explore?

During this nine week series Stephanie Johnston, a senior student of Ponlop Rinpoche and teacher at Nitartha Institute, will explore these questions in detail. Applying the methods of BVL, she will help students find answers that are personally meaningful and relevant to their practice. Illustrated lectures and experiential investigations will:

  • Unpack the qualities represented by the great bodhisattvas with special emphasis on the embodiments of wisdom, compassion, and power.
  • Engage in visual analysis using Buddhist methods associated with valid cognition, and current museum practices, to explore how we create meaning and symbolism.
  • Analyze how symbolism impacts the choices we make—consciously or not.
  • Use symbols to uncover and activate inherent bodhisattva qualities of wisdom, compassion, and power at a personal level—freshly and in creatively applied ways.

Core Classes

Six core classes explore the foundation of BVL and apply its framework to the awakening and awakened qualities manifest in the great bodhisattvas. These six classes constitute the course’s core and are suitable for those with an interest in the Buddhist path, symbolism, iconography, Buddhist art history, and with an inquisitive bent towards the riddle of living.

Supplementary Classes

Three supplementary classes enhance the core presentations using Kagyu and Nyingma shedra studies, such as those offered by Nitartha Institute. In particular, we will dig into the core class themes using teachings on seeming and ultimate realities, valid cognition, buddha nature, paths and bhumis, and clear thinking.

All classes will be recorded and available until September 1.  Class recordings will be available in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Core Classes:

March 3 & 10 – Definition and application of BVL. Development of the bodhisattva ideal, its meaning and intention, cultural expressions, and the impact of its imagery.

March 24 & 31 – Experiencing and analyzing images of the great bodhisattvas.

April 14 & 21 – Using symbolism & iconography to awaken and express wisdom, compassion, & power.

Supplementary Classes:

March 17  –  The paradox and path of discerning and communicating seeming and ultimate reality through symbols.

April 7 & 28 – Drawing out the meaning of bodhisattva imagery using valid cognition and applied clear thinking (ACT).


About Stephanie Johnston

An active Nitartha Institute faculty member since 1998, Stephanie Johnston has a background in renaissance art and art history, graphic design, and museum studies focused on engaged learning. At Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s request and under his direction, she developed and systemized practice-based programs and publications, and currently trains and supports Nalandabodhi International’s practice instructors. She is a lover of mystery and the elusive lure of discovery, and delights in learning with others.


People’s financial situation should never be an issue to participate! Because of this we have a scholarship page for those in need of reduced pricing:

Click HERE if you need a scholarship for this retreat.    Password: request


Date/Time Date(s) - Thu., March 3, 2022
9:00 am - 10:30 am

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