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Updated on December 20, 2011

Religious Art in East Asia vibrates with mystical energy and symbolizes profound spiritual beliefs.Here is a collection of paintings from the visionary realm of Asian mysticism.


Some of Asia's mystical art originated in the gods and goddesses of Hinduism which, in turn, inherited the beliefs of the ancient Dravidians and Aryans who lived in northern India and eastern Persia. Other images stem from the stories that surround the life of the Buddha.

Some of the symbols and dieties have been handed down from the East Asian shamanic tradition and originate deep in antiquity. Mother Earth, Father Sky, fertility, and guardian deities are age-old beliefs that find form in the mystical painting of Asia.


Buddhism came to Tibet from India by way of Nepal in the 7th century A.D. Tibet's shamanic religion, called Bon, is known for its powerful mystical strains. This native mysticism mixed with Buddhist beliefs to produce a dynamic style of religious painting called thanka.


The objects in mystical paintings represent religious concepts and are believed to have their own magical power. Placing objects together in a painting combines their power. Here are some symbols and their meaning.

The lotus, with its roots in the mud and its beautiful petals in the air, represents spiritual evolution towards enlightenment.

Hands held in stylized positions symbolize concepts like peace, wisdom, or spiritual power.

Dragons represent the mystical forces in nature. Dragons may have their roots in the very old Asian belief in the Nagas who are eel-like nature spirits that have inhabited the earth and the ocean since time immemorial.

Colors are used as a focus for meditation. Each color is associated with a religious concept, an emotion, and a physical part of the body. The main colors are white, yellow, red, blue, and green.

The endless knot represents the ever flowing energy that lies beneath life.


Mysticism is defined quite differently by different cultures. The Asian interpretation of mysticism is not the same for European Christianity and differs again in the Islamic world.

In East Asia, mysticism is centered on the flow of energy or chi that philosopher Lao Tzu called the Tao. This mystical energy can be experienced throughout East Asia. It can be seen in the tai chi performed in parks across China each morning. It can be heard in the clash of cymbols and blare of trumpet that accompany morning prayers in Tibetan monasteries. It can be found in the astral plane and chakras of Indian Hindus. It can be felt among the rocks and twisted shrubs of a Japanese garden. Perhaps you can see it in these paintings.


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