Offering of the Mandala by Kensur Lobsang Tharchin
We should praise the qualities of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. This is said to be for the purpose of generating faith towards the Three Ratnas by recalling their virtues.
Even though we may not have the true, genuine Bodhi Mind within us naturally, we must nevertheless try to change our very attitudes in such a manner that our motivations will correspond as closely as possible to those of the real Bodhisattvas. The way to accomplish this is to reflect that both of your parents, mother and father, of this life, have protected and cared for you out of love and kindness. All sentient beings, likewise, have been your mother and father in one of the infinite lives you have assumed in samsara; therefore, they have all extended the same love and also the same kindness to you.
Recalling such kindness, you should generate the wish to do something in return to repay that kindness; not through a small or insignificant act, but through providing to all sentient beings the highest benefit of all – that of establishing them all in the state of Perfect Enlightenment. Thus, you should give rise to the supreme aspiration of desiring to achieve Buddhahood yourself in order that you might gain the ability to establish all sentient beings in Enlightenment.
This is the attitude which one should have in listening to the Mahayana Teachings of the Lord Buddha. If one is able to generate such a feeling, then one does hold the attitude of a Bodhisattva, even though it might have been produced artificially and only with some degree of effort. If the Spiritual Teacher presents the Teachings with an attitude of Bodhi Mind and the listeners maintain that attitude also, then the virtue which results from such an endeavor, if it were transformed into some physical form, would be too great to fit into the entire universe.
Therefore, it is of tremendous benefit for you to give rise to this attitude, before you undertake any activity. There is a widely followed practice in Tibetan Buddhism which is called the Four Preliminary Activities. This practice is the accumulation of 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 acts of refuge, 100,000 Mandala Offerings, and also 100,000 recitations of the one~hundred syllable mantra of Vajrasattva. This practice has been performed innumerable times in Tibet and is still being practiced daily by a great many Buddhists in India. I am reasonably sure that it is even practiced by a number of persons in this country as well.
I have discussed at great length the practice of performing prostrations, in the past, and so I have chosen today to speak about the practice of the Mandala Offering.
Many people in the west have a keen interest in the subject of Mandalas. I have often been asked numerous questions about this subject by many different people, but until now, I have not been able to find the proper occasion to give a reply.
The Sanskrit word Mandala signifies “to take something of essence.” The lowest level is to assume a human birth in a future life. The next level is that of achieving Nirvana. And the level above that, or the ultimate goal, is the attainment of Perfect Buddhahood. Further, there are two ways in which one can achieve this goal of Buddhahood: one is according to the path of the Sutras, while the other way is according to the path of the Tantras.
Thus, these three goals involve four different levels of practice and they also represent the types of “essence” one might possibly choose to strive for. The particular level one would pursue would depend upon the individual’s capacities.
In every act we undertake, we are impelled by a specific motivation. It is very important to be aware of what one’s motivations are, because they are, in fact, the determining factor with regard to the consequences or results which follow from any given act. For example, if one offers the Mandala with a motivation that is the desire to assume a human birth in a future life, then this act will be a cause for bringing about that result. Similarly, if one offers the Mandala with a motivation which is a desire to achieve Nirvana, although the act itself is identical, the motivation will direct that same act to become, then, a cause for the attainment of Nirvana.
Regarding the two forms of Mahayana practice, that of the Sutras and that of the Tantras, the ultimate goal of both is exactly the same. The only difference between them, then, lies in the methods which are used in pursuit of that goal. According to the Sutras, it is necessary that one accumulate merit for a period of Three “Countless Kalpas.”
On the other hand, according to the Path of the Tantras the same quantity of merit can be accumulated, at the very longest, within the comparatively short period of sixteen human lifetimes. The above was stated explicitly by Buddha, in one of the Tantra scriptures.
In fact, it is possible to achieve Buddhahood in much less time than that. Specifically one can achieve Buddhahood immediately after one’s death while in the Bardo state. Or it is even possible that one might be able to achieve Buddhahood within this very lifetime prior to one’s death.
Many great beings have been able to accomplish this, both in India and Tibet. I’m sure that most of you have heard of the Saint Milarepa who, although he had accumulated great sin during the earlier years of his life, was still able to attain Perfect Enlightenment in the later part.
In more recent times, a Tibetan Lama named Trehor Kyorpon, who escaped Tibet the same year as the Dalai Lama, was able to attain Perfect Enlightenment during his lifetime. This Geshe from Drepung Monastery passed away only a few years ago in Dalhousie.
Also, presently living in Dharmsala, India, is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezik). With him are the Senior Tutor of the Dalai Lama, Ling Rinpoche, who is in his actual nature the Buddha Yamantaka (Shinie She), and the Junior Tutor Trichang Rinpoche, actually the Buddha Chakra Samvara (Khorlo Dompa). So there are really such people alive in the world today. Because we cannot see the actual nature of their wisdom through looking at their appearance we are not aware of this. They are living examples of what we can aspire to; for through our own sincere efforts we, too, can achieve Enlightenment within this very lifetime. Further, it is even possible to attain this goal in the short period of twelve years. Also, it is possible to attain Enlightenment within an even shorter period, of three years and three months. In fact, there is even a practice for achieving Enlightenment by determining not to rise from your meditation posture until your goal is attained. If you entertain doubts about whether it is really possible to achieve this ideal, you need not have that uncertainty, because through your own determination and efforts you can achieve Perfection in any of these ways.
The latter methods of practice I have discussed involve the Path of the Tantras. However, no matter what path you follow, the only way that you can actually achieve Enlightenment is through accumulating merit, and the Mandala offering is one very good way for you to do this. Indeed, it is one of the most effective practices which one can undertake for this purpose.
There are many unique properties about the Mandala offering. For instance, if one offers one’s own material riches to the Three Ratnas for the purpose of paying homage to them, regardless of what the face value of the offering might be, it is most important for one to make the offering without feeling the slightest reluctance or unwillingness. However, it is usually the case that in the making of any such offering, there usually does arise a degree of reluctance. Or, if you do not experience such a feeling, you quite possibly will feel some degree of attachment to fame. That is, you might be thinking of yourself, as you are making the offering: “This is, indeed, a wonderful thing that I am doing. How virtuous other people will consider me for making this valuable offering!” Due to such an attitude, what would otherwise have been a truly virtuous act becomes robbed of much of its worth.
However, in making a Mandala Offering, you will hardly be able to experience an ungenerous thought. And there is actually no reason for feeling any desire for fame, either. When making an offering of material riches one must do so in such a way that this offering will not lead to the accumulation of a bad deed. Not only is the manner in which you make this offering important but, also, an object being offered should not have been acquired through any devious means, such as by theft. Here too it is not actually possible for a Mandala Offering to have such a fault.
These are a few of the unique qualities of this practice which make it especially valuable. The Mandala Offering is, also, very easy to practice because there is very little physical effort required to perform it.
In any description of the many benefits of the Mandala Offering, one usually is told the story of the Bikshuni Padma. She had been an Indian princess before she became a nun and, through the practice of the Mandala Offering, she was able to meet directly the Bodhisattva Arya Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezik), as clearly as we can see one another here in this room. And by asking for and receiving instruction from this great Bodhisattva she, as a result, was able to attain Enlightenment.
Also, the great Tzongkapa was able to meet many Buddhas by practicing the Mandala Offering. In particular, this practice was extremely helpful to him in his efforts to realize in a direct way the most profound of all meanings, the Shunyata Nature of all things.
Another illustration of the great importance of this practice is the story about a meeting between two of the disciples of Atisha. Atisha’s closest Tibetan disciple, who was an Upasaka named Dromtonpa, one day visited the place where another disciple, named Gonpawa, was staying. It happened that the latter’s ritual instrument for practicing the Mandala Offering was covered with dust, as it had not been used for some time. Dromtonpa asked the reason why he had not been practicing the Mandala Offering. Gonpawa answered, “I spend all my time meditating so I have not been able to find time to offer the Mandala.” Upon hearing this, Dromtopa criticized him strongly saying that even Atisha, their guru, whose spiritual development was vastly greater than Gonpawa’s, and whose meditation was much more profound than his, offered the Mandala three times every day. After this, Gonpawa practiced the Mandala Offering more assiduously and so as a result the depth of his understanding was greatly furthered.
These accounts are mentioned for the purpose of inspiring you to take up this practice of the Mandala Offering.
The proper motivation that one should have for making the Mandala Offering was mentioned earlier. The practice consists of the ritual offering of the world, and all its wealth, to the Object of Refuge as an act of veneration. The Mandala itself is a symbolic representation of the world and the most valuable things that are contained in it. There are actually three forms to the practice: the Offering of the Outer Mandala, the Offering of the Inner Mandala, and the Offering of the Secret Mandala. The last of these is a practice that is done by followers of the Tantra Path.
First, I will describe to you how to perform the Practice of the Outer Mandala. To begin with, the base of the Mandala, called the Vajra Bhumi, or Indestructible Ground of Gold, is held with the left hand. It must never be held with an empty hand. Therefore, you must also have some grain in your hand as you hold it. At the same time, holding some more grain in your right hand, begin alternately sprinkling grain on the surface of the base and wiping it with your right forearm. At first you should rub the base in a clockwise direction, quite a few times.
There is great significance to these ritual gestures. It might appear that you are doing nothing more than, simply, wiping a round flat piece of metal with your forearm and intermittently scattering grain upon it. However, these acts have great meaning with regard to pursuing the Path. You should consider the dirt and tarnish, which are on the metal base of the Mandala, to be a representation of all the misdeeds of body, speech, and mind which have ever been committed by you, since beginningless time. The seeds of such acts remain within your being, their abiding force obscuring your mind with respect to the understanding of the true nature of reality.
The weight caused by such misdeeds can only be removed by relying upon the proper antidote to them. And of all the many types of antidotes to that bad karma, the one which is by far the most powerful is a mind which realizes the meaning of Shunyata. Thus, consider your right forearm as representing that mind, and the act of rubbing the foundation as symbolizing the application of that powerful antidote to your past misdeeds, thereby effecting a neutralization of their negative force.
Also, the grain that is sprinkled upon the surface of the base should be considered a symbol of the Six Paramitas of Dana (Generosity), Shila (Morality), Kshanti (Patience), Virya (Fortitude), Dhyana (Meditation), and, lastly, Prajna (Wisdom). The practice of these Paramitas, likewise, represents a formidable antidote to one’s bad karma. Thus, these gestures are meant to signify the process of purifying one’s past misdeeds.
The following short verse is a formula for taking refuge and also for generating the Bodhi Mind. It is to be recited while you perform these gestures
Sanggye chudang tsokkyi choknam la
Jangchup bardu dakni kyabsu chi
Dakgijinsok gyipa didak gi
Drola penchir sanggye drubpar shok.
I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
Until Enlightenment is attained.
By these acts of Dana, etc., performed by me,
May I achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.
After wiping the base of the Mandala numerous times in this clockwise fashion and reciting the formula for taking refuge and generating the Bodhi Mind, you should now do the following: wipe the base three more times, but now in a counterclockwise direction. As you are doing this, you should reflect either that this represents a receiving of the blessings of the body, speech, and mind of all of the Buddhas or that it symbolizes the attainment of all the three fundamental attitudes of the Path: Renunciation, Bodhi Mind, and Right View.
In addition to the symbolic meaning of the gestures, there is also another most significant reason for this rubbing of the base with the right forearm. It is taught in the Tantras that the human body contains 72,000 channels – or arteries – and that, through these channels (which are hollow in structure), pass vital airs. The nature of the mind is such that it will follow the movement of the vital airs, and the relationship between the two is often described as similar to that between a horse and its rider, the horse representing these vital airs of the body, and the rider representing the mind.
By coordinating the movement of this vital air, one is able to generate nobler attitudes and prevent baser ones from arising with much effectiveness. However, unless one is accomplished at this, the vital airs will not move easily through the proper channels. All these channels are connected to the heart. In particular, the one which has a direct influence on the arising of the Bodhi Mind is known to extend through the right forearm. Therefore, the external stimulus applied to that channel by rubbing the right forearm upon the base of the Mandala can serve to improve the movement of the vital air which flows along that channel and, as a result, one will be able to give rise to the Bodhi Mind with greater ease.
After these preparatory exercises one will at last be ready to arrange the Mandala Offering itself. It is explained in the Buddhist scriptures that – when the earth formed at the beginning of the present Kalpa – Mt. Sumeru, which is the greatest of all mountains, arose in the center. The outer rim of the world is said to consist of a wall-like mountain, which is made of iron.” Thus you should, first, form a thin circular line of grain on the outer edge of the Mandala base to represent the iron mountain, and then place a heap of grain in the center to represent Mt. Sumeru.
Next, in the quarter which is facing you, place a heap of grain to represent the Continent of the Eastern Direction, which is named Purva Videha.“ Proceeding now in a clock- wise direction place another heap of grain in the second quarter, to represent the Southern Continent, Jambudvipa In the third quarter, place another heap to represent the Western Continent, Godaniya and in the final, fourth quarter, place a heap to represent the Northern Continent, Uttarakuru.
Then, in the same order, place one heap on either side of each of the four continents to represent the eight subcontinents.
Each of these four continents also has a special treasure which is its greatest asset. In the Eastern Continent, it is a mountain of jewels,” in the Southern Continent, it is the wish-fulfilling tree,” in the Western Continent, it is a cow which gives an endless supply of gold,” and in the Northern Continent, it is crops which grow naturally, requiring no cultivation.” Thus you should place additional grain on top of each of the heaps which represent the various continents, in order to represent these four treasures.
The next part of the Mandala Offering concerns the wealth of sovereign authority. Traditionally, this is represented by the Seven Ratnas of the Chakravartin,” or the Wheel-Wielding Monarch. The Chakravartin is the monarch of highest sovereignty, and it is said that he appears in the world only during an age of very great fortune. The Seven Ratnas are his possessions, and they are as follows. The first is the Chakra Ratna,” or Precious Wheel, with which the Monarch is able to control the four continents. The second is the Mani Rama,” which is endowed with marvelous properties. Third is the Stri Ratna,” his queen. The fourth is the Parinayaka Ratna, the Monarch’s minister of state. Next we have the fifth, the Hasti Rama,” which is the elephant of great power and courage. Sixth is the Ashva Rama” the Monarch’s white horse of great stamina and discipline. Seventh is the Grihapati Ratna,” the chief of military forces. These seven Ratnas constitute the most important natural properties of a sovereign. In addition to these Seven Ratnas, the Vessel of Inexhaustible Wealth” is also to be included. Therefore, one should place another eight heaps of grain, in a circular fashion, just inside the circle of grain formed by the heaps representing the continents and the subcontinents.
The next part of the offering consists of the eight goddesses bearing offerings, intended to please the one to whom they are being presented. First is the goddess who performs pleasing gesticulation; second, the goddess who bears garlands; third is the goddess of song,” fourth, the goddess of drama,” fifth is the goddess of flowers,” sixth, the goddess of perfume,” seventh is the goddess who bears offerings of light,” and, lastly, the goddess bearing scented water.” These eight goddesses are represented by eight more heaps of grain, also arranged in the form of a circle forming a ring inside the previous two.
Then, slightly to the right of the center as you face the Mandala Offering, you should place one heap of grain as a representation of the Sun” and another heap on the left side to represent the Moon.” After this, place one more on the far side of the Mandala, as a representation of a jewel- studded parasol and one on the side nearest you, to represent the victory banner symbolizing a triumph over the mental obscurations.
Finally, over the entire Mandala Offering, you should pile still more grain, which represents all the remaining forms of riches and objects of enjoyment found in the world, and indulged in by both humans and deities alike.
If one uses the traditional ritual instrument for arranging the Mandala Offering, then one should complete the offering by adding on the three rings and top ornament to the mound of grain which has been constructed. With the rings, we signify the lower levels of Mt. Sumeru which, it is written, is made up of four levels, which reach to the awesome height of 80,000 Yojanas” On the very top of Sumeru lies the palace of the Lord of Deities, whose name is Shakra. This palace is represented by the crown ornament.
In short, this Mandala Offering is a symbolic representation of our world as it is described in the Buddhist scriptures. That entire world, together with all its many riches, is offered then to one’s Guru and the Three Ratnas as a form of homage and worship.
As I mentioned before, the purpose of this practice is to accumulate merit. If we are in fact able to accumulate merit by offering an object as small as a single stick of incense, then an offering of the entire world with all of its riches should certainly accumulate merit of an inconceivably great amount. Since, then, all the riches to be found in the world including both those which are human and also those which are divine could not be measured by the ordinary mind, one can surmise that an offering of such immensely great value would, likewise, result in the accumulation of a correspondingly immense degree of merit.
Some of you may feel uncertainty about the true value of this practice. Perhaps you wonder how it could be of any real value to imagine that a mound of grain heaped up in front of you is actually the entire world. However, such a though reflects a lack of understanding of what merit is, and of how it is accumulated.
All karma, good or bad, is of three fundamental types: karma of body, karma of speech, or karma of mind. The last of these three, or karma of mind, is the strongest, yielding the greatest results.
Thus both good and bad karma can come from mental activity alone. If you should, for example, give rise to the desire to kill every single human being on the face of this earth, with all sincerity, it is easy for you to see how this would constitute a great misdeed even if you did not initiate any physical, or verbal, activity to carry out this desire. If, similarly, through faith and devotion to your Guru and the Three Ratnas, you should generate the desire to offer the entire world and all its wealth to them, constructing a model of this world and all its wealth to give your thoughts a more definite order and structure, then surely such activity would constitute a great virtue. You should have no doubts that a very great amount of powerful karma can be accumulated through such activities.
Not only are you to think that the Mandala contains the entire world; you must also submit it to a process of transmutation, whereby you convert it from a mundane, impure world into a Pure Buddha-Field. By doing so, the amount of merit is increased by 1,000, or even by 100,000 times. After you have done all the above, you will have completed the arrangement of the object to be offered, and are now ready to perform the act of offering it. To do so, first you should invite the Guru and, also, the Three Ratnas to appear before you. Then, holding up the Mandala which you have prepared, recite the following verse:
Sashi pukyi jukshing metok tram
Rirab lingshi nyinde gyenpa di
Sanggye shingdu mikte oolwar gyi
Drokun namdak shingla chupar shok.
This earth anointed with incense and strewn with flowers,
And Mt. Surmeru, adorned by the four continents, the Sun and Moon,
I transmute into a Buddha-Field and offer:
May all beings partake of the Field of Supreme Purity.
Idam Guru Ratna Mandalakam Niryatayami.
Contained in every grain of this offering there is a fertile seed for the attainment of Perfect Enlightenment. This is because of the sincere aspiration for Perfect Enlightenment, which has motivated you to perform the offering.
One strives for Enlightenment in order to become able to benefit all sentient beings in the universe. Thus, as the number of living beings in the universe is infinite, the virtue which is derived from this act is also without limit.
Once the offering has been completed, then you should dismantle it. There are two different variations of how this may be done. One way is to tilt the offering forward away from you, and in doing so, to reflect that those to whom you offer the Mandala have happily accepted it. Or you can, instead, tilt the offering toward you and dedicate the merit to receiving the blessings of your Guru and the Three Ratnas.
This concludes the explanation of the practice of offering the Outer Mandala.
You can see that the instrument which has been used in this demonstration is made from copper and beads and the mound itself is composed of grain.” The one on the altar, however, is made of silver, and in Tibet many Buddhists used Mandalas made of gold, decorated with precious stones.
In making an offering of any kind, you should always keep in mind that what you offer to the Object of Refuge should be of the best quality that you can afford. In doing so, the act becomes more meaningful. However, if you are unable to make the Mandala instrument of precious metal such as gold, silver, or even copper, then it would be adequate for you to use one which is made from ordinary stone, wood, or china. In fact, if you are unable to acquire this instrument at all, you can still do this practice simply be making the symbolic gesture of the Mandala Offering with your hands. The configuration of your hands, then, contains the same meaning as the Mandala just described. The two fingers raised upwards in the center represent Mt. Sumeru. The four corners, formed by interlocking the other fingers, represent the four continents – and you should imagine, as before, that all the wealth contained in the entire world is present in your hands. When the offering is completed, if you would like to visualize those to whom you have offered the Mandala as happily accepting it, then you should proceed to unfold your hands away from you. If, on the other hand, you feel it is more appropriate to receive the blessings of the Objects of Refuge, to whom the offering is made, then you should unfold your hands toward you.
A practice of even deeper meaning than the Outer Mandala is that of offering the Inner Mandala. In this offering of the Inner Mandala, there is no need whatsoever for external movement or symbolic gestures of any kind. The entire practice takes place in the realm of the mind. You make this offering by conceiving of your own body as being, in reality, a complete Mandala of the world.
You would begin by reflecting that the outermost portion of your body, or the external layers of skin, are of the nature of the purest gold. This is the same thing as the Golden Foundation described in the discussion of the Outer Mandala. Then you should focus your attention upon your blood and on the flesh of your body. You should conceive of your blood as a divine ambrosia which covers this Golden Foundation and keeps all impurities down. Your flesh, in turn, should be conceived of as being flowers, such as the ones which you would find in a heavenly garden.
The trunk or main part of your body is to be viewed as Mt. Sumeru, which is not simply a large mountain but is the highest, most majestic mountain of the world, and which is composed of four different kinds of precious materials: Sapphire, Ruby, Gold, and Silver. You should conceive of your four limbs (arms and legs) as being the four continents of the world, and the smaller appendages (toes, fingers, ears, nose, tongue, etc.) as being the subcontinents.
You should conceive of your head as being the mansion of the Lord of Deities, which is located on the peak of Mt. Sumeru. The Sun and the Moon, also included in the Outer Mandala, should be represented by your two eyes. Your heart should be viewed as the most valuable jewel of the entire universe, and the other internal organs – such as the lungs, liver, etc. – are to be viewed as being all of the remaining wealth, or fortune, of both humans and deities.
When you have finally succeeded in completing the above you will have formed a Mandala of the entire world with your body. Once this Mandala has been prepared, you should transmute it into a Pure Buddha-Field and then offer it to your Guru, and the Three Ratnas, by reciting the verse of offering as before. After you have made the offering you should reflect that this act of veneration has brought great pleasure to the Object of Refuge, which in turn results in not only you, but also all living beings, receiving the blessings of the Guru, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
The essential difference between the Outer Mandala and the Inner Mandala is the material used to construct the offering. In the Outer Mandala it consists of external objects, while in the Inner Mandala it is one’s own body, or the Rupa Skhanda.
Finally, in the offering of the Secret Mandala, there are ten different levels of explanation to the meaning. As with all Tantric practices, it is strictly prohibited for one who has knowledge of these practices to speak of them to one who is not a “mature” individual. Maturity, here, is not meant in the general sense. Rather, a mature individual is one who is thoroughly proficient in all the basic practices of Mahayana Buddhism which are common to both the Sutras and the Tantras, and is therefore completely qualified – and ready – to enter the Path of the Tantras. Such an individual who is desirous of following this path must first receive the power needed to practice the Tantras, and that is conferred through a special initiation rite.
Therefore, I can only discuss the practice of the Secret Mandala by touching on a few of the basic concepts which it involves.
The Sutras describe the nature of the Buddha in great detail. In explaining the bodies of the Buddha four bodies are mentioned. However, these four bodies can be considered as two basic bodies which are – first – the mental body, known as the Dharmakaya,” and – second – the form body, called the Rupakaya.
The mental body of the Buddha consists of the Jnyana of Omniscience. This Jnyana can be said to be Transcending Wisdom. If an ordinary person holds a handful of grain in his hand, he can clearly see the shape, the color, size, and amount of grain which he is holding. However, the Jnyana of Omniscience of the Buddha is able to perceive with this same degree of clarity all knowable things which exist in the Universe: mental, physical, neither mental nor physical, permanent, and also those of the past, the present, and the future. And it perceives all of them at once.
The form body of the Buddha, the Rupakaya, is of absolute purity and is luminescent like a rainbow. This body is also adorned with the thirty-two major, and the eighty minor, signs of excellence.
These two bodies are the ultimate goals we are trying to achieve when we strive for Buddhahood or Perfect Enlightenment. And, furthermore, there are two unique causes which are the principal factors for the achievement of each of these two bodies. The body called the Dharmakaya is produced by what is termed the Accumulation of Wisdom and the Rupakaya is produced by what is termed the Accumulation of Merit. The Accumulations are amassed by the development of two specific elements. One is the Bodhi Mind, which accomplishes the Accumulation of Merit and, ultimately, produces the Rupakaya. The other one is Wisdom, which is the direct perception of Shunyata and accomplishes the Accumulation of Wisdom that, ultimately, produces the Dharmakaya body of the Buddha.
These two types of mind are the foundation of the Secret Mandala. Bodhi Mind consists of mind-consciousness, which is accompanied by two aspirations. One is the desire to be of benefit to all sentient beings in the highest possible sense, which means to establish them in the state of Enlightenment. The other aspiration is the desire to attain Perfect Enlightenment yourself, so that you will be able to fulfill the former desire.
The Wisdom which perceives, directly, the meaning of Shunyata is the knowledge that penetrates the true condition of all things – that of being empty of any independent, self-existent nature.
In the practice of the Secret Mandala, one offers the two minds we have just discussed, the Bodhi Mind and the Wisdom which perceives Shunyata, in the form a Mandala to the Object of Refuge. That is, one takes what is in actuality these two minds and, conceiving of them in the form of a Mandala, offers them to the Guru, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Since these two types of mind are the primary causes for attaining the highest goal we could possibly strive for, it is only natural that their true meaning is not immediately evident to us. Nevertheless, we are living in an extremely fortunate age in that it is possible to meet great Spiritual Teachers.
Through their benevolent grace and our own faith and determination, the opportunity for us to achieve the deepest wisdom is very much open to us.
In teaching you these practices of the Mandala Offering I have shown you a very effective practice for accumulating merit. These three forms of the Outer Mandala, Inner Mandala, and Secret Mandala could very easily be included in one’s everyday devotions. Thus, it is my sincere wish that you will not merely have listened to what I said, but that you will also become inspired enough to adopt the practice for yourself.
The Extensive Mandala Offering
Om vajra Bhumi Ah Hum, wang-chen ser-gyi sa-shi,
Om Vajra Reke Ah Hum, chi chak-ri kor-yuk-ki kor-we u-su, rii-gyal-po ri-rab, shar lu-pak-po, hlo dzam-bu-ling, nub ba-lang-chu, chang dra-mi-nyen.
Lu-dang lu-pak, nga-yab dang nga-yab-shen, yon-den danglam-chok-ndro, dra-mi-nyen dang dra-mi-nyen-gyin-da.
Rin-po-chei ri-wo, pak-sam-gyi-shing, du-joi-ba, ma-mu- pa-yi lo-tok.
Kor-lo rin-po-che, nor-bu rin-po-che, tzun-mo rin-po-che, lun-po rin-po-che, lang-po rin-po-che, ta-chok rin-po-che, mak~pun rin-po-che, ter-chen-poi-bum-pa.
Gek-mo-ma, treng-wa-ma, lu-ma, kar-ma, me-tok-ma, duk-pu-ma, nang-sel-ma, dri-chab-ma.
Nyi~ma, da-wa, rin-po-chei duk, chok-le-nam-par-gyal-we gyel-tsen.
U-su hla-dang-mii peln-jor pun-sum~tsok-pa ma-tsang-wa me-pa tzang-shing yi du-ong-wa di-dak drin-chen tza-wa- dang gyu-par che-pe peln-den la-ma dam-pa nam-dang, kye-par-du yang la-ma lo-sang tub-wang dor-je-chang chen- pu hla-tsok kor-dang che-pa nam-la shing-kam ul-war-gyi-o. Tuk-je dro-we dun-du she-su sol.
She-ne-kyang dak-sok dro-wa mar-gyur nam-ke ta-dang nyam-pe sem-chen tam-che-la tuk-tze-wa chen-pu go-ne jin-gyi lab-tu-sol.
Sa-shi pu-kyi iuk-shing me-tok tram,
Ri-rab ling-shi nyin-de gyen~pa di,
Sang-gye shing-du mik-te ool-war gyi,
Dro-kun nam-dak shing-la chu-par shok.
Idam Guru Ratna Mandalakam Niryatayami.
Om Vajra Bhumi Ah Hum, adamantine golden ground.
Om Vajra Reke Ah Hum, Encircled by an outer fence.
In the center is located Mt. Meru, king of mountains.
In the easterly direction is the continent called Videha
In the south is Jambudvipa, in the west Godaniya, in the north Kuru.
[A pair of sub-continents straddles each of these continents. They are:] Deha and Videha,
Chamara and Aparachamara, Shata and Uttarmantrina, Kurava and Kaurava.
[Each of the continents has a unique asset. They are:] The jewel-mountain, the wish-granting tree, the cow supplying one’s wants, the crop not needing cultivation.
[Eight articles possessed by royalty are:] the Precious Wheel, the Precious Gem, the Precious Queen, the Precious Minister,
the Precious Elephant, the Precious Horse, the Precious General and the Treasure-filled Vessel.
[The eight offering goddesses are:] the Actress, the Garland Bearer, the Songstress, the Dancer,
the Flower Bearer, the Incense Bearer, the Lamp Bearer, and the Perfume Bearer.
[Also included are:] the Sun, the Moon, a bejeweled umbrella, and a victory banner.
Adding to this all the abundant riches of gods and men – complete, pure, and lovely
I offer this paradise to the Divine Assemblage of the most kind, glorious, holy root and lineage Gurus – especially to the Guru, Great Sumati Munendra Vajradhara – together with their retinue.
In your compassion may you accept if for the sake of all beings.
And, having accepted it, may you in your great love bless all beings, myself and others, mothers equal in extent to space.
This earth anointed with incense and strewn with flowers,
And Mt. Sumeru, adorned by the four continents, the Sun and Moon,
I transmute into a Buddha-Field and offer:
May all beings partake of the Field of Supreme Purity.
[The offering mantra:] Idam Guru Ratna Mandalakam Niryatayami.
Short Mandala of Seven Heaps
Sa-shi pokyi jukshing metok tram.
Rirab lingshi Nyida Gyan-padi
Sangye shingdu mikte ul-war gyi
Drokun namdak shingla chopare shok.
Dakki chak dang mongsum Kye-pai-yul
Dral-nyen Barsum Lu-dang Long choc hey
Pangpa me-par Bul gyi Lek She ney
Duksum Rangsar Drol war jin gyi Lob
The objects that rouse from my greed, hate and delusion,
friend, foe and stranger, body and possessions,
I offer without regret so please accept them and
inspire spontaneous freedom from the three poisons.
(Source : http://blog.tsemtulku.com)
Panchen Otrul Rinpoche
Offerings are the formal religious expression of the fundamental Buddhist virtue of giving. The perfection of giving, dana-paramita in Sanskrit, is first of the six or ten perfections. It encompasses every kind of generosity, whether it involves a gift to those higher than ourselves, such as deities in the merit field, or the poor or needy, who are worse off than we are.
In giving to a being in an equal or worse state than ourselves, we sacrifice something that belongs to us for the benefit of another. In giving to a being superior to ourselves, to our guru, a Buddha or bodhisattva, we perform an act of renunciation. As an altruistic deed, giving is a basis for acquiring merit. In Buddhist doctrine, the accumulation of merit leads to higher rebirth, and eventually to release from the sufferings of cyclic existence. In order to attain highest enlightenment, we must be able to give to a superlative degree, with perfect motivation, thus attaining the unsurpassable level of the perfection of giving.
Whether the physical offerings benefit the recipient or not, from a Buddhist practitioner’s point of view as a donor, they are essential means of reducing our attachment to the physical world. Attachment reinforces our notion of ourselves as real, independent selves to be satisfied by obtaining or clinging onto objects we desire. Making offerings accustoms the mind to giving and letting go of desirable objects. It serves to loosen our conception of a real and independent self. In this way, it contributes to our acquiring the essential wisdom realizing that all phenomena as empty of intrinsic existence. Without such realization we will not attain Buddhahood. The value of merit acquired from an act of giving depends on several factors: the motivation, the status of the recipient and the quality of the offering.
Motivation or intent consciously or unconsciously precedes all our actions. The ultimate motivation for giving is to generate the causes for attaining enlightenment for the welfare of all sentient beings. The value of an act of giving closely corresponds to the quality of motivation. The narrower the intention, the smaller the merit. You may offer a bag of gold to a monastery, but if your real intention is just to show off, to acquire further wealth or a similar worldly motivation, the merit acquired may provide the desired result, but no more. If you give with a wish to attain liberation from cyclic existence, much greater merit will be generated. And if by giving you aspire to the ultimate attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, the merit you acquire will be limitless.
During the Buddha’s lifetime, when he was staying in Shravasti, King Prasenajit celebrated his presence with a lavish banquet presented before all the important people in the town. One poor man looking on from the edge of the crowd rejoiced at this display of generosity. Later, when Ananda asked the Buddha who had created the greatest merit as a result of the feast, he replied that it was the poor man who rejoiced at the king’ s virtue.
The story is also told of a woman who lived the life of a beggar at the time of a previous Buddha. She and her husband owned nothing but the single piece of cloth, which they would take, turns to wrap around themselves when they went to beg for food. The Buddha of that time was nearby and a monk on his alms round came across the woman and exhorted her to take advantage of the opportunity to go and make offerings to the Awakened One. Realizing that she and her husband were beggars because they had neglected to give in the past, she decided to offer their only possession to the Buddha. Her husband simply asked how they would live if they were unable to beg, because she had given away their only clothing. She replied, “If we give the cloth and then die, what will be the loss? We have nothing in this life, but we will have good fruits in the next. If we make such a gift and then die we shall be fortunate.” So saying she asked the monk to look away while she wrapped herself in grass and handed him the cloth as an offering to the Buddha. The monk accepted the offering with embarrassment. However, before the king and queen, the wealthy merchants and countless onlookers, the Buddha picked out the heap of rags and hailed it as the most worthy offering, because the woman’s motivation was pure. The woman later attained liberation at the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni, who cited her story as an example to others to give gifts.
Another example of the importance of pure motivation is shown in the story of Geshe Ben. He was a celebrated Tibetan lama who, following a career as a notorious bandit, became a great practitioner. One day, hearing that his patron was coming to visit, he worked from early morning dusting his altar and arranging his offerings in an attractive manner. Sitting back to admire his work, and pleased at the thought of how impressed his patron would be, he suddenly realized the impure nature of his motivation. He picked up a handful of ashes and threw them over the offerings to destroy his pride. Later, other Kadampa masters commented that such offerings were by far the most valuable because they were made with a pure motivation, without hope of reward.
The actual aim in making elaborate offerings is to give up our preoccupation with external objects and to place spiritual aims above material pleasures. However, the motivation can become distorted. We may give in hope of a greater return; leading only to disappointment Pure offerings should be made with faith and without regret. When Atisha, the Indian saint, visited Tibet in the 11th century, he greatly praised the quality of the water. He recommended using it to make offerings because although it had numerous qualities, nobody would regret giving water away.
The word for offering in Sanskrit is puja, which means to please. In making offerings to exalted beings such as Buddhas, bodhisattvas and various deities, we not only accumulate merit, but also create connections with these higher beings. If we make such offerings with a pure motivation, they will help us on the path to enlightenment
Although exalted beings have no real need for our offerings, they delight in the merit of the giver, which is determined by the quality of his or her motivation. It may be possible to fool other people, pretending to be acting out of a pure and exalted motivation, covering up your mundane aspirations, but it does not generate merit. Apparently attractive offerings performed with an ulterior motivation do not please the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and generate little merit. The situation is comparable to the relationship between a good master and a deceitful servant. However much the servant may flatter his master, he will only be really pleased if his servant performs his duty faithfully and genuinely tries to be helpful. Similarly, an offering made to the Buddhas with perfect motivation will generate merit of the same nature as that generated by the Buddhas of the past, present and future. It will merge with that inexhaustible pool of merit, giving rise to boundless merit. This is what is known as ‘pleasing the Buddhas’. It is the ultimate purpose of making offerings.
In providing us with an opportunity to give, those we give to are like teachers. We depend on them to accumulate the merit. Because we dislike giving to certain kinds of beings, we have to take counter measures to correct our attitude. When somebody appears to be unattractive, we have to try to overcome our aversion by meditating on love. Giving to them, offers further opportunity to acquire merit. Giving is not an occasion to be patronizing or condescending. When giving to those who are suffering, we should meditate on compassion, mindful of their miseries and strongly wishing that they be parted from them. Making offerings to wise beings such as Buddhas, bodhisattvas and spiritual masters is an occasion for faith and joy. When giving to those who help us, such as our parents or friends, we should give impartially, with equanimity, the basis for developing the awakening mind. Giving is not an opportunity to favor one being over another, for all beings are equal in wishing to be happy. Giving simply to show off and cultivate popularity or to outdo someone else will result in little merit. To give purely, we should do so joyfully without regret, with equanimity and without expectation of any reward.
Giving should be direct and straightforward. Delaying giving something in order to look more important, or to make people work harder for what they are going to receive reduces the resultant merit. Giving should be accompanied by a joyful expression and agreeable words. If we can, it is always better to give with our own hands.
Anything that reflects the giver’s wish to please someone is suitable to be given. At best, a gift should be beneficial both immediately and ultimately. If it is not beneficial in the short term, but only in the long term like bitter medicine that takes some time to act, it is suitable. When something provides short-term pleasure, but ultimate damage, such as supplying an addict his drug or a drunkard his drink, it would be better to refrain from giving.
The greater the sacrifice we make, the greater the merit we create. A piece of gold offered by a poor man for whom it represents his entire wealth will earn more merit than when a rich man offers it among many other such pieces. The ultimate sacrifice is to give away parts of our bodies. Many instances of such offerings are recounted in the collection of stories about the Buddha’s past lives. The Buddha spent many aeons accumulating limitless merit through the practice of the six perfections of giving, ethics, patience, effort, meditative stabilization and wisdom.
For example, in one of his past lives, the future Buddha was Santavik, the son of a merchant. One day he noticed that the birds in the nearby cemetery were starving, and overwhelmed by compassion for them, decide to offer them his body. He lay down as if dead and soon vultures began pecking at his left eye. They were intrigued that he kept so still and paused. Santavik thought, “This body is impermanent, I have no desire for it, and giving it away is beneficial.” He encouraged the birds to eat it, and they did so without misgivings.
As this story shows, perfect giving is accomplished without regret. Giving away part of your body requires a degree of determination that reflects a high level of realization. Beginners cannot readily perform such acts, and if they try to do so are likely to lead to disaster. Even practitioners who have attained sufficient spiritual realization will not give away their bodies for a trivial purpose or to someone demanding it out of malice. It is likewise a mistake to give something to someone who we know will use it to harm others.
Once an act of giving is complete, the giver can reflect on it and rejoice at the merit he or she has created. When we are actually involved with doing something, we may not remember consciously to set up the correct motivation as described in the scriptures, although for a more advanced practitioner, who has generated a firm awakening mind, the correct motivation arises spontaneously. A mindful and conscientious practitioner will maintain a sufficiently positive motivation to attain the highest fruit from the virtue of giving. However, if a practitioner has not set the right motivation at the time of performing the action, he or she can still correct and redirect the virtue at the end by dedicating it to the welfare of all sentient beings. The small amount of merit we earn through such a virtuous action as giving can be compared to a drop, which, when dedicated to the welfare of all sentient beings, is cast into the ocean of merit accumulated by all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas: When a drop of water mingles with the ocean, it becomes virtually inexhaustible. Similarly, when correctly dedicating our merit, like casting it into the ocean of merit created by Buddhas and bodhisattvas, being of a similar nature it will likewise be inexhaustible. If, on the other hand, we dedicate our merit to some worldly end, it is like throwing a stone into the ocean. Being of a different nature from that of the Buddhas, our merit will not become one with theirs, but will remain like a small pebble lying on the ocean floor.
Obstacles to Giving
The principal obstacle to giving is avarice, our attachment to possessions and our reluctance to part with them. An effective antidote to avarice is to reflect on impermanence. We bring to mind all the people and objects we are attached to and reflect that at the time of death we will have to part from them all: body, wealth, close relatives and dearest friends. No one is exempt from this; a king leaves behind his palace, a rich man his wealth and a beggar, his stick. We can also reflect on the positive fruits of giving according to the principles of causality. Although we should not dwell on what we might receive in return when we give something ourselves, it can be encouraging to remind ourselves and others of the positive effects of giving. That generosity is the principal cause of wealth in future lives, for example, can function as an attractive incentive for someone otherwise not inclined to give. Acquiring resources through giving can also be justified by the need for at least basic material facilities, if we are to achieve the ultimate goal of perfect Buddhahood for the welfare of all sentient beings.
If we are not very determined in our practice of generosity, we should enumerate all the positive reasons for giving. Recall that all beings, just like us, wish for happiness and seek to avoid suffering. Altruistic actions on our part can quell another’s pain or contribute to his or her well-being. Giving to others or helping them in other ways also reduces our emphasis on our own interests and serves to diminish attachment. Recognizing that recipients are pleased with his or her offerings, a giver should feel encouraged. These ways of thinking can be helpful to people who have trouble parting with their wealth of possessions.
Avaricious people who wish to overcome their attachment can begin gradually, to accustom their minds to giving. First they can give away small things. At the time of the Buddha, there was a wealthy merchant known for his miserliness. One day, he came to see the Buddha and told him that however hard he tried, he could not bear the thought of even giving water to someone begging at his door. The Buddha advised him to take some grain in his hand and pass it from one hand to the other and to think that one hand was giving to the other. This is how he began to accustom himself to the simple notion of giving.
Making imaginary offerings is also useful in opening our minds to the practice of giving. If we can overcome the obstacles to offering our bodies, wealth and sources of merit, it will give rise to immeasurable virtue. Generally, the main obstacle to giving away our material possession is the thought that if we do so, we will have less left for ourselves. In the case of imaginary offerings, such anxiety has no place for we can cause even the smallest mental offering to become limitless.
In Tibet, in the centuries following the advent of Buddhism, rituals of offering, have taken countless forms. Offerings are laid out in a formal manner, according to specific instructions. This physical aspect of the offering is called the surpassable offering. It should be clean, honestly obtained, and offered with a proper motivation. However, the most important aspect of the offering in terms of merit, is not the physical aspect of the ritual cake or flowers, but what is imagined or meditated upon by the practitioner, the transformed aspect. This is called the unsurpassable offering.
All the physical offerings arranged in rituals provide a basis for transformation into the unsurpassable offering. Because all Buddhist offerings originated in India, many of them retain characteristics of that land. As the practitioner progresses on the path, he or she becomes less dependent on such as basis. Other unsurpassable offerings consist of non-physical substances, such as offering virtue or the awakening mind. Because these offerings are created in our minds and are based on an understanding that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence, their potential is limitless. By making such offerings we can acquire limitless merit.
To make an unsurpassable offering, the practitioner must have perfect motivation and a high level of meditative stabilization. If he or she can do the visualizations correctly, the splendor that appears to the mind will surpass the most exquisite mundane beauty. In the light of this the faults of ordinary existence, such as impermanence, appear obvious, which leads to a further loosening of attachment to the world and enhances the determination to be free.
In every Tibetan home, a place is reserved to make offerings to the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma and Spiritual Community. The Three Jewels are often represented by a statue or thangka painting, a scripture and a stupa or a reliquary object. Before them is space to set up a set of standard offerings, represented by bowls of water, and the occasional torma ritual cake or other offerings of food. The water in the bowls would be changed every morning. For a practitioner, such offerings provide a basis for transformation into unsurpassable offerings.
According to the Buddhist scriptures, all the faults in the universe are the result of sentient beings’ disturbing emotions. Instead of dwelling on the faults to be seen in our offerings, but imagining them as pure and faultless, we create an imprint for purifying our minds of obstruction and defilement. Therefore they are imagined as pure and beautiful as possible, incorporating the best of everything existing in the past, present and future and the ten directions of the universe. The exalted beings to whom we make offerings do not apparently consume the physical substances before us. Nevertheless, as a basis for acquiring merit, such physical offerings should be clean, made of the best substances, attractive to ourselves and acquired through honest means. Consequently, they will form a better basis for imagining perfect offerings.
When preparing to make offerings, we should begin by meditating on the wisdom of great bliss and emptiness, imagining it has taken the form of the offering. When making the offering, we should think of it as empty of intrinsic existence. In this way, we purify the offering of its ordinary aspects and also purify our minds. We should abandon any thought of immediate benefit, especially in relation to ourselves in this life. It is also important not to entertain doubts about the quality of our offering and whether or not it pleased the exalted being to whom we presented it. Instead think that the deity rejoiced at the offering and generated great bliss from partaking of it.
The traditional set of offerings, commonly represented by bowls of water, derives from the customary offerings presented to an honored guest in ancient India. The first bowl contains clear water for the newly arrived guests to drink. The water should be imagined as pure as nectar and offered in vessels made of precious substances. In the second bowl is water for the guest to wash his or her feet; a reminder that in India people walked barefoot. In the third bowl are flowers, reminiscent of the crowns of flowers offered to women and the garlands offered to men. Masses of fragrant, beautiful flowers can be called up in the imagination. In the fourth bowl is incense, an offering to please the sense of smell. In the imagination billowing clouds of fragrant incense are offered. The fifth offering, pleasing to sight, is bright light commonly in the form of a lamp, which like the sun and the moon illuminates darkness. This light is imagined to be so clear that you can see even the smallest atoms without obstruction. Sometimes colored lights are offered and imagined to be emanating from nectar. In Tibetan tradition different colors are believed to have various healing properties. Colored or not, the light offered should be very clear. Light is imagined as dispelling the darkness of ignorance. Shariputra, the Buddha’s main disciple renowned for his intelligence, had, in a previous life, offered a bright light before a stupa. As a result he was reborn with great intelligence. The sixth offering consists of a bowl of scented water. Intended to soothe the mind, it is applied at the heart. Seventh is an offering of food, commonly in the form of a torma or ritual cake. In India, this offering traditionally contained three sweet substances: molasses, honey and sugar and three white substances: curd, butter and milk. In Tibet, these would be mixed with tsampa or parched barley flour to make an offering cake. The result is like ambrosia, pleasing in color, form, smell and taste. Eighth is an offering of sound. It is not represented on the altar, but can simply be imagined as beautiful music.
Offerings of the five sense objects
When making offerings of the external objects of desire, the practitioner imagines emanating offering goddesses from the heart, each holding something symbolic of one of the objects of the five senses.
Form is symbolised by a mirror, which reflects any pleasing objects before it.
Sound, is represented by the melodious sounds of musical instruments and singing. In the drawings, these are depicted by a lute.
Smell is represented by substances to soothe the mind, aromatic substances to be anointed at the heart.
Fine tasting substances are represented by a mango.
Objects of touch are offered in the form of soft cloth, or beautiful clothes. These are like celestial garments, so fine that a fold can pass under a fingernail, so extensive they could cover Mount Meru. They are warm or cool, according to need, and stunningly beautiful.
To make these offerings a meditator vividly visualizes himself or herself as a deity, as described in the Tantras, generating what is known as divine pride in that identity. The meditator then visualizes making theses offerings, each of which is carried by an offering goddess. They are emanated from the meditator’s heart and either make offerings to the meditator manifested as a deity or to a deity visualized in front of him. These offerings give rise to great bliss in whoever they are offered to. Whatever tantric offerings we make should be qualified by three characteristics: their nature must be the wisdom of bliss and emptiness; their form should correspond to whatever is being offered; and they should have the power to induce uncontaminated bliss in the one they are offered to. By dissolving these offerings into the mandala deities, the practitioner gains a special power for inducing bliss. Once the particular offering has been made each offering goddess dissolves back into the meditator’s heart.
There are many meditations for making unsurpassable offerings. Many involve the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, who emerges from the meditator’s heart, holding a jewel at his own heart. From this emerge countless more jewels, which spread all over the world making unsurpassable offerings. These can take the form of jewels, victory banners or any other beautiful object we can bring to mind. When non-physical offerings are made, they are given physical form to facilitate visualization. For example, in the Offering to the Spiritual Master, the practitioner makes an offering of his or her own spiritual practice in the following form:
On the shore of the wish-granting sea grow lotuses,
Which are offerings arisen from the virtues of Cyclic existence and peace.
Both real and emanated they captivate all hearts;
Flowers, being both the worldly and supramundane virtues
Of my own, and others three doors,
Brighten all places.
This garden is permeated by the myriad fragrances of Samantabhadra offerings
And is laden with fruit – the three trainings, two states and five paths;
I offer this in order to please you, O venerable gurus.
Another common from of the unsurpassable offering is to offer the body, mind and roots of virtue. In all three cases, the visualization and motivation are similar.
Offering the Body
Mentally offering the body in its ordinary aspect, can take the form of giving service to our spiritual masters and help to beings in need. There was once a practitioner who failed to serve his spiritual master well while he was alive. When the master finally passed away, the disciple realized his mistakes with regret. Since nothing he could do would alter the actual situation, he began regularly to imagine performing backbreaking labor for his master. He carried stones, buckets of water and so forth while imagining that he was helping countless beings. He further imagined that he thereby fulfilled his spiritual master’s wishes and so redeemed his past behavior.
Another reason for offering our body in its ordinary form is to seek protection. If a man offers his body to a king and the king accepts it, the man becomes the king’ s subject and as such enjoys his protection. Similarly seeking mere physical protection from exalted beings is the motivation of someone with limited aspirations. The desire for protection however, can be extended beyond mere physical defense to protection from obstacles on the path to enlightenment. In exchange for pledging body, speech and mind to the attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, the practitioner can receive support and protection from a meditational deity or protector.
We can also offer our body by transforming it into the aspect of a wish-fulfilling jewel, which can satisfy the needs of all. From it emanate innumerable offerings in the form of jewels, victory banners, umbrellas and so forth which radiate out to all beings, from the enlightened Buddhas down to the most insignificant insects. Although the Buddha has no need for such offerings, great bliss arises in his continuum as a result of partaking from them. Bodhisattvas have almost completed the path to Buddhahood and we can imagine that our offerings clear away their last and subtlest obstructions to enlightenment. By offering our body we can fulfill the wishes of beings in an equal or worse state to ourselves. We feed the hungry, clothe the poor, relieve the suffering of beings in worse states of rebirth and provide everything we can possibly imagine to whoever may need it.
Another way of offering the body is to visualize it in the form of a deity, free from ordinary appearances. The aim of this practice is to put a stop to ordinary appearances and to attain the great bliss which is dependent on the six senses.
In this case we can imagine our wealth and possessions transformed into wish-granting jewels, able to fulfill all wishes. From this jewel emanate victory banners, flower garlands and precious objects. We can also visualize the world and our environment being purified by such precious, limitless offerings.· This type of practice can create imprints for future rebirths in the pure lands.
The greatest obstacle to purifying our vision is seeing things as they ordinarily appear. Special mantras are recited to help us prevent our perceiving phenomena in that way. According to the Buddhist explanation, things appear to us the way they do because of our disturbing emotions. Because all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence, the way they appear to us and their actual mode of existence are different in nature. Since the way in which they appear reflects the state of our mind, purifying our minds will also purify our perception of ordinary appearances. In this way, it is possible to visualize a pea as a celestial mansion and then by making an offering of that celestial mansion to create corresponding merit.
There are similar methods for making an offering of our environment. We first purify it of its impure elements and then offer it. We imagine ourselves surrounded by all the beings of the six realms of existence and, acting as their leader, offer our purified world to the Buddhas for the benefit of them all.
Offering the Roots of Virtue
When it comes to offering our roots of virtue, we imagine all the virtue we have created in the present, all that we have created in the past and that we will create in the future. The fruits of virtue are to acquire happiness and to be parted from suffering. By offering our virtue to others we are making a gift of those fruits to them.
A practitioner on the path to enlightenment makes many pledges. Among these are pledges to give. Specifically, he or she pledges to make four kinds of gifts: material objects, dharma, protection from fear, and love.
Offering material objects has already been discussed. It is to give something to others with the aim of pleasing and helping them. Sometimes giving material objects is a means of attracting someone to a higher purpose as, for example, when a teacher offers a student gifts as an incentive to study.
Offering of Dharma
Offerings commonly consist of material objects, but what monks have to offer is the Dharma. All forms of knowledge, from crafts to literature, fall into this category. The offering of Dharma is the most precious offering of all. When a person is receptive and can put into practice what has been taught, he or she can achieve not only the temporary happiness that results from ordinary offerings, but can eventually attain the ultimate happiness of liberation from suffering. If we are not in a position to give teachings, even offering our roots of virtue is a form of offering of Dharma.
Offering of Safety and Protection
Saving beings by any means from the fear of being killed by hunters, wild animals, or disease, from the fear of hunger and thirst, poverty or any unpleasant situation, is to offer them safety. If you have no opportunity to help in that way, simply living peacefully, in harmony with others and refraining from any kind of harmful activity is also a form of offering freedom from fear. A common practice in Buddhist countries is to save animals from slaughter. People buy animals back from butchers and offer them the freedom to live out their natural lives. Offering freedom from fear is not isolated from other aspects of practice, since it also incorporates the practices of love and compassion. For example, the meditation on equanimity that is part of what is known as the four limitless wishes, the wish that all sentient beings be freed from anger and attachment, is a form of offering of protection. Beings freed from these disturbing emotions ~ill not encounter situations in which they need protection.
Offering of Love
All sentient beings seek happiness and wish to be parted from suffering. In making the offering of love, we should first cultivate equanimity towards all beings. Beginning with those closest to us, we then reach out to include even beings we dislike until we can generate the same feeling for all of them. By generating a boundless love that encompasses infinite sentient beings we will create correspondingly vast merit. Love her means seeing all beings freed from sufferings, attaining good rebirth, accumulating merit and high levels of realization and finally reaching Buddhahood. Similarly, love can be generated to purify the environment.
The mandala offering, a symbolic representation of the purified world system, is offered to the lama. It is made formally and ceremonially when disciples request a lama to teach or to live long. In informal daily practice a practitioner offers a mandala of the purified universe to acquire merit and attain realizations. Representing all the bountiful riches of the universe, it is considered the most meritorious object that can be offered. Making such an offering is thus a powerful aid to the practitioner on the path to Buddhahood. When making the mandala offering, visualising ourselves as the lama’s best disciple, we offer ourselves to him in order to serve all sentient beings.
The physical base for making a mandala offering can be round or square, made of precious or ordinary materials, depending on what is available to the individual. When the mandala is offered formally in a wealthy monastery the base may be made of gold or silver, but a solitary hermit might use simply a slab of stone or a flat piece of wood.
Whatever it is made of, the base should be kept very clean and washed with saffron scented water. The material which is heaped onto the base to represent the various constituent offerings can be jewels, shells, clean grain or crushed white stone. Rice is commonly used.
After sprinkling a little rice over the smooth base, the practitioner wipes his or her forearm over the mandala base in a circular motion. The arm’s movement away symbolizes clearing away all impurities in the world and all defilements in the mental continuums of sentient beings. The arm’s movement towards himself or herself symbolizes bringing forth everything positive and virtuous in the world.
All worlds are then visualized as having becoming like pure lands, pristine and of the essence of jewels. All beings dwelling in them have become like deities, freed from suffering. Merely imagining that all beings are free from disturbing emotions and afflictions does not actually set them free. But by imagining that others have been purified, appreciating the value of purification provides the impetus for purifying your own mind.
The surface of the mandala is once again evenly spread with grain. While doing this we imagine spreading jewels and flowers over the surface of the whole world. Grain is then scattered in a circular pattern around the edge of the mandala, symbolizing the iron fence described in Buddhist cosmology as encircling the four continents and the eight subcontinents. A handful of grain, symbolizing Mount Meru, is placed in the center. Half of Mount Meru is below the sea. The half above the surface of the sea has four levels, topmost of which is Indra’ s mansion and heavenly abode. The three lower levels are the abodes of., the other gods.
The eastern face of Mount Meru is white and of the nature of crystal. The southern face is blue and made of sapphire. The western face is red and made of rubies and the northern face is yellow and made of gold. Around Mount Meru are seven gold mountains. The oceans surrounding them are inhabited by inestimably wealthy nagas.
The eastern continent, which faces the object to whom the offering is being made, is white and crescent-shaped. The southern continent is blue and triangular, the western continent is red and circular, and the northern continent is yellow and square. Each continent is flanked on either side by a smaller subcontinent. The inhabitants of the continents are imagined to be attractive and wealthy.
Representing the eastern continent, which is visualized as a mountain. of jewels, a small heap of grain · is made in the direction facing the lama. Another heap represents the southern continent, which is visualized as a wish-fulfilling tree. On the western continent is an abundance of cows and milk and on the northern continent, uncultivated harvest of outstanding nutritional value. Small heaps of grain are made to represent the seven emblems of a universal monarch.
Between the eastern continent and Mount Meru, another heap of grain represents the precious wheel; between the southern continent and Mount Meru, another heap of grain represents the precious jewel; between the western continent and Mount Meru is the precious queen; and between the northern continent and Mount Meru is the precious minister. Between the south and east continents is the precious elephant; between the south and west, the precious horse; between the west and north, the precious general; and between the north and east, a vase of jewels.
The precious general can sometimes be a precious chamberlain, but in the present era, which is considered to be a degenerate time, a precious general is thought to be more useful in expelling evil forces and obstacles.
The eight offering goddesses are very beautiful. They sing, dance, and carry garlands, flowers and incense over all four continents.
The sun, which symbolizes the wisdom understanding emptiness, has the power to clear way all disturbing emotions, is represented by a heap of grain in the east. The moon, which stands for great compassion, is represented in the west.
On the right, a small heap of rice represents a bejeweled umbrella of the kind the King of the Nagas offered the Buddha. It is gold with a sapphire handle and its edges are studded with jewels, including diamonds which shine like the sun. The jewels give off a nectar which can quench the thirst of all sentient beings and is suitable for offering an ablution to the Buddha. Attached to the umbrella are bells whose melodious sound conveys the doctrine to sentient beings according to their capacities.
On the left is a victory banner bearing symbols of united opposites such as the lion-garuda, the otter-fish and the sea-monster conch. These symbolize overcoming disturbing emotions and are said to bring prosperity. This banner is an auspicious sign for saving all beings from the heat of cyclic existence. Another handful of grain scattered all around the base symbolizes the entire wealth of the world.
Since an empty world is meaningless, it is imagined populated by countless beings, free from disturbing emotions and suffering and enjoying the abundance already described. The practitioner imagines a splendid mansion as a residence for the lama, within which is a throne supported by lifelike lions. He or she imagines a multitude of worthy disciples, himself or herself foremost among them, which is regarded as creating an auspicious cause for becoming the lama’s principal disciple in future. Attaining such status he or she can understand and accomplish the lama’s wishes for the purpose of sentient beings. As the meditator makes this offering to the lama or to his visualized image, he or she imagines a replica of the lama emanating from the original and descending into the world we have visualized, giving teachings, abiding in the mansion and eventually returning to the pure lands.
The practice is ended by pouring the grain off the mandala base, either by tipping it towards the lama, or by tipped it towards ourselves, imaging that the lama has returned it to us to fulfill the wishes of sentient beings.
The practice of the inner mandala is a potent means of controlling the three main disturbing emotions: anger, desire and ignorance. It is a powerful antidote to miserliness and attachment to our body, possession and merit or the environment. First, we visualize our skin becoming the golden base of the mandala and our blood the nectar which is spilled over the base to purify it. Our flesh becomes flower garlands floating on the ocean of nectar. Our torso becomes Mount Meru, our arms and legs, the four continents, and our hands, feet and joints, the eight subcontinents. Our head becomes a beautiful mansion and our eyes, the sun and moon. Our heart is transformed into a wish-fulfilling gem and our sense organs and other organs become perfect objects of enjoyment for gods and men.
In the space above Mount Meru, we visualize all the objects of our desire, anger and ignorance. These are the people and objects for whom we feel attachment, anger or indifference, all of whom disturb our minds. These are offered to the lama, sincerely and with total abandon. Since they no longer belong to us, we need no longer feel attached to them. All distorted perceptions will be purified by this offering and which sows the seed for rebirth in pure lands, where the entire environment is conducive to the practice of dharma.
A tsok offering provides a basis for unsurpassable offerings. Tsok means assembly, and refers to a gathering of male and female tantric practitioners, who have maintained their pledges. Offering are made to the assembly of realized beings, to all the sentient beings who have been our mothers, and to ourselves. Leftovers are given to such suffering beings as hungry ghosts. Some of them can freely benefit from the gift. Others can only do so when it has been specifically dedicated to them by the recitation of transformative mantras. The offering is accompanied by the chanting of a special liturgy, many of them poignantly beautiful.
Nowadays, tsok is offered in a prescribed ritual manner, but in the past in India, it would have been more like a religious feast. At the end of the ceremony, the offerings are divided among the participants and eaten, the spiritual master receiving the best parts. It is expressly indicated that participants should not argue with each other about what they receive, nor engage in other unruly behavior. During the tsok offering, practitioners visualize themselves as deities, maintaining that identity with divine pride and stable clarity, free of all ordinary appearances. They visualize all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas abiding in their bodies, enjoying the inexhaustible nectar being offered to them. Practitioners belonging to the great vehicle will always think that whatever they enjoy is for the purpose of other sentient beings. With this basic motivation, they should think that the deities, who have partaken of the offering feel fulfilled and that feeling of fulfillment is transformed into uncontaminated bliss. The offering is first presented to the deity visualized in front of the meditator, then to those abiding in his or her body, then to himself or herself.
Ingredients of the tsok offering
The main object of a tsok offering is a conical cake, made of sweet substances such as molasses, sugar, and honey and tsampa. Only the best and most delicious ingredients should be used. The cake’s red color represents power, which is necessary to cause the heroes and heroines to gather. The white decorations are ornamental.
Tsok offering always includes some meat and alcohol, although in Tibet alcohol was often replaced by black tea. Impure substances such as alcohol and tea were offered to provide a basis for transformation into nectar. Participants in the ritual make their own contribution of food to the offering.
Tsok offerings usually take place in the evening. When offerings to the deities are complete and the participants have eaten their share, leftovers are gathered from each and piled on a plate. These are taken outside. Originally the bearer held a torch, but now the offering is most often accompanied by a candle or a stick of incense. It is believed that disruptive spirits lurk at night and that the light will prevent them interfering with the leftovers that are destined for miserable hungry ghosts.
The blessed substance of the tsok itself is considered to be very precious is not to be wasted. It should not be thrown on the ground or carelessly disposed of. If some of it is left over, it should be put on a roof or such high places so that birds or monkeys will collect it and take it even higher. It is considered unfit for animals that live on the ground to eat.
Occasions for Making Tsok Offerings
Tsok is generally offered at the conclusion of a tantric initiation, in celebration of the completion of a great event. Offering tsok is also one of the ways for a tantric practitioner to purify faults in his or her committed practice and to restore broken vows.
Tsok can be performed at any time, but the two particular dates in the lunar month, the 10th and 25th, are considered more propitious. These are the days when practitioners who have made pledges to perform tsok offerings as part of their practice do so. It is believed that the skyfarers or dakinis assemble at these times and can actually partake of the offerings.
Tantric practitioners consecrate their food in the same way as they offer tsok. They visualize a blue syllable Hung at their hearts, wherein abides all the Buddhas. The upper part of the syllable is a blazing fire, in which all the food is consumed as it is eaten. This can be thought of as the food being transformed into energy by the fire of the wisdom of bliss and emptiness. Their motivation is to feed themselves to accomplish the welfare of others, rather than eating simply for their own enjoyment. They also remember the bacteria and other organisms living within their bodies who are feeding off the food and make the wish that just as they are now being satisfied by food, in the future, they will be satisfied by hearing the Dharma.
Tantric practitioners first visualize themselves in the form of their own meditational deity and maintain that identity with divine pride and clarity of appearance. This is the basis upon which they consecrate the offerings. Ridding them of their ordinary appearances and contaminated aspect, they visualize them free of all impurities. Ordinary offerings give rise to only limited pleasure, which in tum gives rise to further desire. Our desire is not quelled by limited pleasure. Consecrating the offerings overcomes these faults and limitations.
Visualization for Purifying Offerings of Food
The meditator dissolves the object into emptiness and dwells sometime on that. From emptiness he or she generates the particular offering in the nature of the wisdom of great bliss and emptiness. He or she imagines all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas at the heart and having transformed the food, eats it and so offers it to them.
At the conclusion of a meditation retreat, a meditator commonly makes a fire offering to the meditational deity concerned. After receiving initiation into the practice of a particular deity, the practitioner will cultivate that practice with the goal of attaining enlightenment for all sentient beings. The deity assists the practitioner to gain accomplishments on the path. The fire offering, correctly performed with the right visualizations, pleases the deity and reinforces the bond with the practitioner. It also serves to purify the faults of badly or incompletely recited mantras and removes obstacles to good meditative stabilization, forestalls impending difficulties and illnesses which have manifested themselves through dreams and inauspicious omens.
Fire offerings are performed outside. A throne is built for the meditator who is to make the offering, with a low wall to protect him or her from the flames. The hearth is a smooth square raised platform on which an eight petalled flower wit a vajra at its center is drawn with chalk. Firewood is placed in a circle around the flower. The five kinds of offerings, of which there are two sets, are set up on a table to the right of the throne. The first set of offerings is made to the fire god, Agnidevatta, who is invoked so that the offerings will not be consumed by ordinary fire. The second set is for the meditational deity to whom the offering is made. This set involves greater quantities than the first, although the procedures for making the offering are the same.
Tormas are variously shaped ritual cakes used as offerings in Tantric rituals. Unlike tsok, tormas are not eaten after the ceremony, but are scattered on roofs and left for the birds. However, they should be fit for human consumption. In Tibet, poor monks and practitioners sometimes depended on eating such discarded tormas to survive. Phurchok Jampa Rinpoche reputedly had to compete with the crows to get his share.
Tormas provide a physical basis for making unsurpassable offerings to meditational deities, protectors and local deities. They are summoned forth and offered the torma. Tormas are blessed and offered in the same manner as the Inner Offering, using the same visualization to transform impure elements. Requests accompany the offering which may range from a wish to enhance spiritual realization to more mundane demands. Such offerings are part of an elaborate ritual directed to a chosen deity. The preparations for such rituals and the tormas themselves are usually made by monks who specialize in ritual. Though most are discarded afterwards, some are kept for a whole year. These are made from raw cereals and must be periodically sprinkled with water to prevent them from completely drying out. Most tormas are offered when making a request, others, especially when protectors are concerned, are offered once the request made has been fulfilled.
There are also tormas which are meditated on as deities during initiations. The master and initiates visualise the torma before them as transformed into a deity. Tormas vary in shape, depending on the ritual they belong to. Tormas offered to peaceful deities are conical with lotus bases and those destined for wrathful deities are triangular with decorates of flames.
When properly constructed, tormas include twenty-five ingredients – the five precious substances which eliminate war and conflict and fulfill wishes: gold, silver, pearl, ruby, sapphire; the five aromas conducive to good conduct: camphor, saffron, nutmeg, musk and sandalwood; the five essences which cause beings of the world to prosper: salt, water, honey – the essence of flowers, oil- the essence of seeds, sugar – the essence of fruit; the five grains which eliminate famine and increase wealth: barley, wheat, lentils, sesame and rice; the five medicinal substances which destroy illness. Nowadays, these substances are synthesized into small pills, which are prepared independently and are added to the dough mixture when tormas are made.