Dana the perfection of generosity
Uh-oh It's about money
Most of us have made different kinds of donations or offerings to teachers
and institutions that help us in various different capacities. However, in
the West, there is no infrastructure in place to take care of those who are
generous with their time and energy by providing dharma teachings. Often
extensive travel is involved, which is very expensive. It is for those
reasons that students of Buddhism will often see signs with "suggested
donation" followed by an amount of money.
Did you know that you can participate
in a retreat by supporting another's practice?
The offerings directed to deities, Buddhas, or Bodhisattvas are of a
different nature; these donations are made in order to create connections with
them. The Sanskrit word for offering is puja meaning to
Offerings please the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, not because they are pleased
to receive gifts, but because they delight in the virtue of the givers, which
is determined by the quality of their motivation in making the
offering. Offerings need not even be material. Milarepa offered his spiritual
practice, his most cherished attribute. The best offerings are of virtuous
accomplishments. Thus, the offering of religious practice is what most pleases
the deities and creates a bond between them and the practitioner, which
provides a basis for his/her further development.
Several factors determine the quality of an offering. Prominent is the
giver's motivation, though the status of the recipient and the nature of the
offering also contribute. The giver acquires the greatest merit when he/she is
motivated by a wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient
beings. It is much less if he/she aspires for his/her own enlightenment alone
and even less if he/she wishes merely to obtain a good rebirth in his/her next
life. The poorest motivation is the wish to gain some benefits in this
lifetime, such as wealth and a long life, or to be completely mundane in
seeking a reputation for generosity.
The status of the recipient is an important factor. The merit gained by
making an offering with absolutely pure motivation to a Buddha is
immeasurable. Since images and other manifestations of the Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas are to be regarded as no different from them in nature, making
offerings such as are made to the mandala deities in the consecration rituals
is equivalent to making offerings to the Buddhas.
The Buddhas are exalted objects of offering because they are the ultimate
source of refuge, not because they will snatch us out of cyclic existence, but
because the teachings they demonstrate enable us to do so ourselves. One's own
lama or teacher is also an exalted object of offering, because it is due to
his personal kindness and guidance that one can make any progress on the path
of development for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Nevertheless, since pure motivation is so important, a gift made with a
very pure motivation to a needy person is also very meritorious. One can
reflect that this needy person has at sometime been one's own kind mother or
consider the fact that one depends on others to attain enlightenment, for
without them one would have no opportunity to practice giving, ethics and
forbearance, which are essential in the quest for Buddhahood. Thus it
could be said that the merit obtained from making a modest gift to a needy
person with an exalted motivation is far greater than one made to a Buddha with
a poor motivation.
Whatever is offered should always have been honestly obtained, for a wrongly
acquired object severely detracts from the wholesome quality of giving
it. Offerings should always be of the best one has. Food offered
to the Buddhas should not be bad or rotten on the pretext that no one will eat
it. It is good to offer one's own food before eating it. Since the main
purpose of making offerings is to reduce avarice, one should do so without a
trace of regret. The Buddha recommended that avaricious people should
initially accustom their minds to sharing by giving something from one hand to
~ The Consecration Ritual, Cho-Yang, v. 1. no.
2 (55 - 56) 1987. Council for Religious and Cultural Affairs.
to Sacred Texts for making this and other interesting texts
Honoring the Deities
Tantric Buddhism uses the skillful means of ritual as a form of
training. The methods include self-purification, the development of
virtues ("perfections") such as humility and generosity, and a
devotion to forms ie. deity worship and the commitment to regularly attend to
unseen beings. While deities are ultimately understood to emerge from, and
to return to Emptiness, they are also viewed as having existence.
- The Heart Sutra encapsulates the fundamental principle
behind what some might find to be a contradiction in terms.
- See also, Trikaya.
Not all deities must be worshipped on a regular basis, but a lama can make
regular deity practice a requirement for receiving the transmission or
empowerment of certain deities. When a teaching is announced with
the phrase "certain commitments may be imposed" the student might like
to inquire beforehand what they might entail. Commitments range from
adopting a respectful attitude, repeating a mantra or engaging in a formal bond
or samaya [vow] to undertake a number of prayers, mantras, or daily
The ten blessings that are traditionally considered to accrue from offering
flowers are: A long life; good health; strength; beauty; wisdom; ease
of progress along the Buddhist Path; future rebirth in pleasant
environment; rebirth as an attractive person with a fine complexion and
hair; having a sweet-scented body, and pleasant relationships with others.
In 1996, the 12th Tai Situ explained fire offerings:
The 3 kinds of offering involving fire are the sang, the sur,
and the third which is the jin-seig. There are also
various types of these.
The major objective of any fire puja [worship ritual] is offering. You
put the food and whatever ingredients into the fire. As the fire burns,
the offering is consumed. When everything is totally burnt the offering
has been accomplished.
In a sang, the smoke is being offered. In a sur, it is
the scent. And in the jen-seig, it the actual fire itself -- the
flames and the burning.
Four Categories of Intended Recipient
These offerings are made to 4 different categories of recipient. The
first one consists of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and the deities. The
second comprises protectors, and very high spiritual gods [Brahma, Indra,
etc.] The third category consists of all sentient beings. And the
fourth consists of ghosts, and hungry ghosts, and also all those to whom one
owes karmic debts. The first two offerings are referred to as just that:
offerings, gifts. However, the last two are called "generous gifts" --
they are especial expressions of generosity.
Sang, or Smoke Offering
Sang focuses on mountain deities, sky gods, river gods, and all such gods of
location. It is especially intended for these. Although we invite
the gods of the entire universe, we are especially honouring the local
deities. This is normally performed on the house-top, or the peak of a
mountain, and the smoke is usually quite big.
It is very important that the products used for the sang be clean, and 100%
vegetarian. No meat or animal products [such as butter or musk] can be
Sang-sol, is a ceremony performed by Tibetans on the occasion of all
kinds of significant events. The housewife, or any other individual, or a lama
in the interests of a group, will go up on the roof of a building or to another
high spot to burn juniper branches or other fragrant substances. The
aromatic smoke is offered to local deities and the beings of all the
realms. This is actually the simplest form of incense
The wood should be clean and free of insects, and the offering is usually
made in the morning. There are a variety of offering prayers. ~ Khandro.Net
Sur or Smell Offering
Although a sur is for all 4 categories, it is mainly directed towards ghosts
and spirits, and beings to whom one has karmic debts. We can give
anything to them, all types of foods. In fact, some surs need to be
non-vegetarian. That is, we also burn meat.
Vegetarian and non-vegetarian surs are two distinct types, and they
are kept separate. Even the prayers are kept separate , and a different
fire has to be built for each type.
Jin-seig, the Fire Offering
Jin-seig concentrates on a deity. Therefore, each jin-seig has
different components depending on the type of deity. It is only done by a
priest, not by the general public. [It is a true fire sacrifice deriving
from the Vedic tradition.] In fact, an ordinary person is not supposed to
handle the substances intended for these offerings.
[It uses special utensils.] A special order must be followed, and there are
particular times and places for this type of offering. Every
substance must be handled and offered according to the ritual.
Four kinds of jin-seig relate to the types of deity. That is,
peaceful, wrathful, powerful, and magnetizing. Sometimes there is a
combination of all four aspect.
Honour to the Protectors
At large institutions, there are separate gonkang or chapels
specifically dedicated to the dharmapalas. Where there is only one shrine,
the protector deities have a special place in relation to the other figures and
A practitioner advises,
"If you've had an "entrustment" to a particular protector,
you *must* do them daily.
We've only received transmissions, which technically means if we miss a
day, we don't have to go to extraordinary lengths to repair our samaya vows.
We do our protector prayers every night. It was explained to us that one
cannot expect a favor of a friend if one never invites them over to dinner. I
have a friend who has received entrustment, and in a fit of busy-ness forgot
to do her protector prayer that day. She approached her lama, who had to go to
great lengths and expense in order to repair the situation.
If one hasn't already got a protector practice, doing them on the 9th, 19th,
and 29th days of the lunar month is appropriate, and probably sufficient,
unless your lama advises you to do them more often, or less ... .
Protector practices help to clear obstacles on the path, so it stands to
reason that a healthy protector practice might afford one more advantage in
attaining realization." ~ Tom: The
Kagyu Mailing List
Other Symbolic Offerings
Another kind of offering consists of tormas. These are the special cakes originally
made of roasted barley flour, but now they are often very elaborate and made of a
non-perishable substance such as clay or Plasticene.
In tangkas and other kinds of symbolic representations there sometimes appear
at the foot of the main image, ie. in the foreground, some sets of
offerings. On an 18th century painted scroll or, tangka, no deity is
portrayed. However, we can recognize that it is intended as a
tribute to the guardian deity, Mahakala,
for we can see
his various "attributes" or implements along with various sets of
offerings traditionally believed to please him.
Offerings made to a wrathful deity include special protector cakes (T. dragpoi
torma) " ... made of different types of flour and water or milk
to which alcohol, blood, pieces of meat, or some medicine may be added. These
cakes, which have a stepping, pyramidal appearance, are specific to wrathful
deities with their wavy outer lines representing smoke and flames. "
Another special torma or offering cake is present on the shrine which stands
for the five senses. "It consists of the disembodied organs of the
senses sitting in a skull cup. To the right of this is an incense burner which
would probably contain burning poisonous datura leaves and/or a black incense
known as gu gul."
Sets of Offerings
Two sets of offerings depicted in the Mahakala banner mentioned above appear frequently in
other aids to visualization:
Seven Jewels of Royal Power
(T. rgyal-srid rin-chen sna-bdun, Skt. saptaratna) are the accessories of a
universal monarch (T. khor-los bsgyur-bai rgyal-po, Skt. chakravartin). They
represent the accoutrements that a king must possess in order to stay in
"The precious queen (T. btsun-mo, Skt. raniratna)- who
completes the poles where the chakravartin is the masculine aspect, and she
the feminine. Those working to abandon negative mental states regard her as
mother or sister. Her beauty and love for her husband are representative of
the radiating, piercing joy of the Buddha's enlightenment.
The precious general (T. dmag-dpon rinpoche, Skt. senapatiratna)
symbolizes the wrathful power to overcome enemies.
The precious horse (T. rta-mchog rinpoche, Skt. asvaratna) serves as
the chakravartin's personal mount and shares similarities with the lung ta
referred to earlier, both in appearance and in the ability to travel among the
clouds. Its qualities mirror the Buddha's abandonment of, or
"rising above", the cares of worldly existence.
The precious jewel (T. nor-bu rinpoche, Skt. maniratna), which is
depicted on the back of the precious horse and separately in the upper left
corner, deals with the themes of wealth and unfolding (power and
possibility). The jewel is said to aid the chakravartin in his ability
to see all things. In the same way, a Buddha can perceive all things;
recognizing the manifold connections between all events, the relentless chain
of cause and effect, and the nature of compounded existence.
The precious minister or householder (T. blon-po rinpoche, Skt.
parinayakaratna) represent two different aspects of the rule of the
chakravartin which are closely related. The minister aids the
chakravartin in carrying out his commands expeditiously, while the householder
provides the very basic support, given with devotion, without which the
chakravartin would be unable to rule. The knowledge of the Buddha, like
the minister, is always present to him who has realized it, allowing him to
cut through the bonds of ignorance. While the householder represents the
support of the lay community, without which the monastic community could not
continue. Each community playing its part, the lay providing physical
sustenance, and the monastic, the sustenance of the Dharma.
The precious elephant (T. glang-po rinpoche,
Skt. hastiratna) The elephant is a symbol of both strength and the
untamed mind in Buddhism. The precious elephant represents the strength of
one's mind tamed, through Buddhist practice. Exhibiting noble
gentleness, the precious elephant serves as a symbol of the calm majesty
possessed by one who is on the path. Specifically, he embodies the
boundless powers of the Buddha which are miraculous aspiration, effort,
The precious wheel (T. khor-lo rinpoche, Skt. chakraratna), which is
depicted both on the back of the precious elephant and separately in the upper
left corner below the precious jewel, is a symbol of motion and power,
representing the ability to "roll over" all obstacles. In Buddhism
it symbolizes the truth and power of the noble path as realized and taught by
the Buddha to deliver all from suffering. For just as the chakravartin
has conquered the world, so the Buddha has overcome the defilements with the
aid of the Dharma."
~ Chad Sawyer for
Mirror of the Heart-Mind at Kaladarhsan Arts of Ohio State
Eight Auspicious Attractors (T. bKra-sis rdzas-brgyad, Skt.
Mirror (T. me-long, Skt. adarsha) which, when clear of dust or
pollution, represents the wisdom that is mirror-like since it can reflect all
phenomena without distinction.
Curd/Yogurt (T. zho, Skt. dadhi) a rich food that is the result of a
long process yet dependent upon a "starter" from the previous batch; a
reminder of karma that is purified as defilements or obscurations are
Durva Grass (T. rtsva dur-ba, Skt. durva) resilient and strong,
symbolic of long life. Longevity is beneficial affording opportunities
to practice and attain enlightenment.
Bilva Fruit (T. shing-tog bil-ba, Skt. bilva) is like a gourd; it
serves to remind the practitioner of Emptiness, dependent origination, and the
conditioned nature of all phenomena.
Right-whorled Conch (T. dung gyas khyil, Skt. dakshinavarta-shankha)
is very rare; its sound is born of Emptiness and it is also the bugle that
announces the regal presence of the Buddhist teachings.
Vermilion (T. li-khri, Skt. sindura) red powder used for auspicious
life-affirming marks. As a Buddhist symbol, this red which normally
stands for blood and for fertility, represents power transmuted to serve the
higher goal of enlightenment.
White Mustard Seed (T. yungs-kar, Skt. sarsapa) is a reminder of
mortality which is a powerful motivation; mustard is also used for the
ritual expulsion of spirits and therefore, a wrathful means of overcoming
Ghiwang Medicine was a substance once obtained form the intestinal
tract of an elephant (T. ghi-wang, Skt. gorochana) The Tibetan means "cow
essence". It was used in the preparation of a tonic that was
believed to cure all ills. Therefore it stands for the Dharma which is
the teaching to end all suffering.
- See also "Numbers," for the Seven
Luxuries or Jewels.
- About Tormas, the special
offering cakes originally made of dough. Sometimes very elaborate,
nowadays they can be made of non-perishable substances such as clay or synthetic
materials, but should at least include a few grains of rice or barley.
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