Thursday, July 9, 2015

Group Practice of the Smoke Offering, by Alex from France

Alex Syed, Paris France
At the beginning of 2015, an event was held to mark the end of the year of the horse and the beginning of the year of the sheep, according to the Chinese calendar. It was a culturally rich occasion, a blend of traditional Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist practices, attended by close to a thousand heads, hailing from Hong Kong, Taiwan and abroad. The event, including the preparations and cleaning-up, spanned the entire weekend and left many people feeling quite washed out albeit visibly happy and light-hearted.

This ceremony, marking as it does the passing of one year to another, holds a deep significance. It symbolizes a making of amends for the past year's mishaps, and also wishes of auspiciousness for the year to come. It is also an occasion for the community of Rinpoche's students to gather together in practice and share the merits with their loved ones and the world at large.

During the first part, the attendees all recited the Medicine Buddha Sutra in unison, led by the monks and nuns at the fore. Rinpoche then made his entrance and gave a speech on the Tibetan practice of Smoke Offering, which dates back to the time of Padmasambhava, the second Buddha of Tibet. He spoke of the degrading state of our world, increasingly beset by natural calamities and strife, violence and disease on scales small and large. Rinpoche stated that the worst affliction in the world, which brings him the most concern, is the increase of mental disorders and depression. These all result from our collective as well as individual karma. Hence the need to gather and assuage the wrath of negative forces and propitiate positive ones through our offerings, and then dedicate the merit.

Thereafter, the Smoke Offering was performed and all proceeded to circumambulate the offering hearth so as to receives blessings of good fortune for this coming year from the offering's smoke. The ceremony ended with a ceremony in which the plaques with the name of relatives written on them were burnt, symbolizing the removal of any obstacle and inauspiciousness that may come their way.

All in all, the ceremony lasted close to 5 hours, and I was amazed to see everyone very patiently going through the whole process, old and young, Taiwanese and foreigner alike. Perhaps the smallest ones were slightly more restless, needless to say...

But in the end all were happy, and as the ceremony reached it's close, everyone received a scroll of Rinpoche's own calligraphy, inscribed with good wishes for the New Year. The buzz in the hall was quite tangible as people chatted cheerfully, collecting a few fruit and biscuits from the offering and slowly making their way out, leaving the hall once again empty.

My Personal Practice

I myself have received an oral transmission of the practice from my root teacher, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche. I practice everyday, usually in the morning before starting my day. As a matter of fact, of all the practices I have received or been exposed to, I can quite confidently say it is the one I bear closest to my heart. It is an offering made to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the one hand and to all beings in all realms of existence on the other.

When offering to the Buddhas, we imagine the smoke becoming everything beautiful and wonderful in the world; when we offer to the beings of the six realms, we imagine that it brings them whatever they need or desire. For example, if one offers to the hungry ghosts, the smoke becomes nourishment for them, and were one to offer to hell realms, it could be anything that brings the beings there respite and comfort in the throes of their suffering. When we offer the smoke to the beings of the human realm we imagine it soothes all their sorrows and brings them all happiness.

The practice in itself has a ritualistic aspect to it, from the placing of the sang offering powder in the bowl and sprinkling it with saffron water to purify it, to lighting the offering and then bringing it to a window sill so the smoke may drift into the sky. This whole process has a way of stroking an emotional chord within me, and when I manage to focus enough to clearly imagine the smoke reaching the different realms and bringing joy and comfort to the beings there, I feel a true sense of connectedness which makes me feel very peaceful.

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