A Guide to the Practice of Sang
From the murals of Shechen Monastery. Used with permission of Rabjam Rinpoche.
A Guide to Sang Practice
by Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpe Nyima
Namo guru padmākarāya!
Embodiment of all the buddhas of the past, present and future, protector of all living beings,
Consider us, the beings of this degenerate age, and care for us with your compassion!
Lord of Oḍḍiyāna, crowning ornament of the teachings and beings in this Land of Snows,
With unwavering devotion, and respectful body, speech and mind, I bow before you and offer you the crown of my head!
Now, the topic of discussion is as follows: it is by making illusory offerings through illusory practice that we can complete the gathering of illusory accumulations. Through this cause—namely the accumulation of merit—we can gain the result, which is the perfection of wisdom. Four such methods which involve very little difficulty and yet are exceptionally meaningful and beneficial are the offerings of sang, water tormas, sur and one’s own body. The individual who practises these regularly and diligently will gather the accumulations, purify the obscurations, and, in particular, will pacify any obstacles and factors that prevent the accomplishment of the Dharma and awakening in the present lifetime, becoming free of them like the sun emerging from the clouds. Since they also support our progress along the path leading to the supreme attainment of Dzogpachenpo, it makes sense for us to put our energy into practising them.
Firstly, let us consider the practice of sang. The offerings for the sang should be ‘of noble origin, fine substance and beautifully arranged’. This means that they should be untainted by wrong livelihood and stinginess. The five styles of wrong livelihood and stinginess in particular are causes for rebirth as a hungry ghost. If we are as stingy with the offering substances as we would be in cutting off pieces of our own flesh then that will not result in our gathering the accumulations, so we should thoroughly avoid it. ‘Fine substances’ means that we should offer the first portion or the very best parts of the things we consume ourselves, not the things we would never touch because they have turned bad or rotten, or are too bitter, or are just the final dregs. That would not do at all. The buddhas do not have any dualistic concepts of good and bad, or clean and dirty, but everything must be clean and hygienic, as in the saying, “Since it is to gather the accumulations, it should be clean and then made even cleaner.” The crucial point is that the offering substances should be extremely clean and then made pure.
‘Beautifully arranged’ means that it is important the sang burner and so on, as well as the place where the offerings are arranged, be neatly put together and uniform. They should not be crooked or messy simply because we are keen not to over-exert ourselves and therefore disregard whatever instructions we have heard.
Furthermore, no matter what we are doing, we must co-ordinate the actions of our body, speech and mind, or we will never accomplish much of any value. If we are content simply to recite the words of the practice without any thought of what we are doing, as if our heads were wooden masks with paper tongues fluttering inside them, we will only tire ourselves out to very little effect. In fact, there is no practice at all which is to be done only by recitation without the need for visualization. Here too, the practice is based on generation-stage (kyerim) and visualization.
In brief, we begin by reciting the verses of refuge and bodhicitta, taking refuge in the Three Jewels with stable faith and trust, and generating the bodhicitta of aspiration, which is the motivation of wishing that all sentient beings, ourselves and all others, attain perfect awakening. If these two are not done as a preliminary, the practice will be like shooting an arrow without first focusing on the target, and so we must begin with refuge and bodhicitta. Then, unless we visualize ourselves in the form of the yidam deity, whichever one it might be, we will not be able to bless the offering substances, so we must visualize ourselves as the yidam. From the syllable HŪṂ in our heart appears a dark red syllable RAṂ which burns the substances of the sang offering. From the syllable YAṂ comes wind which scatters them, and from KHAṂ comes water which cleanses them. With this, they are purified within the emptiness of the absolute space of great primordial purity, the dharmadhātu beyond any conceptualization.
Then, once again visualizing ourselves as the yidam deity, from our heart emanates a white OṂ ornamented with circles (tiklé) of light to become the precious vessel, deep and vast in size, spreading out to fill the whole universe. Inside, white OṂ syllables, representing the essence of the enlightened body of all the buddhas, red ĀḤ syllables, the essence of their enlightened speech, and dark blue HŪṂ syllables, the essence of their enlightened mind, rain down from the absolute sphere. Having been blessed, the sang offerings, which in essence are emptiness and the immaculate wisdom nectar which liberates upon taste, take on different forms in the perception of the various guests. They appear as forms to stimulate the sense of vision, sounds to stimulate the sense of hearing, fragrances to stimulate the sense of smell, flavours to stimulate the sense of taste and tactile sensations to stimulate the sense of touch, as well as all kinds of other riches and enjoyments, all of them complete, with nothing whatsoever lacking—a vast treasure that is inexhaustible, just like the offering clouds of the noble bodhisattva Samantabhadra. Through the mantra and the mudrā of the ‘treasury of space’ they are increased and multiplied. Then from the HŪṂ syllable at our heart—the heart of the yidam deity—come boundless rays of light, and, we consider that the Three Jewels, who are the guests invited out of respect, the protectors who are the guests invited on account of their qualities, the beings of the six classes who are the guests invited out of compassion, and the obstacle-making guests to whom we owe karmic debt all manifest in physical forms out of the absolute space of the dharmadhātu, like bubbles suddenly appearing in water or lightning flashing in the sky. At the same time as we recite the lines for inviting the guests, we consider that they appear there before us in a single instant, directly perceptible to our own senses, and we request that they take their places.
The Four Types of Guest
The rare and supreme ones, the ‘Jewels’, who are the guests invited out of respect, consist of the dharmakaya, sambhogakāya and nirmāṇakāya buddhas, as well as the Dharma and the saṅgha, and all the gurus, yidam deities, ḍākinīs and so on. They all appear vividly like clusters of stars in the sky above.
The protectors, who are the guests invited on account of their qualities, are the eight mahādevas, the eight great nāgas, the eight great rāhus, the four great kings, the nine great terrifying ones, the ten guardians of the directions, the twenty-eight constellations, and the seventy-five glorious protectors of pure abodes, together with their retinues, their attendants, attendants’ attendants, and families, and all positive forces, local deities and guardians. All of them gather like billowing clouds in the sky.
The six classes of beings, who are the guests invited out of compassion, consist of the gods, human beings, demi-gods, animals, pretas, hell-beings and so on, all gathered together like a dense mist in the air.
Obstructing forces, who are the guests to whom we owe karmic debts, include all karmic creditors, such as the 80,000 types of obstructing forces, headed by Vināyaka, king of obstacle makers, as well as the fifteen great döns who strike children, and Hārītī with her five hundred children. All of them are assembled on the ground, as if a huge crowd of men and gods were gathered there.
Visualization for the Offering
Imagine that the deities to whom we offer all receive the substances of the sang in the form of rays of light, like sunbeams striking water, imbibing them with the hollow vajras of their tongues. Alternatively, you could consider that offering goddesses, as numerous as specks of dust in a sunbeam, emanate from the offering smoke, each of them holding a vase of purifying nectar in their right hands, and a container filled with medicine in their left, and that they spread the sweet-smelling smoke throughout the entire world. From the tips of the smoke, emanate inconceivably vast ocean-like clouds of offerings, consisting of the eight auspicious symbols, seven emblems of royalty and so on.
Benefits of the Offering
By offering to the rare and precious ones, the guests invited out of respect, all sentient beings, including ourselves, complete the gathering of the two accumulations, purify the two kinds of obscuration, and attain the two kinds of siddhi during this very lifetime.
By offering to the protectors, the guests invited on account of their qualities, their minds become intoxicated by the taste of bliss and emptiness, and they help us to pacify all illness, destructive influences, adversity and obstacles, and to bring about every kind of virtuous and positive circumstance and favourable condition, effortlessly and spontaneously, just as we desire, and to accomplish whatever activity we choose.
By offering to the six classes of beings, the guests invited out of compassion, they are freed from their karmic vision, their sufferings and the habitual tendencies of their respective realms. In the short term, they come to possess all the riches and enjoyments of the gods of Mastery over Others’ Emanations. Ultimately, they become buddhas, awakening spontaneously in the realm of the great, naturally appearing ultimate Akaniṣṭha.
By offering to the obstructing forces, the guests to whom we owe karmic debt, all the debts that we and all other beings have accumulated throughout our infinite lives without beginning, even during our current lifetime in our present bodies, are repaid. These include debts that shorten our lives because we have killed; debts that plague us with illness because we have attacked and beaten others; debts that make us poor because we have stolen; debts to overlords and underlings; and debts from accidentally killing men and horses. Our debts are repaid; we are freed from our karmic obligations, and delivered from the deadly vengeance of the karmic creditors. They are freed from their karmic vision and all their suffering, and, in particular, they are freed from their malicious intentions and tendencies to harm others, and they gain loving kindness, compassion and precious bodhicitta.
It is extremely important that we seal the practice in this way, bringing to mind the visualization as we recite the words of the text.
Visualization for the Dissolution
As we recite the text for the dissolution, we consider that the one who makes the offering, the offering substances and the recipients of the offering, are all absorbed into the infinite expanse of great primordial purity and timeless freedom, the dharmadhātu in which there is no conceptualization and which is beyond the limitations of ideas. Then, to conclude, we dedicate the sources of our merit towards perfect enlightenment and recite appropriate verses of auspiciousness.
Since the visualizations for the practices of offering water tormas, sur and offering the body are almost identical, they can be understood by applying reasoning.
Although I am not sure of this meaning in my own mind,
I have remained true to the oral lineage of masters who are beyond compare,
Without displaying any scholarly pride or introducing ideas of my own.
Thus, in response to repeated requests from my Dharma friend,
I have composed this brief guide to the visualization for the practice of sang.
If I have made any errors, I confess them now before the hosts of wisdom deities.
Through this merit, for myself and others—all who see this—
May all obstacles to our accomplishing enlightenment be thoroughly pacified,
And may all our wishes that accord with the Dharma be fulfilled without any hindrance,
And may all be auspicious so that we accomplish our own and others’ well-being, just as we desire!
When the monk Acho, who has made meaningful the freedoms and advantages, and has visited several times all the great sacred places throughout Jambudvīpa, requested this again and again, saying that he needed a brief guide to the visualization for the practice of sang, I, the beggar of Dome called Ten, wrote this in an isolated hermitage on the slopes of Dorje Drak.
Virtue! Virtue! Virtue!
| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2006. Many thanks to Tulku Thondup Rinpoche for his gracious clarifications.
An offering made with water, milk and grains. ↩
_Sur_ means burnt offering: “An offering made by burning food on coals. It is offered to the buddhas, the protectors, all beings in general and in particular to wandering spirits and those towards whom we have karmic debts.” Words of My Perfect Teacher, p. 405. ↩
Five styles of wrong livelihood: 1) hypocrisy; 2) flattery; 3) soliciting; 4) expropriating; and 5) calculated generosity. ↩
The highest of the six god realms within the Desire Realm. ↩
“Literally, debts of pulling down the castles of the high (upper classes) and taking land from the poor.” Tulku Thondup. ↩