Sang Practice – Basic Principles


Lerab Ling, 17 August 1997

Sang Practice – Basic Principles

Lerab Ling, 17 August 1997

As was a custom in Lerab Ling, everyone would gather on the highest hill and offer sang. It was a glorious summer morning, and Rinpoche used the opportunity to present the main principles of sang to help Western practitioners connect with this Tibetan practice, before explaining about “wind horse”, or lungta.

“You need to teach on sang”, I was told this morning.

Sang Practice—Background

In Tibet, the practice of sang predates the arrival of the Buddhist teachings. When Guru Rinpoche came to Tibet, he conducted the earth-taming practice to prepare the ground for the construction of the temple at Samyé. On that occasion, he adapted the native sang and ‘ngen’[1]On another occasion Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche explained that ngen means ‘gift’. Whereas sang and serkyem are offered universally, in ngen practice a gift is offered individually, usually to a worldly protector such as Nyenchen Tanglha, Magyal Pomra, etc. practices – which are slightly different practices – and serkyem offering, to make them part of the Buddhist path.

People, as well as the gods and spirits of Tibet had been used to these practices. So Guru Rinpoche kept some of these rites. By and large, they did not need to be changed and Guru Rinpoche blessed them, and just adapted some aspects to make them Buddhist practices. In this way Guru Rinpoche was able to ensure enormous benefit both for the people and for the non-human gods and spirits of that region.

In terms of the changes, it seems that in the pre-Buddhist tradition of sang offerings in Tibet, there were actually occasions when animals would be sacrificed in the fire. Guru Rinpoche resorted to skilful means to modify these practices: instead of sacrificing animals he established instead the tradition of making dough moulds of various kinds. He also introduced the use of deity, mantra, mudra and samadhi to bless the offerings, so that local deities and spirits actually receive an offering.

Also, he instructed how to bless the specific substances which are offered into the fire in a sang ceremony—different kinds of grains, small pieces of fine silk, various powdered gems and so forth. They are blessed as the 'wealth of the space treasury'; in other words they are transformed into an inexhaustible source of benefit and fulfilment of all one's goals from now until the end of the kalpa.

The Power of Deity, Mantra, Mudra and Samadhi

In general, the practices of Secret Mantra Vajrayana involve deity, mantra, mudra and samadhi, whose qualities are inconceivable. It may be useful to tell you two short stories to help you understand their power.

There was a very famous physician in Tibet, called Yutok Yonten Gonpo. He was a very effective doctor who was extremely good at curing human beings, and who would also treat local deities and spirits. One day he was invited to the palace of Nyenchen Tanglha, one of Tibet’s main local deities, to cure his son who had become ill. On that occasion, Nyenchen Tanglha showed the doctor all the treasures in his palace. He kept in one chamber a very special treasure that came from the ‘wealth of the treasury of space’. Nyenchen Tangla explained to Yutok Yonten Gonpo: "It was blessed by Guru Rinpoche who gave it to me. I never show it to anyone, but I will make an exception for you.” The doctor saw a small, old torma (that looks like our sang tormas). Nyenchen Tanglha said, "This is the one that Guru Rinpoche gave me. It’s from the inexhaustible wealth of the treasury of space that readily gives you anything you wish for.” Such was Guru Rinpoche’s mastery of deity, mantra, mudra and samadhi.

On one occasion, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé went by the Sutrim Lake in the Dergé region. They pitched a tent, and offered a sang there. A longish nugget of gold was on the table in front of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. At one point, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo handed the nugget to Jamgön Kongtrül, saying he received it from Lake Sutrim’s deity.

Jamgön Kongtrül rubbed the gold nugget for quite a while and said,
—There still might be some very powerful mantra practitioners left. For instance, I can dissolve this lump of gold.
—Go ahead, dissolve it then, Jamyang Khyentse replied.

Jamgön Kongtrül Rinpoche said a few mantras as he rubbed the nugget in his hands, and it transformed slowly from the top into a wooden stick, like the kind of sticks that are offered into the fire during a sang offering.

Blessing is only possible when a genuine mantra practitioner has gained complete mastery over deity, mantra, and samadhi. If the person who tries to dissolve the lump of gold does not have this kind of realization, no dissolution will happen even after resting in samadhi and directing the practice.

Sang Practice

Sang Offering Requires Four Types of Guests

You must invite and make offerings to the “four types of guests” in a sang offering. Actually, the offerings of sang, torma, chöd or sur all require these four kinds of guests.

The guests of the first type are called ‘the Three Jewels invited out of respect’ – all the enlightened beings who are beyond the world of ordinary individuals, such as the Three Jewels, lama, yidams and dakinis, or dharma protectors.

Guests of the second type are the ‘protectors invited for their qualities’. They are the male, female and neuter protectors. These are wisdom beings who manifest in the form of worldly beings to protect the Vajrayana teachings.

It is said that it is also appropriate to make offerings of sang to a third type of guests, the ‘guests with whom we have karmic debts’. They are those who constitute hindrances and obstacles, such as the eighteen great döns – the gyalgön male döns, and the dremo female döns. They arise from the delusion and the grasping at the appearances, which are the natural self-manifestation of rigpa, as real. They are all included in the eight classes of gods and demons.

The fourth type of guests corresponds to ‘the beings of the six classes invited out of compassion’: the beings in the six states of samsaric existence, and especially the bardo beings who have abandoned the body of their former life and not yet found the one of the next and wander in the bardo regions, suffering from desire, aversion, and ignorance.

The Way to Present the Offerings

How is the offering made? When you practise sang, you must think that you are a yidam deity, such as Noble Avalokiteshvara or Guru Rinpoche. Meditate on the fire in front of you, into which you make the offering of sang, as the female deity Pandaravasini in nature. You meditate that from the heart centre of you as the deity emanate the syllables ram, yam and kham, which are the syllables of fire, wind and water respectively. Ram produces fire that completely burns away all impurities; yam blows wind that scatters them; and the water that comes from kham completely cleanses them away. Then, the smoke of the fire, and the fire itself, are now in nature clouds of outer, inner and secret offerings, multiplied billions of times over until they fill the whole of space, fulfilling every wish of the deities. This is, in short, the way to offer sang.

The guests of the sang – the four types of guest we have just explained – are invited to the sang. They arrive instantly. The sang offering is offered to them on the spot, and immediately, they are requested to depart.

The Benefits of Sang Practice

By offering to the first kind of guests – ‘the Three Jewels invited out of respect’ – you ensure that you and all beings in number as vast as space are brought under the protection of these sources of refuge and receive their blessings, and gain spiritual attainment.

By making offerings to the second kind of guests – the protectors invited because of their qualities –, any obstacles or hindrances to the practice of the holy dharma will be overcome, and ordinary and extraordinary spiritual attainments achieved, as they accomplish their activities to benefit sentient beings.

By offering the sang to the third kind of guests – hindrances and negativity, invited because of our karmic debts –, the precious mind of enlightenment arises in every one of them, they abandon their violent ways and harmful activities directed at any being, and instead turn their minds to the path of dharma and towards liberation.

By making offerings to the fourth kind of guests – the beings of the six classes invited out of compassion –, their karmic debts accumulated in the three realms from time without beginning are purified, suffering of attachment, aversion and ignorance are pacified, and they make aspiration prayers to follow the path of happiness to higher states of rebirth.

That concludes the short presentation of sang practices in general.

Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Ane Tsondru

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