(Ritual Sang, or fumigation offering. Photo by Chamma Ling Colorado)
The second of the Nine Ways of Bön is called The Way of the Shen of the Phenomenal World and includes rituals dealing with communication with external forces through rituals of protection, invocation, ransom of the soul and life-force, and repelling negative or harmful energies. It is called ‘Phenomenal’ because it deals with phenomena that are visible and existing. As in all of the Nine Ways, the base is compassion. The intent is to alleviate the suffering of human beings during this lifetime. In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, a great deal of attention is paid to forces and spirits which normally remain unseen. However, their invisibility to us does not diminish their awareness of us and the impact of our relationship with one another. Without awareness and knowledge, it is possible to cause these spirits offense and even harm during the course of our ordinary, mundane activities. Ritual is a method of properly communicating with and restoring harmony with these forces and spirits so that they do not send suffering or disease our way.
The texts goes into great detail about the various kinds of spirits and the specific kinds of harm and illness that they can cause. After that, the appropriate ritual is given that will return harmony to the relationship with the spirit and therefore remove the cause of suffering. When we experience obstacles or illness that do not respond to ordinary solutions, it is possible that there is this kind of external force which is the source of the problem. These are only brief descriptions of the numerous rituals, each with their own particular preparation and activity, in order to give an idea of the kinds of rituals that are available. In general, there are four categories of rituals in this Way: rituals for exorcism, rituals for the dré and si, rituals for ransoming the soul, and rituals of the masters.
Rituals of Exorcism: Exorcism is a strong word but it effectively conveys the correct meaning that these rituals have the immediate effect of reversing the direction of whatever harmful energy is directed at us. In some instances, it might be more accurate to say cleansing, since what is being done is the removal of the ‘pollution’ caused by negative actions and circumstances. Because humanity engages in activities which are impure, they create a basis for negativity. This leads to a disturbance of both the powerful but worldly, positive forces as well as lower kinds of spirits who become harmed and seek revenge. In general, there are twelve different kinds of exorcism. One of the commonly practiced rituals within this Second Way is the Sang, also called Lha Sang. This ritual uses fumigation with smoke to cleanse the impurities caused by humanity. This ritual is commonly performed in the early morning on hilltops on auspicious days. From the practice of sang for local spirits and guardians:
“Having satisfied you with these offerings, do not send contagious illnesses, shortages of food, fighting or arguments, frost or hail to our crops, lightning or loss of property, human illness or illness to our animals. Act as a friend and give us the strength and power of your support.”
Rituals for the Dré and Si: The dré and si are two different classes of negative spirits who delight in causing harm. It is said that these negative spirits came into being at the first moment of phenomenal existence and that they reside at the center of the Earth. Among other things, they have the power to cause sudden harm, create wars between nations and spread epidemics. These rituals are primarily concerned with offering gifts of appeasement and methods of subduing them.
Rituals of Ransom: Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwo defined ‘ransom’ as the exchange of two things. In these rituals, elaborate offerings are given to the offending spirits as a ransom for the soul, life-span and/or vital life-force of an individual who has had them taken. There are many kinds of ransom rituals but in general they fall into one of three categories: ransoms for men, ransoms for women, and ransoms for children. The ritual preparation, offerings and performance are quite specific and elaborate.
(During the ransom ritual, the effigy of a deer holding a long-life arrow is most often used to represent the soul of the patient.)
Rituals of the Masters:In general, these rituals are of four types: making offerings to the powerful, worldly gods, offering to the powerful spirits who live in the atmosphere, offering to the guardians, and pacifying the spirits of the land, trees, water and rocks. These rituals specify the appropriate offerings for each class of spirit and the exact method for giving the offering. In this way, a harmonious relationship with these spirits is maintained and suffering and obstacles are averted or resolved.