The Five External Daily Offerings

Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche, Abbott of Triten Norbutse Monastery, offering a khata to an altar containing the five daily offerings. Photo credit: Unknown

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, there are Five External Daily Offerings that are placed upon the main altar.  These five offerings are butter lamps, pure water, food, incense and flowers.  Each morning, traditionally at dawn, these items are placed on the altar as offerings to the higher beings.  All of them must be clean and pleasing in their presentation. In general, the altar will have three, four, or five levels.  These five offerings are placed on the lower levels with the incense placed below and the flowers to the side. The offerings are placed according to height.  In front are the water offering bowls, behind are the butter lamps, and behind them are the taller food offering torma and the standing incense.  Sometimes, the butter lamps are placed between each of the water bowls.

If one is unable to offer the substantial form of these offerings, one can instead offer the mantra and mudra representative of each of them.  Or, if one is unable to offer the complete seven butter lamps or seven bowls of pure water, one can offer fewer according to the circumstances.  However, limitation of the offerings should not be determined because of feelings of greed.  By offering with feelings of open generosity and devotion, the practitioner generates merit and engages in the practice of virtue.  More specifically, each individual offering has its own benefits related to each of the five realms of rebirth within cyclic existence. (The god realm is not included here.)

Yungdrung Bon altar with yellow, ornamented food offering torma. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Butter Lamp Offering: In Tibetan, mar mé.   The essence of this offering is the offering of light. Therefore, although the traditional offering is seven butter lamps, one can also offer seven candles.  The butter lamps or candles are placed in a straight line and centered nicely upon the altar.  The butter lamps or candles are lit from left to right.  In the evening if they need to be extinguished, they are put out from right to left.  The specific benefit of offering butter lamps is the elimination of the suffering of the hot and cold hells.  The light offering helps to dispel the darkness of ignorance.  The mantra for the butter lamp offering is: OM NE TENG CHO CHO LAM LAM YÉ SOHA.

Butter lamp mudra. This represents the flame.

Incense: In Tibetan, .  The best incense is made from the three hundred sixty medicinal ingredients. Incense can be offered in two ways: 1) sticks of incense placed standing and elegantly crossed in small bowls of clean rice, and 2) burning incense placed below the altar so that the smoke rises up and passes over it.  The benefit of offering incense is to eliminate the suffering of the hungry ghost realm which is primarily hunger and thirst.  Offering incense helps to eliminate the affliction of desire.  The mantra for the incense offering is: OM ZHIM ZHIM DRAM DRAM BUN NÉ TIM TIM YÉ SOHA.

Incense mudra. This represents two crossed sticks of incense.

Water: In Tibetan, yon chap.  The water that is offered must be clean.  Traditionally, it is offered in seven bowls that are made of precious metal and ornamented with auspicious symbols.  At the least, the bowls should be of good quality, clean and without cracks or defects of any kind.  The bowls are placed in a straight line and centered nicely upon the altar.  The bowls should not touch but not be too far apart.  According to the scriptures, they should be separated by the space measured as the width of a grain of rice.  In the morning, the bowls are filled from left to right. The water is filled near to the top of the bowl but not so full that it spills or overflows.  In the evening, the bowls are emptied from right to left and the water is offered to a clean place outside.  Ideally, the bowls are wiped and leaned upside down one upon the other.  An empty water bowl is never left right side up.  The water offering helps to dispel the suffering of the animal realm which is ignorance as well as being enslaved to work for others.  The mantra for the water offering is: OM SHUDO SHUDO KU SHUDO YA SA LÉ SANG NGÉ YÉ SOHA.

Water offering mudra. This represents two water bowls.

Food Offering: In Tibetan, zhal zé.  Traditionally, this is represented with seven food offering tormas. These torma are made of clean, roasted barley flour, called tsampa.  The size of the torma is determined by the size of the altar, but should not be too small.  Because these are a peaceful type of torma, the base is round and they are painted yellow with butter or food coloring.  They are ornamented with colorful butter sculptures resembling flowers.  If the practitioner has not been taught to make these torma, food items such as special cookies, cake, sweets or fruit are examples of what can be offered instead.  When offering food, the very first portion or piece is considered the best and it is this that is offered to the higher beings.  The offering of food is related to the human realm and helps to eliminate the suffering of being destitute.  The mantra for the food offering is: OM YA YEN RANG ZHI YÉ SOHA.

Food offering mudra. This represents the food offering torma.

Flowers: In Tibetan, metok.  Flowers are placed to the sides of the altar.  Flowers that are either from poisonous plants or that have thorns should not be offered.  The flower offering is related to the demi-god realm and helps to eliminate the suffering of war and conflict.  The mantra for the flower offering is: OM NE RA DE DE CHO CHO YÉ SOHA.

Flower mudra. This represents the open petals of a flower.

Five External Offerings as torma: In other contexts such as offering to yidam deities, the five offerings can be represented as torma made from tsampa.  Although each of the five offerings are individually represented, they are always placed together and offered as a single torma.  Because this is a peaceful offering, the base of each is round, they are yellow in color and ornamented with butter.  The placement is as follows: Center is the flower torma, East (front) is the butter lamp torma, North is the incense torma, West is the water torma, and South is food torma.

The Five External Offerings represented as torma.

Copyright Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

Posted on January 14, 2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Matri Greetings

    Many thanks for posting this article on the Five External Offeeings.
    How many mantra recitatations should be made when making each of the offerings?

    Will Bryden

  2. Hello Will,

    One mantra recitation with each mudra or when placing the actual substance such as lighting the candles/butter lamps, when filliing the water bowls etc.

    All the best,

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