The one and only time that the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché visited the land of Tibet, he taught the use of torma. Before being introduced to the practice of Yungdrung Bön, Tibetans were sacrificing living creatures as a way to please the powerful spirits of the planets, stars, earth, water and sky. Lord Shenrap taught them that the basis of all his teachings was compassion and that harming and killing other beings was against his teachings. He then offered the Tibetans an alternative method for propitiating the spirits through the offering of torma.
The Tibetan word ‘torma’ (Wylie: gtor ma) has as its root the word ‘tor’ which literally means ‘to throw’ or ‘to toss’. Therefore, in its most literal meaning, a torma is something that is ‘thrown or tossed out’. There are many kinds of torma. However, this article will focus upon torma that are made of tsampa, or roasted barley flour, and offered outside.
In general, there are four kinds of recipients for offering torma. These four are known as the Four Guests: 1) the Guests of Reverence who are the enlightened beings, 2) the Guests of Exalted Qualities who are both the enlightened and the unenlightened but powerful, oath-bound protectors, 3) the Guests of Karmic Debts who are the Eight Classes of Gods and Demons, and 4) the Guests of Compassion or Charity who are the beings of the six realms (excluding the gods). Depending upon the specific ritual being performed, sometimes the same kind of torma is offered to all of the four guests but sometimes different torma are specified for the different guests.
When making torma, all items including the hands must be clean. Ideally, the mouth is covered so as to prevent any contamination. The needed amount of tsampa is placed into an undamaged bowl and a small amount of the powdered six excellent ingredients and five precious things is added. Then, the warrior seed syllables of AH OM HUNG RAM and DZA are drawn in the tsampa either all at once in each of their associated direction, or one after another. Clean water is added to the tsampa until the proper consistency is reached. Then, the mixture is formed into the appropriate shape for the torma being made. Although there are slight variations of size and ornamentation between the torma of the monastic and the tantric traditions as well as between geographic regions, the essential shape and color of the torma is prescribed in the texts and must be made accordingly. In general, peaceful torma have a round base and are yellow or white in color, and wrathful torma have a triangular base or ‘base of three corners’ and are painted red. Most torma offerings terminate in a point at the top which should be ‘as sharp as wisdom’. Traditionally, butter was used to paint peaceful torma and muk tsi root(Tib. smug rtsi), was used to create a purplish-red dye that was used to paint the wrathful torma. Now, yellow and red food coloring are often used for this purpose. Once painted, the torma are ornamented with butter that has been molded to resemble the shape of flowers and flaming jewels.
During the process of making torma, the practitioner does not eat or drink, or engage in any kind of non-virtuous talk or thoughts. Reciting mantras and maintaining either thoughts of virtue or higher meditative states is best. Once complete, the torma are placed upon the altar and ritually cleansed with the sprinkling of pure water and the smoke of pure incense. During the ritual liturgy, the torma are placed upon a small plate and offered outside according to their particular specification.
By offering to the Guests of Reverence, we generate merit and develop our quality of generosity. By offering to the Protectors, we activate their oath bound activity and they intercede on our behalf. By offering to the Eight Classes of Beings, we repay our karmic debts that have accumulated through countless lifetimes of actions motivated by the five poisons. By offering to the Guests of Compassion within the six realms, we develop our quality of compassion and offer them needed support.
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