A sa tsa is a small replica of a chorten (Sanskrit: stupa) or enlightened being that is made out of clay with a sa tsa mold. This mold both shapes and imprints the clay. Within the sutra tradition, making sa tsa can be one of the daily practices of generosity and is considered a method of accumulating merit. The practice of making sa tsa was described by Buddha Tönpa Shenrap among the virtuous practices of lay practitioners, or genyen.
“If someone wants to earnestly give up negative and non-virtuous behavior and take up the activities of the ten virtues, or is a follower of The Way of the Genyen, or if they want to learn the virtuous practices of the Shen, the offering of sa tsa has three sections. These are the preliminary practice of creating the enlightened image, the main practice of ritually consecrating the image with blessings, and the final practice of sealing the object-less roots of virtue and aspiration by dedicating.”
— From The Ritual of Sa Tsa from The Way of the Genyen within the Zi Ji by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen
There are detailed instructions for creating sa tsa which include specific mantras and visualizations to use while searching for and collecting the clay, cleaning the clay, kneading the clay, shaping the clay, blessing the clay etc. In general however, one begins by requesting the blessings of the lama, taking refuge and generating the mind of enlightenment. Then, the clay is ritually purified with water and incense. The sa tsa mold is prepared by lightly coating the inside with butter or oil. The clay is kneaded and molded into shape, and firmly pressed into the mold. From the bottom-center, a small portion of clay is removed in order to create a cavity. Within this space is placed mantras of enlightened body, speech, mind, quality and activity; as well as a powdered mixture of the five precious things: gold, silver, turquoise, coral and crystal; blessed herbal medicine known as mendrup, the six excellent substances, and the five grains. Clay is then used to close this space and seal these substances within each of the sa tsa.
Once the clay has dried, the sa tsa are painted silver or gold and then consecrated. Traditionally, the sa tsa are then placed within a chorten or a tsa khang, a sa tsa house, that will protect the sa tsa from the elements. These tsa khang can be located anywhere but are often found at sacred places and are located so as to make circumambulation of the structure possible. In the absence of a tsa khang, sa tsa are also placed in caves at the top of mountains or at pilgrimage places.
Cremation sa tsa can be made to benefit a being that has died by adding a small amount of the cremation ash to the substances placed within the sa tsa. By establishing this connection between the deceased and an enlightened image, it supports circumstances for a positive rebirth. In the case of the passing of a realized spiritual master, cremation sa tsa can be made which then act as sacred relics and objects of devotion for the disciples.
“According to the Teacher’s words, if the followers of The Way of the Genyen or any other members of the Bön community practice this with faith, having created and consecrated even a single [sa tsa] in an enlightened form, the virtue cannot be exhausted even with the passing of many thousands of eons. It is not possible to measure or count the positive qualities.
Because of that, one should have faith and train in this profound virtuous practice of the shen. One should properly increase the roots of virtue in this way. From this precious cause of liberation for sentient beings, completely pure and perfect buddhahood can be attained. Hold this firmly in your mind!”
—— From The Ritual of Sa Tsa from The Way of the Genyen within the Zi Ji by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen
All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.
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