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Comment on Fire Offering

By Tulku Karzang,
Translated by Eric Forgeng and edited by Mary Pat Thompson

All sentient beings are dependent on the four elements, Earth, Fire, Water and Wind. In
my tradition, there are many, many rituals for each of these elements that are designed
to work with each of their energies and develop higher spiritual states. For example,
prayer flags are for the Wind, Tsa-tsas are for the Earth, for Water we make water
offerings to the Buddhas and to those who are beings in the lower realms. For Fire, we
have different kinds of fire ceremonies and rituals, such as peaceful, wrathful,
magnetizing and increasing etc.
We have performed certain fire and smoke offering ceremonies frequently yet I never
really had the opportunity to give more background about them. Now I would like to
start a process of the sangha to gradually get to know more and more about this. It’s, of
course, very good to understand what you’re doing when you’re participating in one of
these ceremonies, and it really deepens the level of experience that you have from it, so
that’s why I am doing this.

There are several kinds of fire offering ceremonies that we do occasionally. For
example, there is a Sang, which is a purifying offering done at especial occasions such
as New Year or the beginning of new projects, travel, etc. to bring good luck and to
refresh energy. Also there is an offering called a Sur, which is a burned offering, to pay
off the debts of previous lifetimes, and to overcome obstacles and especially to be done
for 49 days for those who have passed away. Then there is a fire ritual called Jin Sek,
which is also literally a burned offering. The meaning of all these is basically the same
as the Tsok [blessed food offering]. They’re like a Tsok, but the guests are somewhat
different. Essentially you’re dealing with the four kinds of activity: pacifying,
magnetizing, enriching and destroying. There are slightly different ways of doing fire
offering for each of these activities involving such things as different substances and the
preparation of the fire itself. The guests whom you are inviting are also somewhat
different for each of these four activities.
There are four main kinds of guests. There’s a slight difference between these various
burned offerings depending on who is invited, so it’s good to know about these four
different kinds of guests. The first kind is the Enlightened Guests who are the Supreme
Ones in all of Existence. The second kind is the Protectors, who are the Guests
Possessing Enlightened Qualities. The third kind are the six kinds of beings who are
the Guests of Compassion. And the fourth kind are the karmic debtors and the obstacle
makers who are "waiting for an answer" or payback from your offenses toward them in
this life or previous lives . So there are two higher guests and two lower guests. The
upper two kinds are the guests that you’re offering "up" to in devotion, and the lower
guests are ones that you’re giving "down" to out of compassion. That’s something really
important to know. In each of the fire offerings all of these four kinds of guests are
invited but in the differing rituals the main focus is only one of these types of guest.

For example, the Sur, which is a burned offering, is concerned with the lower guests.
These are your karmic debtors who are waiting for an answer, who are your harmful
enemies, and also the six kinds of beings who are the Guests of Compassion.

Then for the Jin Sek [burned] and the Sang [purifying smoke] offerings, there are
offerings upward to the higher guests. These are the Rare and Supreme Guests who
are the Supreme Ones in all of Existence (in particular the Three Jewels and Three
Roots), and also the Protectors who are the Guests with Enlightened Qualities. These
are essentially the Wisdom Deities, the Awareness Deities, whom we are offering up to
Also we visualize the fire itself as the mandala of all the supreme beings.
So to the higher guests you’re offering up in devotion and reverence and to the lower
guests, you’re giving down in compassion.

The Jin Sek or burned offerings also include offerings to the Gods of the Elements – to
the divine aspects of the elements, like Agni, the God of Fire, for example. You perform
a Jin Sek when you come out of retreat after having accomplished a particular Yidam
practice, for example.

The substances that you’re offering in each of these practices are somewhat different.
With the Sang offering, you’re burning wood, like cedar and juniper. These substances
are Lha Sang, divine woods, which are cedar and juniper, medicinal woods, non-
poisonous woods, incense, and so on.
Generally we talk about there being different rituals for the four activities – for the
peaceful, wrathful, magnetizing, enriching and so on. But when we’re doing a Sang, a
smoke offering, the effect depends on your own motivation. You just do the ritual and
it’s your own motivation that will accomplish whatever activity you are trying to do. So if
you have a positive motivation to benefit other beings in various different ways, such as
overpowering the three worlds, pacifying obstructers, increasing the Dharma, pacifying
illness, that sort of thing, then that is what is accomplished with that ritual. There are
also different rituals for different activities, especially with the Jin Sek practice.

So put very simply, the word “Sang” means "to purify," and it’s to make pure what’s
impure, to clean what’s dirty. So any impurities, negativity, bad thoughts, or evil of
whatever kind, is made clean and pure and fulfilled through this ritual. Both outer and
inner are purified.
Especially, there is also a Wind Horse for the Sang offering. It is a piece of paper that
has the dragon, the tiger, the eagle, and the garuda [sort of a celestial hawk] on it, with
the Wind Horse in the middle. It’s called the Lung Ta, the Wind Horse. It has the
mantra of dependent origination written on it. The Wind Horse can be on paper of five
different colours. These are white, yellow, red, green and blue. The first four colours
are for the four activities. The blue paper is all activities together. These are particularly
powerful substances to be burned, to make Sang offerings with. They purify all these
different levels of obstacles. So essentially it makes whatever wishes you have in your
heart, wishes that you’re trying to accomplish with this ceremony, actually follow the
path. It puts whatever you’re doing onto the path of the Dharma in that way.
The Sur is the offering to the lower guests. It’s for subduing obstacles and getting
obstructers to cooperate with you. One burns tsampa [roasted barley flour], sugar,
cookies, and adds a tea offering as well. For the Sur, a main offering are what’s known
as the Three Whites, which are milk, yogurt, butter, and the Three Sweets, which are
honey, molasses and rock sugar etc. In the Sur offering we are developing
inconceivable compassion towards those who are harmful and lower beings and those
who are wandering in space. Dedicate this offering with your compassionate mind and
they will be able to feel some satisfaction and relieve their suffering and anxiety. We
tremendously generate merit and wisdom in ourselves through this activity and may
also be able to overcome hope and fear and all the attachments and distractions. We
will then recognize the state of the profound luminosity of Dharmata. By practicing the
Sur offering we are accomplishing the two benefits, for self and others. As a practitioner
dedicated to this tradition, it is important to perform Sur offerings occasionally.

For the Jin Sek, mustard seed, sesame seeds, and butter or oil are used along with
non-poisonous wood or whatever is required in the actual puja.

You should understand the central concept of Tendrel, which means an auspicious
dependent connection. If people are ill, or have mental problems, or are unstable in one
way or another or are having various kinds of difficulties, being present during a Sang
offering is very beneficial. Having them inhale the smoke and be in the presence of the
smoke during the ceremony purifies them and clears up all of their problems. It’s a very
powerful way of positively affecting people who are ill.
Also for the environment – all of your neighbors, all of the local deities, who live in the
earth and the water and the fire and in the environment around you – Nagas, Sapdak
[Landlords, spirit guardians of the local area], Sheepdak [Earth Lords, similar to Sapdak]
and so on, they also like it clean, and so this kind of purification is very nice for them. It
makes them pacified and friendly towards you.
If you have a particular project or a particular activity that you’re starting that’s very
important or very meaningful to you, performing a Sang offering and making offerings to
the Dharma Protectors reminds, invokes, encourages and exhorts them to practice
enlightened activity on your behalf. That can be very helpful as well. There’s a very
important Tendrel [dependent connection] that is made with the local deities and the
Dharma Protectors. This kind of thing is a very good beginning for any project you’re
trying to undertake.

In particular, if you’re engaging in any sort of important Dharma practice, performing a
Sang will eliminate obstacles at the beginning and ensure that your mind is directed
toward the Dharma. That way everything about the practice you are doing is brought to
the path.

For any type of project or for anything you’re trying to increase or encourage, this
practice is very beneficial. It increases all sorts of worldly things such as your
confidence, your fearlessness, it increases your sense of positive reputation, things like
that. It increases all the positive qualities that you need in order to accomplish Dharma
really well. It eliminates the obstacles. The worldly benefits naturally result from
eliminating the obstacles.

A Sang is a great benefit for any special occasion. Because we’re here in the west, one
such special occasion is the western New Year. It is a very important time for removing
all the negativities from the old year and starting fresh again in the New Year.

A main source for the Sang rituals that have been done in the last several hundred
years is a particular terma [discovered teaching] from a great Sikkhimese yogi whose
name was Lhatsunpa Namkha Jigme, which means “The Venerable Deity, Unafraid of
Space." The ritual he discovered in the 16th century was a mind terma from Guru
Rinpoche, revealed by the sound of his damaru. It is called the Riwo Sang Chö, which
means “The Mountain of Burnt Offerings." These are purifying offerings. This terma is
the basis for most of the Sang rituals that are done nowadays. It’s the one that we have
done here every year. It has incredible blessing to it. It’s practiced by nearly everybody
who does Sangs. It’s very short, just a few pages long, but it’s an extraordinarily potent
practice that is very helpful and full of deep meaning.

If you study the translation of the Riwo Sang Chö, it’s invoking all of the enlightened
beings, all of the Three Jewels and the Three Roots, to provide all sorts of various
benefits, and not just worldly benefits, but all the benefits of realizing the Dharma, which
is the main thing, a very, very deep meaning.

So for yogis who are going to practice this Sang ritual, you should, for the day
beforehand, avoid eating black foods: garlic, onions and meat. Take a shower before
you come, and make sure you’re very clean. Wear clean clothes, and have a very pure
motivation. The reason for avoiding garlic and things like that is to preserve Samaya
and create an auspicious connection. Eating black foods really affects your motivation,
and so it purifies your motivation to pay attention to things like this. It would also be
very good to bring things for the offering such as the three whites, the three sweets, a
Katak [white scarf], cedar or juniper. When you are making your preparations and
getting your offering things together, it is best to prepare everything with a pure
motivation and pure activity in order to affect the result most positively.

The Sang ceremony is not just for New Years Day. It is of great benefit for accumulating
merit and eliminating obstacles. In Tibet, many lay families do a small Sang each
morning as they leave their home for the day. It can be an appropriate daily practice or
a good practice for any special occasion or undertaking.