The Consecration Ritual - Excerpts

     Offerings are a major part of the ritual of consecration and of many
other Tibetan Buddhist rituals, but their nature clearly reveals their
Indian origin. Offerings are made to acquire merit, but the recipient can be
the poor and needy as well as lamas or deities. If the merit thus acquired
is dedicated to the attainment of enlightenment, the offering becomes part
of the practice of the perfection of giving.
     Though elaborate offerings to deities who never seem to partake of them
may seem wasteful to the sceptical, especially in the case of the ritual
fire offerings during which everything is burned, such offerings are not
merely meaningless ritual. the primary aim of Buddhist practice is to train
the mind and this is the context in which the offerings should be
understood. Whether physical offerings actually benefit the recipient or
not, from the practitioners point of view they are an essential means of
reducing the desire and greed which characterize our relationship with the
physical world. Desire is to think that we would be satisfied if we were to
obtain some object, and greed is to think we will be more satisfied if we can
keep what we have obtained or gain more. Both passions tend to reinforce the
notion of ourselves as real, independent selves to be satisfied. Making
offerings accustoms the mind to giving, letting go of desirable objects, and
serves to loosen our sense of clinging to a real and independent self. The
merit derived from giving can be a cause in the short term for acquiring
wealth, but ultimately for attaining enlightenment.
     Offerings directed to certain deities, Buddhas, or Bodhisattvas create
connections with them. In Sanskrit the word for offering is "puja" which
means to please. Offerings please the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, not because
they are pleased to receive gifts, but because they delight in the virtue of
the givers, which is determined by the quality of their motivation in making
the offering. Offerings need not even be material. Milarepa offered his
spiritual practice, his most cherished attribute. The best offerings are of
virtuous accomplishments. Thus, the offering of religious practice is what
most pleases the deities and creates a bond between them and the
practitioner, which provides a basis for his/her further development.
     Several factors determine the quality of an offering. Prominent is the
giver's motivation, though the status of the recipient and the nature of the
offering also contribute. The giver acquires the greatest merit when he/she
is motivated by a wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient
beings.  It is much less if he/she aspires for his/her own enlightenment
alone and even less if he/she wishes merely to obtain a good rebirth in his/her
next life. The poorest motivation is the wish to gain some benefits in this
lifetime, such as wealth and a long life, or to be completely mundane in
seeking a reputation for generosity.
     The status of the recipient is an important factor. The merit gained by
making an offering with absolutely pure motivation to a Buddha is
immeasurable. Since images and other manifestations of the Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas are to be regarded as no different from them in nature, making
offerings such as are made to the mandala deities in the consecration
rituals is equivalent to making offerings to the Buddhas. The Buddhas are
exalted objects of offering because they are the ultimate source of refuge,
not because they will snatch us out of cyclic existence, but because the
teachings they demonstrate enable us to do so ourselves. One's own lama or
teacher is also an exalted object of offering, because it is due to his
personal kindness and guidance that one can make any progress on the path of
development for the benefit of all sentient beings.
     Nevertheless, since pure motivation is so important, a gift made with
a very pure motivation to a needy person is also very meritorious. One can
reflect that this needy person has at sometime been one's own kind mother or
consider the fact that one depends on others to attain enlightenment, for
without them one would have no opportunity to practice giving, ethics and
forbearance, which are essential in the quest for Buddhahood. Thus it could
be said that the merit obtained from making a modest gift to a needy person
with an exalted motivation is far greater than one made to a Buddha with a
poor motivation.
     Whatever is offered should always have been honestly obtained, for a
wrongly acquired object severely detracts from the wholesome quality of
giving it. Offerings should always be of the best one has. Food offered to
the Buddhas should not be bad or rotten on the pretext that no one will eat
it. It is good to offer one's own food before eating it. Since the main
purpose of making offerings is to reduce avarice, one should do so without a
trace of regret. The Buddha recommended that avaricious people should
initially accustom their minds to giving, by giving something from one hand
to the other.
     Water is also commonly offered. Water is pure. the Indian master
Atisha, who visited Tibet with profound effect in the eleventh century,
praised the purity of water in Tibet, saying that simply by appreciating its
excellent qualities one could offer it joyfully to the Buddhas. Water can
easily and honestly obtained and when offering it one can imagine washing
away the miserliness of all sentient beings.
 (Portion of "The Consecration Ritual", pp 55 - 56, Cho-Yang, Vol. 1-No.2,
1987. Cho-Yang is an occasional publication of the Council for Religious and
Cultural Affairs)