Rapné: Consecrating the Physical Representations of the Buddha

Rapné is a consecration ritual. It comes from the Sanskrit term pratiṣṭhita – in which prati means good or well and sthita to remain or sustain. Thus, it is basically a process of inviting the enlightened spirits of the Buddhas to abide or remain well in the sacred objects.

When one has a sacred object such as a statue or a temple or even a small thing like a prayer flag produced, then one has to do rapné – in order to invoke the blessings of the Buddha and give that object more spiritual power. Theoretically, the sacred objects such as statues or temples are physical representations of the Buddha or place of the Buddha. They are instrumental in reminding us of the enlightened state of the Buddha and moral values they embody. Thus, the objects perform the liberative roles even without being consecrated and are considered holy.

However, it is a common belief in Bhutan that if the objects are not consecrated, some of them can become possessed by evil spirits or negative forces. They become the home of some harmful spirits. The evil spirits possess them to both enjoy the offerings made to these objects and also to influence the worshippers. There are many stories of how evil spirits, which possessed holy objects, enjoyed being worshipped by the devotees and also exercised negative influence on them. The ritual of rapné is conducted in order to avoid this and invest positive power in the sacred objects. The holy object is injected with spiritual power so that the connection people make with the object is always a positive one.

How is rapné conducted?

Rapné rituals can be elaborate or simple. Sometimes rapné ceremonies are long rituals such as the druba of a temple or a house. Rapné of stupas and large statues are also elaborate. In the long rapné ritual, the space for which rapné is conducted is cleansed of negative forces through an exorcism. Using meditative power, all negative forces are chased away and a protective spiritual wall or boundary is visualised. The space is also purified through rituals such as ablution or thrusöl. The priests then invite the Buddhas to the space through a long process of meditation and merge the enlightened spirit of the Buddhas in the physical space or objects.

A brief rapné ritual would involve the prayer and meditation to invite the Buddhas and request them to remain in the objects. The crucial part of the elaborate and brief rabney rituals is to chant the words requesting the Buddhas to remain in world until all sentient beings have reached enlightenment and to remain firmly in the sacred objects until the object is destroyed through the disintegration of the elements which make up the object.

Another important component of the rapné ritual is also the chanting of the mantra of dependent-origination, a famous mantra which is the gist of the Buddha’s theory of causation and existence. When someone askes a lama to consecrate a prayer flag or a statue, the lama would often chant these words and mantras.

What should one think during rapné?

One should remember that rapné is about the use of the power of the mind. The material object like the statue of the Buddha represents the Buddha but to make it a powerful living object, one must do the meditation practice to invite the enlightened mind of the Buddha to possess it.

While doing that one should be fully aware of what the statue becomes after the rapné. After rapné, the statue embodies not only a representation or form of the Buddha but also the spirit of the Buddha. That makes the statue powerful. The statue has gained jinlab or power. While doing rapné, one must chant the verse of dependent-origination and one should be aware of the theory of causation of how causes and conditions bring about a result. When these causes and conditions cease to exist, the object also ceases to exist. Rapné helps sustain the positive causes and conditions so that we have positive modes of existence as a result. It is a way of enhancing the spiritual efficacy of the sacred objects.

Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, founder of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called "Why We Do What We Do."