For five human senses or wangpo nga, there are five physical objects called dön nga. To feel happiness, joy and pleasure, we have to experience pleasant objects. Sentient beings like to have pleasant sense objects and so it is good to make offerings of pleasant sense fields to the enlightened beings such as the Buddha, Bodhisattvas and lamas.
Offering of the five pleasant sense fields is called as döbi yönten nga. It comprises beautiful form for the eyes; pleasant sound for auditory organ; pleasant smell for the olfactory sense; pleasant taste for the gustatory faculty and pleasant touch for the tactile organ.
Subjects Tibet and Himalayas
We offer fragrance or incense because it is very pleasant object for the olfactory organ. It is an offering made to the olfactory organs of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas. Beside the incense sticks and powders that they lit called dug poi, Bhutanese also offer scent or perfume and ointments.
In the practice of sang, the offering of smell is elaborated. The offering of smell comes the Buddhist heritage from India. When Buddhism reached Tibet, it encountered the local practice of sang in which followers of Bon religion made big billows of smoke as process of purification and fumigation. Instead of eliminating the existing Bon practice of purification, Buddhism incorporated the sang offering and turned it into Buddhist practice combining offering of pleasant smell with purification. Thus, in the new sang ritual which the Buddhist syncretised, the practitioner is not only making an offering of smell to the olfactory sense but also undergoing a process of fumigation and purification. The Bhutanese word ‘sang’ means to clean and purify.
When one offers sang, the person would have to do a lot of mental visualisations. For instance, when one starts sang, one would often chant mantras, the most common being oṃ aḥ huṃ.
With oṃ the person can visualise everything to be a pure empty space, with aḥ one can visualise in that pure state of emptiness all the fantastic offerings that rises in the form of smoke. With huṃ, the practitioner must think that the offering has been taken to all the Buddha and bodhisattvas.
In sang ritual, a practitioner should take refuge in the Buddha, dharma and sangha, generate an altruistic intention and visualise sang smoke from the state of emptiness. He or she should visualise the huge clouds of smoke as a mass of myriad offering sent in all directions.
Among the recipients, there are four; the precious enlightened beings, the protectors (deities and spirits), the sentient beings of six realms who are objects of one’s compassion and lastly the sentient beings to whom we owe karmic debt. The offering of sang is made to these recipients by visualizing the offerings as prima facie smoke but marvellous items of enjoyment in reality. Sang, is thus a practice of giving and also a process of purifying negativities such as stinginess, mental defilements and karmic debt.
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.