Rituals form an integral part of the Tibetan Buddhism. Throughout the year, in the temples and the various other places, daily as well as special rituals are performed. The special rituals are carried out to appease the deities; to bring rainfall and good harvest; to avoid destructive storms, disease and death; to control demons and evil spirits and lastly to overpower the passions of the mind and ego.
Meditation is an important ritual which is carried out with the help of certain hand gestures and chanting of mantras. The techinique for meditation differs in different traditions but the aim is same, to aid the inner spiritual development.
Non initiates of Tibetan Buddhism perform rituals like offering of food, flower and water. They undertake religious pilgrimage, chant prayers, light butter lamps at the local temple and sometimes also fund monks to carry out the rituals on their behalf.
Seeing or Participating in Chham dances is considered auspicious for the villagers for they offer moral instructions and blessings. In Bhutan, these sacred dances are performed during the annual tsechu festival, and sometimes these festivals also see the unfurling of the thongdrol, or a large painting. Sighting of these thogdrol, too, is considered extremely auspicious and is believed to absolve the sins of the onlookers.
Performance of rituals require the presence of certain objects. Each ritual object has a symbolic meaning and many of them are also the hand held objects of different Buddhist deities.
- Offering Bowl : They are kept on the altar and contain seven
outer offerings including drinking and cleansing water, flower, incense,
light, perfume, food and music.
- Butter Lamps : Butter Lamps are invariably seen in Buddhist
Temple and Monasteries and help in focussing the mind while meditating.
Initially, clarified yak butter was used, however now, it has been
replaced by vegetable oil. They are seen as eliminator of darkness
externally while cenceptuallly, they turn dull and unimaginative mind
into enligtened one. The lamps are managed by the monks of the
monasteries and are sometimes kept in a separate enclosure so as to
circumvent any accidental fire hazard.
- Mandala : A mandala is a sacred geometric figure representing
the universe. It functions as a sacred area open to deities and forces.
The centre of Mandala is used for focussing attention during meditation.
- Prayer Wheels and Prayer Flags : Prayer Wheels are wheels on
spindle and inscribed on them are the prayers and the mantras. It is
believed that spinning of the prayer wheel in a clockwise direction
sends prayer prayers to all the Buddhas. This spinning of the prayer
wheel is comaparable to oral recitation of prayers. The prayer wheels
are made of copper and silver and have bamboo handle.
Prayer Flags are colourful panels or rectangles cloth tied along mountain ridges and peaks. They are believed to carry the prayers upward to the dieties and bring back their blessings to one and all - those who hang it, those who are in close vicinity and even all over the world. However, the flags are hung on precise astrological date, replaced annually ion Tibetan New Year, should not be kept on ground or worn as clothes.
- Phurpa : Quiet often referred as a magic dagger, phurpa is
made use of by high level tantric practitioners to conquer evil spirits
and to destroy obstacles. It signifies stability on a prayer ground
during ceremonies. Guru Padmasambhava is believed to be the originator
of this implement. It was with the help of this implement that he bound
the evil spirits and consecrtaed the ground which became the site for
the Samye Monastery. The practitioner first meditates and then recites
the sadhana of the phurpa. This is followed by an invitation to the
deity to enter the phurpa. While doing so, the practitioners visualizes
that he is scaring and overpowering the evil spirits by placing them
under the point of the phurpha.
- Dorje : It is a small sceptre which the Tibetan lamas hold in
their right hand during religious ceremonies. Dorje derives from the
Sanskrit word vajra and is supposed to eliminate all kind of ignorance.
It is itself considered indestructible. It is symbolic of the male
principle which represents compassion of Buddha. During rituals, dorje
is paired with a bell, drilbu, which symbolises female principle.
- Drilbu : The bell or the Drilbu is an extremely important
ritual object in Tibetan Buddhism. The sound of the bell, very much like
that of a trumpet and the drum, is believed to warn the evil spirits to
keep a distnace from the consecrated area where the rituals are being
performed. It is used along with the dorje in rituals and is
representative of the wisdom. The male and the female principle, as
symbolised by the dorje and dribul, combine to achieve enlightenment.
The use of the bell and vajra varies as per the ritual performed or the
- Kapala or the Skull Cap : The skull cap is utilised as a libation ( pouring out of liquid offering in honour of a deity) vessel for a number of Vajrayana deities, primarily wrathful. During rituals, it is extremely important that the right kind of skull cap is chosen.