Tripod of skulls for the practice of offering fragrant incense smoke.

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There are three main kinds of fire, or smoke related ceremonies. One is called SANG, another is called SUR, and another JINSEK.  Within these three there are many other smaller ceremonies, but these are the most commonly practiced.

The major principle of fire ceremony is offering. This kind of offering necessitates compassion and generosity. You put the food and whatever other ingredients you have, into the fire. As the fire burns, the offering is totally consumed and in this way, through the practitioner’s concentration, it is offered.

With the Sang practice, you are offering the smoke, while in the Sur you are offering the smell and in the Jinsek, you are just offering fire itself, flame itself, and burning itself. Tibetan Buddhists use these means to appease the unbearable hunger and torment of the world of spirits. It is a beautiful practice that is motivated by kindness and the fervent wish to make the world a less miserable place.



I can see how this ‘tripod’ could quite easily be seen as a tribute to the ‘Hells Angels’ and, even in Bhutan, I never came across such a fire offering receptacle. The young abbot of Shechen Monastery, whose innovative mind always delights me, came up with the design. The meaning is quite profound and I would probably corrupt it in launching into a lame explanation. Let’s just say that the three skulls represent the death through transformation of the three poisons, namely ignorance, anger and selfish desire.

The whole thing is made out of a single block of white granite. The pot is rather shallow so the fire can get enough air to burn. It took a month to complete. Everybody joined in to put it into place, the monks, the locals and even a soldier who was passing by.