Amchok Metok is the name of a particularly beautiful decoration that looks like a flower and is used on the large butter sculptures that grace the shrine during the International Kagyu Monlam. Metok means flower and Amchok perhaps refers to the region of Tibet where this type of flower grew. In this clip, Tibetan Buddhist nun artists introduce themselves and demonstrate a few techniques as they prepare the flower gyens out of wax butter for the Kagyu Monlam shrine. Filmed by Ko Jung-Fa and Cynthia Chao in Bodhgaya, India in 2008-2009.
The Gakyil gyen is similar to the Amchok Metok gyen. Gakyil means “joy swirl.” Below is a slideshow with more photos of both Amchok Metok and Gakyil.
In a couple of weeks, from May 15-17, the annual Amitabha Retreat will take place at Day Den Shing, the Columbarium at Karme Ling Retreat Center in upstate New York. On the third day, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche will perform the Jangchok, a special ceremony to liberate the consciousnesses of the deceased. It is a very fortunate opportunity for those beings whose ashes will be interred in the Columbarium, but it is not just limited to them. This is an amazing ritual to witness. The Karmapa does a similar puja every year in Bodhgaya at the end of the Akshobyha Retreat, whereby Monlam attendees are invited to submit the names of friends and relatives who have passed away. At a certain point in the puja, the Karmapa burns the lists of names and liberates the beings. Below is a slideshow of the Jangchok at Karme Ling in previous years and below that are Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche’s remarks on the importance of choosing a proper burial site from a tantric point of view.
The Importance of Choosing a Proper Burial Site
As is written in the sutras, the end of birth is death. None of us will escape death. After death, many people have their ashes cast into water, but there is no evident dharmic reason for this, and in fact, according to Tibetan Buddhist tantric teachings, this may not be the best course of action for the descendants of the deceased.
During a question and answer session at the annual 10-day teaching at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in July of 2007, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche made several comments regarding the importance of choosing a good burial site. His remarks have been summarized below:
The remnant of a person’s being that tends to stay with the person’s remains for a long time after death is not the person’s consciousness. The person’s consciousness moves on because after a certain period of time it takes rebirth. What remains with the body of the deceased is something else. And this something else is not talked about much, if at all, in the sutras, but is talked about frequently in the tantras. And it is called the person’s “la.” In English, the best word for this is their “spirit” if you understand that spirit does not mean the person’s mind, consciousness, or soul or anything like that.
Now, what is this spirit or la if it isn’t the deceased person’s mind, or their consciousness? One way you can think of it is the god or gods that inhabit the person’s body, that are inherited from both parental lines. In any case, it is this ancestral spirit that inhabits the place of burial or interment of the remains, and it is because of the effect of the place of burial on this spirit, that there is significance in the burial site. And we use the word “burial” but understand that it could also be the place where one’s ashes are kept after death.
If the body is interred in a good place, a sound environment with excellent feng shui, then this strengthens or nourishes this spirit. If the spirit is nourished, the descendants of that person will benefit because the spirit remains there perennially. If the body is buried in an inappropriate place or environment, (a place with bad feng shui) the spirit doesn’t die, but it becomes enervated or weak–it is not nourished. And if the spirit of the person becomes weak, this harms the person’s descendants; they may experience various sorts of mishaps, illnesses, impoverishment and so on. This is one of the reasons, the primary reason, for the importance of appropriate burial sites.
Now because of this, it is often said that when a family goes to a lama for divination, to find out why they have such bad luck, generation after generation, often the diagnosis will be the impairment or damage to the spirit of an ancestor, caused by the improper burial of that ancestor’s remains. So while Rinpoche says he doesn’t know exactly what this spirit is, he’s seen sufficient evidence to be assured of its existence and of the importance in choosing the best possible burial place according to feng shui, or geomancy.
Furthermore, it has been taught that there is a great danger of the untimely death of young people if geomancy is ignored. Rinpoche said, “I have seen and experienced this myself. If geomancy is ignored, great obstacles such as misery for the dead and illness for the living can occur. If geomancy is observed, both the dead and the living will be happy. This has been taught by the Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, and others.”
Sometimes, it’s nice to keep perishable offering tormas on the shrine for a long period of time, such as the duration of a practice, in which case it’s good to use natural, edible ingredients that will last for weeks or months. Here is a recipe for a long-lasting torma dough:
OAT TORMA DOUGH RECIPE
This recipe is for tormas you want to stay nicely for months.
1 stick butter
1 quart quick oats
1 cup very warm water (not boiling)
First partially melt the butter in the microwave. It should be very soft but not liquefied. Mix with the oats. Knead very, very well. Add water, a little at a time, and continue kneading until the dough holds together well. Shape torma quickly; this dough must be shaped right away–no freezing the dough or refrigerating for later.
Paint torma with red color or leave white. Brush torma with a coating of melted butter, preferably clarified. (At this point, the torma can be frozen for future use).
The finished torma should last a few months on the shrine in non-humid weather.
It is funny to use the term permanent when referring to tormas used in Tibetan Buddhism, with its emphasis on the impermanence of all phenomena. The long-lasting tormas pictured here were made with Sculpey synthetic clay. (click on the photos for highest-resolution)
(Note: the Nyungne and Green Tara tormas were made by Lama Tashi Dondup)
The term permanent torma refers to tormas left on the shrine for an extended period. Usually these are made out of precious metals, wood, clay or synthetic materials. As an example I’ve posted a few photos of the tormas in the Columbarium at Karme Ling Retreat Center. These tormas were made out of a synthetic air-dry sculpting material manufactured by Crayola. These offering tormas, called Shalzes, were made by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and the gyens by Ani Karuna. I’ve added a few detailed shots of the beautiful Columbarium shrine designed and decorated by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche:
Each spring at the site of the Columbarium at Karme Ling Retreat Center in Delhi, New York, a special three-day Amitabha puja is held to benefit the living and deceased. On the last day, a Jangchok puja is performed by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and his disciples in order to liberate the consciousnesses of those beings whose ashes are interred at the Columbarium site. I will post more about this ceremony in the future.
Here are some photos of Khenpo Karthar making tormas for the Jangchok puja. For more information about the Columbarium at Karme Ling, go here: