The Buddha – Chapter 23: The Consecration of a Buddha Image

One of the most common objects of veneration in Buddhism is an image of the Buddha, whether it be in the form of a statue or a painting. Such images, however, are not considered suitable for veneration unless they have been consecrated. Ceremonies of consecration are thus among the most important, and the most commonly performed, rituals in the Buddhist world. Despite their wide variety, the rituals share a common purpose: to make the physical representation become what it represents. Thus, in consecration ceremonies in northern Thailand, monks recite the biography of the Buddha to the image of the Buddha being consecrated, focusing on his path to enlightenment, his achievement of enlightenment, and the extraordinary states of knowledge he attained. The consecrated image of the Buddha thus is not a symbol of the Buddha but, effectively, is the Buddha, and there are numerous stories of images speaking to their devotees.

Consecration rituals may be simple or complex; the latter require ritual manuals that explain how the ceremony is to be performed. The passage below contains selections from a typical Tibetan manual that provides instructions for consecrating both images and stupas. It was written by the famous scholar of the Sa skya sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Grags pa rgyal mtshan (1147-1216). It is a rich work that assumes a knowledge of tantric practice; only the major components of the ritual can be explained here.

The consecration of the image or stupa is a process of transformation, and the person performing the consecration (usually a group of monks or lamas) must first be transformed, by each visualizing himself as a buddha (called ‘a heroic being alone’, that is, one without a consort or retinue). This is called ‘self-generation’. Next, the image to be consecrated must be purified by dispelling any negative forces that may surround it. There are various ways of accomplishing this, but it is considered to be especially effective to use a wrathful approach, in which a powerful protective deity (called here ‘the wrathful one’) is summoned to frighten away any and all obstacles, often described as demons. The wrathful one is extolled with a hymn of praise (section 2). Next the image or stupa is bathed.

Buddhist statues and stupas are typically depositories of relics.

These may include a bone, a tooth or other remnant from the cremation of a saint; the hair, fingernail, robe or begging bowl of a famous monk, or rolls of paper printed with mantras (often wrapped around a spool). One of the most common phrases to be printed on such rolls is the famous summary of the Buddha’s teaching: ‘Of those things that have causes, the Tathagata has shown their causes. And he has also shown their cessation. The great renunciate has so spoken. ’ Regardless of what the relic is, it is generally held that in order for the statue or the stupa to be an object of veneration, it must contain the physical remnant of the enlightened being’s body: a part of that body, something that touched that body, or words (in the physical form of writing) that emanated from that body. The next stage of the ceremony is thus the depositing of the relics (section 4). With this step completed, the consecration proper can begin.

In order for the object to be transformed from the inanimate to the animate object, from the profane to the sacred, from the mundane to the supramundane, its true nature and ultimate purity must be revealed. Thus, the persons performing the rite, each still visualizing himself as a buddha, go for refuge to the three jewels and declare their dedication to achieving buddha-hood for the sake of all beings (section 5). They then recite the mantra om svabhavasuddhah sarvadharmah svabhavasuddho ’ham, which means, ‘Naturally pure are all phenomena, naturally pure am I’, at which point the object to be consecrated dissolves into emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality. Through a series of steps, it will now emerge out of emptiness into a material form, but in a consecrated state. If an image is being consecrated, one is to imagine a mandala with buddhas, one in each of the cardinal directions and one in the centre. If one is consecrating a stupa or temple, after it dissolves into emptiness one imagines the buddha Vairocana, who then dissolves, and the stupa or temple reappears, but now filled with imagined buddhas and bodhisattvas. But the buddhas of the mandala and the buddhas in the stupa or temple are only imagined; the next step is to invite the real buddhas to come from their abodes and enter their imagined doubles. Thus (in section 7), the actual buddha or buddhas who are to inhabit the image are requested to come from their buddha-lands and fuse with the physical object. At the conclusion of a series of gestures that suggest both invitation and entrapment, the buddha is asked to enter the image with the words, *Just as when all the buddhas came from Tusita Heaven they entered the womb of Queen Maya, so may the protector always reside here together with this image.’ When he does so, he is sealed inside.

The image is then conferred initiation and given offerings. This is followed by the ceremony of the opening of the eyes; in the case of images, the eyes of the image are often painted in at this juncture. The buddha is then implored to remain in the image.

The main consecration ceremony complete, additional concluding ceremonies are performed. These are called *enthronement ceremonies’; the image, or stupa, or text, having been transformed into a suitable object of veneration, now receives that veneration. If it is a statue of a monk, one pretends to shave his head with a golden razor. If it is a statue of a buddha or bodhisattva, one pretends to comb his hair. Coloured strings are tied to the object and extended into the hands of those performing the ceremony, serving as a conduit of blessing. The ceremony concludes with mantras, music and song.

  1. Self-generation: When you complete the mandala, turn yourself into the I-principle of a heroic being alone: this is called self­generation…. The short sadhana [meditation rite] of Vajrasattva is appropriate here.
  2. Purification: The purification of an image or stupa consists of peaceful purification, half-peaceful half-wrathful purification and wrathful purification. For the wrathful purification fumigate with fragrant gum resin, strike [the obstructions] with white mustard seeds, and threaten them with other weapons. Invite the immeasurably wrathful ones with the following words:

hum You are enlightened wisdom, a light blazing like the fire [at the end] of the aeon, consuming all the dark realms of ignorance and desire; you have overcome all hatred and fears of the lord of death. Great Hero, wearing a tiger skin, a mark of a hero, subduer of the enemy, oppressor of the raksasas who lead astray, the king of knowledge, the wrathful one, may you remain here. You are invited for the sake of subduing those who lead astray. May you come for the sake of sentient beings and [partake of] these offerings.

By reciting the following praise, interwoven with mantras, the obstructions will be expelled.

hum Prostrations to the assemblage of blazing great wrathful ones who, not abandoning the worldly way of action, by skilful means appear from the continuous state of non­duality, the emptiness of phenomena, as the body of the frightening one. Prostrations to you who, without wavering from the peaceful, continuous state of enlightened wisdom, possessing voracious, fearsome outlook and costumes, roaring voices which resound like a thousand thunders, bring under control everything without remainder. Prostrations to you who demonstrate the drama of the supreme, enlightened wisdom, who carry various threatening weapons in your hands, who are adorned with poisonous snakes, who totally overcome the great, poisonous, afflicting emotions. Prostrations to you who reside amidst a fire like the conflagration [at the end] of an aeon, in the hero posture with one leg stretched and the other drawn back, staring with wide-open eyes blazing like the sun and the moon, burning a host of obstructions. Prostrations to you, the wrath king who subdues a host of obstructions, whose great ferocity blazes as brightly as the fire at the end of times, whose scowls of wrathfulness seem to emit a thousand lightnings, whose fangs are bare, whose furious voice roars as the sound of a thousand thunders. hum Prostrations to you who call out the frightening sound of hum, who overcomes all obstructions without remainder, the deity who bestows all accomplishments, the enemy of the obstructions. Praise to you.

  1. Bathing: [The offerings conclude with the recitation of the following verse from Santideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (2.11)]:

To the tathagatas and their offspring I offer a bath with many precious vases filled with fragrant water, pleasing and excellent, to the accompaniment of plentiful songs and instrumental music.

  1. Depositing relics: In general, there are four types of relics: (a) bodily relics, (b) bodily relics the size of mustard seeds, (c) hairs and nails, called relics of the garb, (d) dharanis [long mantras] called relics of the … Deposit these relics inside the image or stupa.
  2. Announcing the consecration:

Having prostrated to all the buddhas, the blessed ones, who are endowed with innumerable and inconceivable great marvels, I go for refuge. May all of them consider me. For the sake of all sentient beings, I shall consecrate a receptacle of the three precious ones. By the power of that, I shall relieve all sentient beings. I shall liberate [them] from the great abyss of cyclic existence. I shall defeat all the opposing and misleading forces. I shall clear all turmoils of afflicting emotions bound by the dispositions of sentient beings. I shall break down the mountain of pride of sentient beings. I shall uproot the tree of rebirth of sentient beings. I shall smash into dust the sun of the lord of death. I shall clear the darkness of ignorance. I shall guide the faithless, antagonists and those holding wrong views into the right views and transform them into believers. I shall reverse the river of karma. I shall dry the ocean of existence. I shall light the lamp of dharma. I shall show the path to enlightenment. I shall lead to patience and calm. I shall strive to the top for the bliss of meditative concentration. I shall extinguish the host of fires of desire. I shall demolish the sharp weapon of hatred. I shall guide to truth. I shall calm the whirling of jealousy. I shall untie the knot of avarice. I shall appease all suffering. I shall enter the city of great bliss and fearlessness and abide there. Therefore, may you bestow and grant me supreme accomplishments of activity, and, at the same time, may you bestow as well on the entire assemblage.

  1. Generating the image or stupa as an enlightened being: By reciting om svabhavasuddhah sarvadharmah svabhavasuddho ’ham, all the images and stupas are visualized away. From the true state of emptiness, generate the seats of the five buddhas of the mandala, beginning with the elephant seat. [On top of them generate] the throne of precious substances, [on top of it] the lotus throne, [and on top of that], the sun and moon thrones. [If you consecrate images] and you know these embodiments of enlightenment, on top of the thrones generate their seed syllables, [from these] their emblems [such as a vajra or a wheel], and [from these] their individual forms. If you do not recognize these embodiments of enlightenment, generate the three seed syllables [om ah hum], and from these generate the blessed one, great Vajradhara with white body holding a vajra and a bell. When you consecrate a stupa or a temple, generate [the seed syllable] bhrum and from that Vairocana. Dissolve that and generate the stupa or temple exactly as they appear [but now they have become embodiments of Vairocana]. Inside [the stupa or temple] generate the thrones of the five buddhas of the mandala, beginning with the lion throne, and on top of these [the seed syllables of these five buddhas] om hum tram hrih ah and from them the forms of these five buddhas of the Meditate that [the stupa or temple] are replenished with inconceivable buddhas and bodhisattvas. If you consecrate books, generate the seed syllable ah and from it generate the tathagata Amitabha. If you consecrate an emblem such as a vajra and a bell, generate the seed syllable hum and from it the tathagata Aksobhya.
  2. Invitation and fusion of the wisdom beings:
  • Inviting: By making the vajra-assembing hand gesture and reciting om vajra samajah jah hum bam hoh, an inconceivable assemblage of buddhas and bodhisattvas assembles from [all] quarters of the sky…. Then, for inviting them closer to the space in front of themselves, the mantric performers hold their vajras and bells while reciting either with melody or without:

Faithfully I invite the chief lord of all dharmas, similar in colour to refined gold, still more intensely bright than the sun, peaceful and very compassionate, abiding in a state of concentration and control, endowed with complete realization of all phenomena, free of desire, endowed with a completely inexhaustible capacity. Come hither, come hither, the enlightened being who is the embodiment of tranquillity, who has undergone the supreme birth of a sage, who is omniscient. With offerings, I request you to come to this well made reflected image. May you remain here united with the image for as long as samsara lasts, and generously bestow [on us] the best health, longevity and capacity.

  • Making offerings to those invited:

It is good that the blessed one has compassionately come. We are so meritorious and fortunate. May you accept my water for welcoming, consider me and grant my [request]. om vajra-gagana-samaya-sriye hum.

With these words, offer water for welcoming. Likewise offer bath, seat, flowers and other offerings as much as you can afford.

  • Fusing: By making the vajra-hook hand gesture and reciting om vajra-ankusa jah, invite the wisdom beings closer.

By making the vajra-noose hand gesture and reciting om vajra- pasa hum, the wisdom being enters into the commitment being.

By making the vajra-fetters hand gesture and reciting om vajra- sphota bam, think that they intermingle into ‘one taste’.

By making the vajra-bell hand gesture and reciting om vajra- avesa a, the commitment being is turned into the essence of the wisdom being.

Further, recite the vajra-assembling mantra [om vajra samajah jah hum bam hoh] as before, make the vajra-assembling hand gesture and recite:

Just as when all the buddhas came from Tusita heaven, they entered the womb of Queen Maya, so may the protector always reside here together with this image. For the sake of generating the mind of enlightenment and for the sake of the patron, may you accept these offerings and flowers, etc., my own resources as much as I can afford. May you consider me and my disciples compassionately. May you bless this [image or stupa]. May you agree in every way to abide in this very [image or stupa].

By reciting these [verses] invite an inconceivable number of buddha-fields and fuse them [into the image or stupa].

  1. Sealing: The sealing is for stablizing the wisdom being in the image or If you consecrate according to the systems of the kriya or carya tantras, seal with the general pledge seals of the three tathagatas [the vajra, lotus and tathagata families of the mandala]. If you consecrate according to the yoga tantra, seal with the four hand gestures [mudras seals: action seal, commitment seal, dharma seal and emptiness seal]. If you consecrate according to the mahayoga, on the forehead visualize an om and from it a wheel marked with om. On the throat visualize an ah and from it a lotus marked with ah. On the heart visualize a hum and from it a vajra marked with hum.
  2. Initiation: If you perform according to the systems of the kriya and carya tantras, confer the water, crown and emblem initiations and seal with the lords of the In the present case [the consecration] is performed mainly according to the yoga tantra, hence confer the five initiations of knowledge together with the master initiation and seal with the lords of the mandala. If you perform according to the system of mahayoga, confer the four initiations [vase, secret, consort and fourth initiation].
  3. Offerings and praises:
  • Offerings: Offer water for welcoming, water for cooling the feet, the five common offerings [flowers, incense, light, fragrance and food], the eight outer and inner [offerings] of the goddess, the seven precious objects of royalty and the five sense gratification offerings.
  • Praises:

Prostrations to Vairocana, [embodiment of non-dual] appearances and emptiness, the realm of vajra-sense, the enlightened wisdom of reality, the vajra-body making the hand gesture of supreme enlightenment.

Prostrations to Aksobhya, [the embodiment] of the grasped and grasper, stable vajra-earth, the mirror-like enlightened wisdom, the vajra-body making the hand gesture of the great victory over Mara.

Prostrations of Ratnavajra (Ratnasambhava), [the embodiment] of jewel, blazing vajra-fire, the enlightened wisdom of equanimity, the vajra-body making the hand gesture of supreme perfect generosity.

Prostrations to Amitabha, [the embodiment of purified] desire, vajra-water of dharma, the enlightened wisdom of particularized understanding, the vajra-body making the hand gesture of great meditative absorption.

Prostrations to Amoghasiddhi, [the embodiment of purified] jealousy, vajra-carrying wind, the enlightened wisdom of accomplishment, the vajra-body making the hand gesture of bestowing great protection.

  1. Opening the eyes: Take with a golden spoon a tiny coloured powder particle from the mandala and apply it directly to the eyes of the image [a more common method of opening the eyes is to pretend one offers a special eye ointment to the eyes of the image]. While reciting the following verse, open the eyes.

Even though you are omniscient, endowed with an eye of enlightened wisdom, free of faults, by reverently opening the exalted eyes, may sentient beings, up until the limit of the sky, obtain the eye of enlightened wisdom of the Buddha, om caksu caksu samanta- caksu visodhani svaha.

  1. Requesting the enlightened beings to firmly remain in the image or stupa:

May all the buddhas and bodhisattvas who reside in the ten directions consider me. As long as the realms of sentient beings vast as the sky have not entered the path of non­abiding nirvana, may you firmly remain without passing into nirvana:, and particularly, as long as these receptacles of body, speech and mind are not destroyed by the harm of earth, water, fire and wind, acting immeasurably for the sake of sentient beings, may you firmly remain.

Touch the image or stupa with your vajra and recite: om supratistha vajra. In this manner request [the enlightened being] to firmly remain and visualize that those sacred embodiments [of enlightened beings] are transformed back into stupas, images, books, emblems, temples and so forth [as they had been prior to the consecration].

  1. Enthronement offerings [this is only a very small selection from the enthronement offerings]:
  • Make general enthronement offerings with extensive offerings and praises.
  • Special enthronement offerings.
  • For images:

In the case of images in the style of renunciates, who shave their heads, pretend you shave the head and face with a golden razor:

Even though the azure hair of the Victorious One is faultless, for the sake of fulfilling the purposes of others, and for the sake of renouncing the householder’s marks, by faithfully offering a golden razor, may all sentient beings be liberated from every suffering om vajra-kaca unmula ah hum svaha.

In the case of images in the style of the sambhogakaya of the buddha and of bodhisattvas portrayed as householders, pretend you comb the hair with a golden comb:

Even though the precious braids of the hair [of the Victorious One] are unruffled, are faultless and beautiful, and one can never look upon them enough, by offering this appropriate [comb] for the sake of purifying my mind, may all sentient beings be free from the three poisons, om vajra-vala sodhaya ah hum svaha.

  • Special enthronement offerings for stupas:

Visualize that you offer life wood om vajra-ayuse svaha.

May all sentient beings be endowed with the ten knowledges, and may the holy dharma, the teachings of the Sugata, not decline and firmly remain for a long time. May all sentient beings engage in the aspiration of Samantabhadra with immaculate resolve.

[Similarly offer a dharma wheel, crown, cloth decoration, makara banner, parasol, flower garland and a throne.]

  • Special enthronement offerings for books:

[Offer a throne, wrapping cloth, wooden boards and book strap.] For offering the wooden boards recite:

Even though the holy dharma of the unity of pairs is totally free of grasping, by offering this cover – an auspicious sign of interdependence that brings wisdom and compassion into interde-pendency, similar to the sun and the moon, may people attain the union of all dualities, om vajra-prajnd-upaya-advaya ah hum svaha.

  • Make enthronement offerings of fire offerings or caru food:

If you are able, make fine fire offerings for increasing and delighting the mandala of the tathdgata. If you are not able, place in a nice vessel, decorated with various ornaments, exquisite, divine food and drink, bless them and offer to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

  • Make enthronement offerings by reciting verses of auspiciousness, reciting the consecration mantra and by scattering flowers: All [performers] hold the dharani thread tied to the image or .. and hold a flower in their hands. The lama recites any verses of auspiciousness.. The lama together with the chief assistants recite the consecration mantra 108 or 21 times and scatter flowers while the others [offer] immeasurable songs and instrumental music. om supratistd-vajre svaha.

Translated by Yael Bentor from Grags-pa-rgyal-mtshan (1147­1216), ‘Agra’i cho ga dang rab tu gnas pa don gsal ba’, in The Complete Works of the Great Masters of the Sa Skya Sect of the Tibetan Buddhism (Tokyo: The Toyo Bunko, 1968), vol. 4, pp. 237-52.

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

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