John Myrdhin Reynold
SUR-CHÖD: Burnt Food Offering in the Bönpo Tradition
In order to make a burnt food offering, or Surchöd (gsur-mchod), we should take a quantity of tsampa or parched barley flour, or some other flour, put it into a bowl and mix this flour with grains, herbal medicines, incense, as well as butter and oil.
For a white burnt food offering (dkar gsur), no meat or blood should be added to the flour. For a red burnt food offering (dmar gsur), red meat and blood should be mixed with the tsampa. But according to Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, this distinction between the white Sur and the red Sur in terms of burnt food offerings was a later innovation of New Bon, probably inspired by the Buddhist Chöd practice (gcod) where there exist white (dkar 'gyad) and red feasts (dmar 'gyad) respectively. However, in the ancient Bonpo texts, both vegetable substances and meat were mixed together with the tsampa.
Thereafter, the offering is first purified with the aspersing or sprinkling of holy water and then purified with fumigation by way of incense. Finally, the boundaries of the rite are erected and secured (mtshams-bcad) in a ritual fashion. In this way, all impurities and negative influences are removed and expelled. The food offering is consecrated with the mantra given below, initially recited 3 times and then after the invocation, recited repeatedly.
While reciting the mantra, we pour spoon-fulls of the prepared tsampa into the fire.
As is the case with Sangchöd, Chöd, and other rituals, the offerings are made to the 4 Guests (mgron-po bzhi):
1. First, the highest guests are invited, including the Three Jewels (dkon-mchog gsum), that is to say, all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as the Three Roots (rtsa-ba gsum), all the Gurus, Yidams, and Dakinis.
2. Then there are invited all the Guardians (bön-srung) and Protectors of the Dharma teachings (bön-skyong). These 2 categories above represent the higher or spiritual guests invited to the ritual and feast.
3. Then the lower or worldly guests are invited, among them are the 8 classes of spirits (sde brgyad),
including the Lha, or Devas, the spirits of the sky, atmosphere, and the mountains,
the Nyen (gnyan), or Yakshas, the spirits of the trees and the rocks who live on the surface of the earth,
the Lu (klu), or Nagas, the serpentine water spirits who live in bodies of water and below the earth.
It is to such spirits that we owe karmic debts that incure karmic retribution (lan-chags) for despoiling the natural environment, but in particular, for the killing of living beings for our food, whether wild or domestic, in this present life and in our past lives, and also from the practice of warfare.
4. Finally, there are invited all of the sentient beings living in the 6 realms of rebirth (rigs drug), who are the objects for our feelings of compassion (snying-rje) on account of their manifold sufferings experienced in Samsara.
In our meditation, as with the Sangchöd and some other rituals, we must first transform ourselves in visualization into
Then we summon and invite these 4 kinds of guests and see them assembling before the fire into which we will pour the spoon-fulls or hand-fulls of food offerings. We invite all of these spiritual and worldly beings to partake of these offerings, whether Puja, Torma, Sang, Serkyem, or Sur, that are presented to them. In this way, in particular, we come to satisfy our guests who are worldly spirits and repay any past karmic debts (bu-lon) and repair any bad relations that we have had with them from the past, including in past lives, that incure their karmic retributions (lan-chags).
This is especially for the repayment of the killing and eating of living beings. We pray that the 8 classes of spirits will be satisfied with these offerings, and graciously having accepted them, that they will not cause any disturbances either to us, our patrons, or our community in the future.
We further pray that their various actions, such as the bringing of the timely rains, the preventing of damage to crops from hail storms, the preventing of diseases that afflict both humans and cattle, and so on, will be of benefit to all sentient beings. Finally, we pray that abundance and prosperity (dpal) and wealth (‘byor) will come in general to all human beings, including ourselves, as well as to our benefactors and patrons.
In addition, this mantra of purification and pacification may be used for any sort of offering made to the local gods and nature spirits. While making the offerings into the fire, we recite the liturgy for the Surchöd rite as follows below and continue with the mantra many times, or at least everytime something is offered into the fire.
Discussion of the fifth religious tradition of Tibet.
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