Riwo Sangchö

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Pilgrims offering juniper branches for a sang offering, at Lhasa's Jokhang Temple, courtesy of Sunanda Koning

Riwo Sangchö (Tib. རི་བོ་བསང་མཆོད་, Wyl. ri bo bsang mchod), or literally ‘Mountain Smoke Offering’, is the most famous practice of sang offering in Tibetan Buddhism. It is a terma that was hidden by Guru Rinpoche and revealed in the seventeenth century by the great yogin and tertön Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé (1597-1653), who brought the Dharma to Sikkim, as part of the profound Dharma-cycle of Rigdzin Sokdrup, ‘Accomplishing the Life-Force of the Vidyadharas’. From the many ways, elaborate or condensed, of doing this practice, Dudjom Rinpoche composed an abbreviated version for daily practice, this is what is followed by the Rigpa sangha.

Purpose

The purpose of Riwo Sangchö is to realize the perfection of wisdom, by accumulating merits through two main aspects of practice: offerings, and purification — especially of impurity and of obstructions.

According to Dodrupchen Jikmé Tenpé Nyima[1]

It is by making illusory offerings through illusory practice that we can complete the gathering of illusory accumulations. Through this cause—namely the accumulation of merit—we can gain the result, which is the perfection of wisdom. Four such methods which involve very little difficulty and yet are exceptionally meaningful and beneficial are the offerings of sang, water tormas, sur[ and one’s own body. The individual who practises these regularly and diligently will gather the accumulations, purify the obscurations, and, in particular, will pacify any obstacles and factors that prevent the accomplishment of the Dharma and awakening in the present lifetime, becoming free of them like the sun emerging from the clouds. Since they also support our progress along the path leading to the supreme attainment of Dzogpachenpo, it makes sense for us to put our energy into practising them.

According to Gyalsé Shenpen Tayé[2]:

[…] The four naturally pure universal elements—earth, water, fire and wind—provide numerous methods for purifying or cleansing the stains of both temporary and ultimate obscuration… This practice [of sang offering] could be described as a method using the element of fire in particular in order to purify obscurations until all temporary and ultimate defilements have been cleared away.

According to Shenphen Dawa Rinpoche[3]

This practice of Sang has two major parts. One part is recognizing one’s faults and confessing these. The second part is doing something about the obscurations created by such faults through purifying them. One of the main points of the Sang is to increase ones Lungta and to bring spirits and planetary influences to work on your behalf. It will increase prosperity, open up good fortune and strengthen the essential elements of one’s practice. This Sang practice is one of the quickest ways to repay our karmic debts and it also acts to repair whatever breaches of Samaya we have made knowingly or unknowingly. Sang is also used for purifying the space, environment and personal possessions which may have been contaminated.

According to Lama Tharchin Rinpoche[4]

Riwo Sangchö, The Mountain Smoke Offering’, comes from the viewpoint of Dzogchen. It is really the best practice to remove obstacles and fulfil both temporary and long-term wishes. The smoke offering is made to all wisdom beings, to the Three Jewels, the Three Roots and Dharma Protectors, and the Three Kayas. Offering to the wisdom beings helps us to accumulate merit and wisdom. This brings short-term happiness and ultimate enlightenment. We also offer to all demonic beings who are actually manifestations of our karmic debt. These karmic debtors cause obstacles of all kinds, both temporary in this life and also long-term obstacles to enlightenment. Through this offering, karmic debtors are repaid, removing all of these obstacles. This is really the best technique.

According to Sogyal Rinpoche:

Riwo Sangchö means ‘An unceasing offering to the mountain gods’, but it is much more than that. It is a practice of generosity and offering that frees your heart and inspires your generosity to others. It is a practice of prosperity that also brings you confidence. It is a practice of healing through which you repay all your karmic debts and heal your relationships. Riwo Sangchö is also practice of purification in which all your obscurations are purified and burned away in the sang offering. You purify the outer pollution (environmental degradation, disharmony, and physical sickness) ; You purify the inner pollution (negative emotions, blockages in your channels and imbalances in our energy) ; You purify the secret pollution (fundamental ignorance). Riwo Sangchö is also and especially a practice that enhances your energy and your lung ta, thus making your rigpa more vivid to you.

According to Orgyen Topgyal Rinpoche[5]:

When we pray to Guru Rinpoche and invoke his blessing, offer sang and engage in other practices that cuase th flourishing of lung ta, we awaken the clarity aspect of the mind. We awaken our rigpa, so that it is more perceptible to us. The ultimate point of such practice is to awaken the clarity aspect of our minds, to bring us into closer contact with our own rigpa. We may even discover the enlightened intent of kadak or ‘primordial purity’, where neither suffering nor even the concept of suffering remain to be dealt with.

Content

The practice of the Riwo Sangchö has three sections:

1. The Preliminaries

  1. Taking refuge
  2. Generating the awakened mind, the heart of Bodhichitta
  3. Seven branch offering
  4. [Self visualization] [6]
  5. [Purification and blessing of the sang offering][7]

2. The Main Part

  1. Blessing the offering substances
  2. The recipients of the offerings
  3. How the offering is made

3. The Conclusion

  1. Dedication
  2. Aspiration
  3. Requesting activity

Revelation of the Terma

Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé (1597-1656) was an incarnation of both Vimalamitra and Longchenpa. His most important teachers were the two great vidyadharas and tartans Jatsön Nyingpo (1585-1656) and Rigdzin Düddul Dorje. In 1646, at their urging, following a prophecy that to do so would be of great benefit for the Dharma throughout the Himalayas, Lhtasün Namkha Jikmé went on foot to Lhari Ösel Nyingpo in Sikkim. There, he founded a temple and hermitage, establishing it as one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage in the Himalayas. In accordance with an earlier prophetic declaration of the dakinis, the famous cycle of terma teachings called Rigdzin Sokdrup, ‘Accomplishing the Life-Force of the Vidyadharas’, emerged in a pure vision while he was in rtetreat in the cave of Dhaki-hying near Tashiding. These teachings, of which Riwo Sangchö form the mangak or ‘innermost instruction’, are unsurpassed instructions on Dzogchn Atiyoga[8]

Propagation

Throughout Sikkim during the 17th

Through his practice of Riwo Sangchö since 1646, Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé was able to remove all human and non-human obstacles to the Dharma in Sikkim, and opened it as a ‘secret land’ of the teachings. Because of this, he was able to teach Dzogchen very widely there and established an unbroken lineage that continues to this day, knowm simply as “Sikkim Dzogchen’. Rigdzin Sokdrup, ‘Accomplishing the Life-Force of the Vidyadharas’, continues to be transmitted and practised throughout Tibet and particularly in Sikkim.

Throughout the Himalayas during the 18th,19th and 20th century

While there exist many other sang offering practices, the Riwo Sangchö became maybe the most widely practiced within all different lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.

In the West since the 1970’s

In the West, during the 1970’s, Dudjom Rinpoche made an arrangement of the original practice of Riwo Sangchö and practiced it daily, encouraging all his students to do so.

Signs

Through his practice of Riwo Sangchö, Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé was able to remove all human and non-human obstacles to the Dharma in Sikkim, and opened it as a ‘hidden-land of the teachings. Because of this, he was able to teach Dzogchen very widely there and established an unbroken lineage that continues to this day, knowm simply as “Sikkim Dzogchen’. Rigdzin Sokdrup, ‘Accomplishing the Life-Force of the Vidyadharas’, continues to be transmitted and practised throughout Tibet and particularly in Sikkim. Lama Tharchin Rinpoché said ‘Dudjom Rinpoche did this practice all the time and recommended it to all of his students. In my life, I have had such success with this practice of Riwo Sangchö, and recommend it to all my spiritual friends and vajra brothers and sisters.’[9]

According to Sogyal Rinpoche, 'Dudjom Rinpoche always used to do this practice every morning. This is an incredible and powerful practice. Everything is dissolving into rainbow light. You need to fee that in your practice.'

Translation and Commentaries

Further Reading

Oral Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sangha

Sogyal Rinpoche's main teachings on Riwo Sangchö:

Other teachers:

Edited Teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche

  • Riwo Sangchö and Tendrel Nyesel—Making your Practice Meaningful (available in English, French and German, DVE 500)
  • Dzogchenlinks July & September 2011, The Deep Significance of Riwo Sangchö Practice (Parts 1 & 2) [based on Sogyal Rinpoche's teachings in Tuncurry, Australia, 2012]
  • Dzogchenlink, Nov. 2007, The Practice of Riwo Sangchö part 2
  • Dzogchenlink, Sept. 2007, The Practice of Riwo Sangchö part 1
  • Dzogchenlink, Nov. 1998, The Practice of Riwo Sangchö

Internal Links

Notes

  1. Dodrupchen Jikmé Tenpé Nyima, ‘Guide to Sang Practice’, translated by Adam Pearcey.
  2. Gyalsé Shenpen Tayé, The Gentle Rain of Benefit and Joy—An Explanation of the Practice of Sang Offering, translated by Adam Pearcey.
  3. Shenphen Dawa Rinpoche, ‘Instructions on Sang Offering’, email communication, Yeshe Nying Po.
  4. Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, ‘Instructions on The Mountain Smoke Offering, email communication, Vajrayana Foundation
  5. A Guide to Vajrayana Practice for the Rigpa Sangha, Section 3. Riwo Sangchö (based on teachings by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche and commentaries by Gyalsé Shenpen Tayé and Dodrupchen Jikmé Tenpé Nyima), The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2006.
  6. According to Sogyal Rinpoche, ‘This section was not in the original Terma, it was added by Dudjom Rinpoche.’
  7. According to Orgyen Topgyal Rinpoche, ‘For this version of the Riwo Sangchö, Dudjom Rinpoche selected text fro the self-visualization from Rigdzin Sokdrup, the terma of Lhatsün Namkha Jikmé, which is included in the Rinche Terdzö, in the section on sang and sur offerings. In fact, the prayers that Dudjom Rinpoche added for visualization, the purification and blessing of the sang offring were all composed before his time. He did not ‘invent’ anything himself.
  8. Riwo Sangchö and Lung Ta, Essential Guides to the Daily Sadhana Practices of the Rigpa Sangha.
  9. Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, ‘Instructions on The Mountain Smoke Offering, email communication, Vajrayana Foundation

External Links