To trace back a particular practice or aspect of practice to the Buddha is a way to authenticate its origin, while showing that the lineage is uninterrupted since its inception helps us to have confidence that the way we are practising today is still in accordance with the instructions of the Buddha.
The origin of the tormas we offer is said to come from the following account. Once, at the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni, as Ananda was practising the Dharma in the forest near the city of Kapilavastu a frightening preta spitting fire through his mouth appeared in front of him. He told Ananda, “You have only seven days left to live, and I will eat you.” Ananda, extremely scared, ran to the Buddha and told him about what had just happened. The Bhagavan replied, “Make a torma of infinite magnificence, bless it with mantra, and offer it. This will liberate you from the fear of untimely death and lead you to accomplish infinite qualities.”
It has been transmitted through many lineages. Yet, Ananda transmitted to Nanda, Nanda to Bikshuni Rati. Arhats received it from her and passed it on to the yogi Antavajra, and the sages of Bodhgaya. Then it passed to Dharmamati, Atisha, Dromtönpa who transmitted it to the Three Brothers (his three principal disciples—Potowa, Chengawa and Phuchungwa). This is how the lineage has been transmitted progressively to Tibet the Land of Snow.
The essence of torma
The essence of the torma is the dharmadhatu which is the utterly pure nature of the world, and the wisdom of rigpa, the completely pure nature of the sentient inhabiting the world--it is the indivisible union emptiness (the object) and wisdom (the subject). Even though there are several categories of tormas (such as outer, inner, secret, dhyana, illustrative) we are mainly discussing here the first, the outer torma.
Meaning of the word
As for the term ‘torma’, Guru Padmasambhava said:
- ‘tor’ means to give without attachment, and
- ‘ma’ means completely present.
So ‘tor’ refers to giving without any attachment or grasping in the mind, and ‘ma’ to when what is given is completely present to the perception of the guests.
And who are those guests? In a nutshell they are those who are higher than us and to whom we offer, and those who are lower than us and to whom we give. To divide those two groups slightly, there are four categories: