We are spending the next few weeks talking about the practice of Riwo Sangchod in DharmaWeb, our online meditation circle at YDL. Riwo Sangchod is a famous smoke offering ritual practiced in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This practice is used to purify negativity and karma, remove obstacles to health and wealth, as well as gather the accumulations of merit and wisdom that give rise to realization.
That probably seems pretty strange to the Western mind.
You would never go to your financial advisor and expect them to tell you to do Riwo Sangchod. Likely your physician wouldn't make that recommendation as well. And how does a smoke offering contribute to giving rise to wisdom and realization.
What is really going on here? Is this all smoke and mirrors, the remnants of a mythic culture?
From a Buddhist view, in order for this practice to make sense it is important to understand the basis of purification, the method of purification, and the result of purification.
But first, a story.
Many of you probably know that I used to practice pharmacy. I worked in a really busy neighborhood store with a large staff of people that worked with me. It was a pretty high energy, high demands environment.
To manage my day I used to go to work 30 minutes before I needed to in order to try to control all the levers I could in an effort to preserve my mental sanity and maintain a sense of composure amidst the chaos. I'd get everything set up so that when the doors opened we were already going full speed.
And this worked most days. I knew most of the levers in that life that I used to live and I was very good at playing the game. Of course, things would go off course and often did. There would be a long line at the coffee shop, the computers wouldn't work, or there would be an emergency to attend to on the voicemail.
The thing is, as much as I was skilled at controlling that small part of my life, that tiny circle of identity, there is so much outside of that circle that we don't see or anticipate. We control that part of our life and mind very well, but there is a whole set of resources, opportunities, and circumstances that lie outside of our awareness and control.
When it comes to removing negativity, promoting our health or wealth, or accumulating positive potential or even dare say the conditions for awakening, we often only look within our small circle of reality. We don't recognize the abundance and potential of an expanded mode of being in the world. Because of that, we do the things that we usually do or we follow the advice that we have heard others say.
We want to break out of the circle of confinement that we are in, to live a more happy, abundant, and healthy life, but we don't know how because we keep traveling the same well worn tracks that we have always traveled.
We need a fresh snowfall so that we can see the open opportunity that is in front of us.
That gets us back to the basis of purification. The basis of purification is our buddhanature, which is originally pure and naturally present. It is this unfabricated natural condition which is what makes the purification of negative karma and obscurations possible.
Normally we don't recognize our buddhanature. We don't recognize the naturally present qualities like open presence, calm composure, penetrating insight, acceptance, patience, and compassion. We don't see that that way of being is available to us. It is present, right here, right now, but instead we only identify with the small circle of identity.
In practices like Riwo Sangchod, we begin by recognizing the basis of purification, which is our naturally present buddhanature.
Being open and accepting of things as they are, our primordial condition is a state of health and well-being.
Not needing anything and having a sense of enough and deep contentment, our primordial condition is a state of inner wealth and resourcefulness.
Having passed through the veils of clinging to identity and ego, we are not bound by strong ropes of cognitive bias and emotional afflictions.
Being naturally present and unfabricated, there is nothing more to attain, so needing to accumulate merit or wisdom no longer make sense.
The result of purification, the things we are looking for, are already present in the ground of being.
The ritual, or the method of purification, is how we bring this view to the level of our lived experience.
'Ritual is a magical act that makes the abstract concrete and the fictional real.' – Yuval Noah Harari
Of course believing isn't enough to make magic happen.
When practicing the ritual, we need to combine some elemental forces to really make magic possible.
(Intention x attention)^belief = magic
Our intention for this practice is to recognize our natural state, our primordial condition or buddhanature.
Attention is the degree to which we can abide in that natural condition.
This ability to rest in the natural condition (intention x attention) is amplified by belief in the ritual. Here belief doesn't have to be in the supernatural or magical. Belief can be grounded in the practical and logical, the conviction that indeed the result that we are looking for is already present in the ground. We can believe that the ritual is in fact an act of making that which is beyond mind readily apparent.
And that is when real magic happens.
Of course, this type of Buddhist magic won't work for winning the lottery or getting promoted. It won't work for finding the love of your life, or curing cancer.
But it will work for being more open and present in the world. For recognizing the wealth of opportunity and resourcefulness present everywhere around you and in you. It will make you more kind, more patient, more tender, and more honest.
I'm pretty sure it will work for those things.
Interestingly, those things might also increase the chances of you getting promoted, finding love, overcoming incurable disease, and even winning the lottery. The lottery of living a good life that is.