Friday, June 16, 2017

Sacred Landscape and Smoke Puja Lhasang

One of the things I really appreciated about my time at Gampo Abbey was the Shambhala approach to sacred place and landscape. In 2007 I had my first introduction to Buddhist smoke pujas (Lhasang in Tibetan).

A windy Lhasang at Gampo Abbey

In this ritual we would prepare a fire in a specially built fire pit near the edge of the cliff overlooking the Bay of St. Lawrence, a wild and blowy place. We would circle the fire with Buddhist ritual instruments and chant the Shambhala Lhasang liturgy, compiled by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a teacher of Lama Shenpen Hookham (my own teacher).

During the ceremony various purifying substances would be added to the fire, such as juniper, oils and herbs. These would produce a thick white smoke which would be whipped off into the wind sometimes visible miles down the coastline, other times swallowed into a snow storm.

The view behind the Lhasang was one of joining heaven and earth, of calling down beneficial influence (Drala) down into our worldly existence and purifying he participants and the land we were practising on.

I find this view of correspondence between the levels of the physical environment and the levels of the spiritual environment very pleasing. It resonates with something pre-Buddhist, perhaps something pre-dating organised religion, something deep in the human psyche.

Similar smoke rituals are found in the Bon tradition of pre-Buddhist Tibet, in Hinduism and in the Native American cultures to name but a few, There are also resonances with the burning of incense in Christian Catholic rites.

I am not by nature a very outdoorsy kind of person, those that know me will more likely associate me with cafes and comfy sofas. But there is something about performing ritual under the open Gwynedd skies that will have me reaching for my wellies.

Lama Shenpen doing puja at the Faerie Glen in Snowdonia

Here in beautiful Gwynedd (pronounced Gwyneth) in North Wales, we are surrounded by sacred spots where people of many spiritual traditions including Druids and Celtic Christians have practised on the same land for many centuries. These spots are marked by sacred groves, healing wells and standing stones.

A view of Snowdon on pilgrimage to the Faerie Glen

As a 21st Century Buddhist practising in North Wales, I take a real joy in the sense of continuity that I get from performing a Lhasang smoke offering on a Welsh hillside. My understanding of the how the universe works is different from my predecessors; the deities I chant to are not the old gods of this region; and yet as I dance around the fire, chanting and singing into the Welsh breeze, I know that men and women have been doing this here for milllennia. The smell of the smoke, the earth under our rhythmically moving feet, the love of this sacred land. Whatever our differences, we hold this simple and beautiful thing in common,

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