Talk by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche (5/1/1993)

     The subject here today is an explanation of the significance
of the eight offerings. We make these offerings to the enlightened
beings in many practices - in the Vajrasattva practice, Guru Yoga,
and a lot of other practices. We have been doing this for a long
time, so I thought it would be useful if we studied a little about
what that practice signifies.
     The enlightened beings do not want or need these things. We
make offerings for our own benefit, to accumulate great merit and
wisdom. Enlightenment, Buddhahood, is achieved through the two
great qualities - accumulation and purification. As you know, the
Buddha has limitless qualities, which were gained through the
great accumulations and purifications. Our offerings are a simple
way to accumulate both merit and wisdom.
     First is the water offering to cleanse the mouth or face. It
signifies auspiciousness or all the positive causes and
conditions which bring positive effects. So, make an offering of
water which is clean, fresh, cool, smooth, light, delicious,
comfortable to the throat and stomach - these qualities are the
qualities of auspiciousness. When you drink that kind of water, it
is healthy; if you take a shower with it is healthy.  While you
make this kind of water offering to the enlightened beings,
visualize an ocean of water. Then we dedicate this water to become
a cause for all sentient beings to also collect positive causes
and conditions. So this is the first water offering - to cleanse
the mouth or face.
     Second is water to wash the feet. This is clear water mixed
with incense or sandlewood which is made as an offering to all
enlightened beings' feet. The symbolic meaning is purification. By
cleansing the feet of the enlightened beings, we cleanse all our
own negative karma and obscurations. By making offerings to clean
the enlightened beings feet, we are really cleaning the "feet" of
our own mind.  With respect, devotion and confidence, we offer an
ocean of this kind of water to all enlightened beings to purify
all the temporary obscurations of ourselves and all sentient
beings.  Obscurations are called "temporary" because they can be
purified.  If they were permanent, we could not purify them even
if we make an effort. So meditate on this when you make these
offerings.  All the different types of obscurations -- gross,
subtle, negative karma, afflictive emotions, and obscurations to
enlightenment -- all these different types of obscurations become
fully purified.
     Next is offering of a flower, the flower of the beauty of
enlightenment. It signifies the practice of generosity and opens
the heart. A flower is very beautiful; so you naturally want to
keep it. But when you offer it to others, there is some special
feeling in the mind. With that connection, make the offering and
practice freedom from stinginess. Milarepa said there is no
special practice of generosity if one is free from stinginess.
Meditate on that by offering flowers, which signifies the practice
of generosity. May all sentient beings achieve the freedom and
endowment of a precious human life.
     Flowers are offered to the head of the enlightened beings,
for them to wear on the crown of the head. Within the practice of
generosity, we immediately think of giving wealth, giving
fearlessness, giving wisdom -- there are many different types of
generosity. Usually when we say generosity, we immediately think
of giving wealth, but it is not only that.  For example, giving
fearlessness means giving life.  If someone is afraid for their
life, like drowning in water, and if you give them safety from the
water, this is called giving fearlessness, giving freedom from
danger to life. Giving wisdom is very special generosity.  When we
give teaching to one who has no wisdom -- does not know what
samsara is, what enlightenment is, or what the cause of suffering
is -- that is such a great gift. To help them understand "Oh, that
is samsara, that is enlightenment." Such a great gift!  So,
offering a flower symbolizes generosity.
OFFERING INCENSE - Discipline, Moral Ethics
     The fourth offering is incense, which symbolizes moral ethics
or discipline. Moral discipline is one of the most important
practices. In the West, maybe discipline and morality are a little
bit different. What I mean here is that when we have good
discipline, there is morality. Discipline is in the teaching of
the Dharma. For instance, it says, "do this, this, this. Sit like
this, meditate like this." It is taught like discipline. So when
we do that, it is good moral ethics; when we cannot do these
things that are taught to be done, then there is no morality, no
ethics. In Sanskrit, this is called "shila". Shila means coolness,
freshness. When we have good discipline, it cools the mind free
from suffering. When we stay in that position well, it relaxes the
mind and frees it from agitation. All these disciplines are part
of the process of progressing in our meditation practice. Unless
these disciplines and moral ethics are there, it is not possible
to achieve enlightenment. Therefore, Buddha gave these three
teachings -- moral ethics, samadhi and wisdom -- called the Three
Trainings. These Three Trainings are very important. Wisdom or
special insight comes from samadhi, the stability and strength of
the mind. That kind of strength in the mind is based on discipline
and morality. So they are all related to each other, are
connected to each other and depend on each other. Therefore, moral
ethics is a very important aspect of path.
     Incense, which is the nature of morality, makes offerings to
the nose of the enlightened beings. The enlightened beings are not
attached to smell, but to our purity. All people respect those who
have kept moral ethics well. It doesn't matter who they are, they
get respect because they are trustworthy and dependable. That kind
of person gives a good smell, good odor, and people are attracted
to that. not only people, but the qualities of enlightened beings
are also attracted by that morality. It is their foundation/basis,
like the ground which grows all the "crops" of the enlightened
     Fifth is light or a lamp, which signifies the stability and
clarity of patience, the beauty which dispels all ignorance. Light
offering is made to the eyes of all the enlightened beings, who
see clearly without mistake. Some people feel patience is showing
weakness or pessimism. But, actually, patience shows the strength
and clarity of mind, which are based on wisdom and compassion.
Without proper wisdom and compassion, one cannot practice
patience. So light shows that the strength of the mind, the clear,
stable nature of the mind, achieved through the practice of
patience. Because the mind is not disturbed by other forces, it
has such great qualities: clarity knows what is to be done, which
is necessary, which is not necessary. That dispels ignorance.
     Patience can be practiced in all different forms, different
ways, not just when people are faced with anger. For example,
there is patience in Dharma practice and study. First, this is
based on wisdom, so we should have such wisdom to really know how
Dharma is, what quality it has, the depth and vastness of Dharma,
and how we can achieve these qualities. Seeing those great
qualities, then we need patience to study and practice. When we
have that, there is a mind of clarity, of stableness.
     On the other hand we should not be patient with our
afflictive emotions. When we have anger, desire, jealousy, pride,
don't practice patience with these! This is the wrong way to
practice patience. Even if it is hard or painful, these are
subjects to get rid of or purify; they don't do any good thing.
Without sacrificing something, there is no chance that we will
have peace and happiness. So no matter what kind of pain we face,
what difficult circumstances we face, we have to go thru it. Even
if we have to sacrifice this life, it is worthwhile to sacrifice.
A lot of people commit suicide to get rid of all these afflictive
emotions. They are overpowered by the afflictive emotions and they
kill themselves. That is the wrong way to sacrifice this life. We
have to sacrifice this life the other way around. Buddha said that
if we have to lose our life to keep the moral discipline, it just
finishes this life, but next lives will be higher and higher,
better and better. But if we do it the other way around and
sacrifice this life for the afflictive emotions, then we will go
worse and worse.
     In Shantideva's text it is said that we should not commit
suicide or give this body without much purpose. Rather, we should
cherish this precious human life. An explanation is given. When a
medicinal tree is very small plant, it has to be protected in
order to grow into a huge tree. If you pick it up when it is
small, it will benefit only a few and then it is finished. But if
you protect it well with many fences, it will grow into a huge
tree that will bring fruits, flowers, roots, leaves, branches for
the benefit of many, many sentient beings. Similarly we have a
fragile mind at this time. We must protect this precious human
life with all these antidotes, fences, and let it grow big. Then
we can benefit many sentient beings. By the practice of patience,
all the 112 major and minor marks of a Buddha will come. Of
course, we should not expect it, but the result of patience is a
healthy, good body, to which all people are attracted, which is
respected and admired. All this comes from the practice of
     Next is the offering of perfume or the fragrance from saffron
or sandlewood. -- all the different types of perfume. That
signifies perseverance or joyous effort. Through that one quality,
one develops all the qualities of enlightenment. Without
perseverance, without joyous effort, nothing can be achieved.
Even in samsara, we have to work so hard to achieve anything. A
lot of people sacrifice a lot of things just for samsaric
achievement. You sacrifice your life for your work; if you die,
what will you do with your wealth? So now, see the other side --
Dharma study and practice. When we could make such a great effort
to study, practice Dharma, we have to sacrifice some little thing.
It is said in Shantideva's text that studying Dharma is the cause
to freedom from suffering. To achieve ultimate enlightenment,
ultimate happiness, why can't we do that? Others in samsara, they
even sacrifice their life for their achievements, but that becomes
a cause only for suffering. So see that. As flowers were offered
to the eyes of enlightenment, perfumes are offered to the Buddha's
mind because perseverance is the heart of enlightenment.  Perfect
generosity, moral ethics, patience, samadhi, wisdom -these all
depend on perseverance. Without joyous effort none of these can be
accomplished, so it is the heart, the essence.  Meditate that by
this offering, may all sentient beings progress in their
attainment of the qualities of enlightenment.
     Seventh is the offering of delicious food which has a lot of
different tastes. The delicious, excellent quality of food
signifies samadhi, which is a nectar or ambrosia to feed the mind.
This is an offering to the tongue of the enlightened beings, the
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Samadhi is also the source of all the
siddhis like clairvoyance. There are two different types of
clairvoyance -- ordinary clairvoyance is usually from other
lifetimes. The other type is special insight clairvoyance, which
we achieve this lifetime through meditation practice. Flying in
the sky, different types of miracle power, these can all be
achieved through samadhi, the virtuous one-pointed mind. The very
stable mind, one-pointed, clear, calm, peaceful mind of samadhi
becomes a basis to achieve all the enlightenment qualities. Food
symbolizes samadhi because eating food maintains this body, and
samadhi is a kind of food that maintains the mind as well as the
physical body. When you achieve any kind of samadhi, it is the
fruition of the effort you made before, and it can also become a
path to get higher fruition. Generally, when we eat nutritious
healthy food, it makes our health better. So if we have the
nutritious food of samadhi, it keeps the health of the mind. It
makes the mind healthy, clear, calm and peaceful. By making this
offering of delicious food, may all sentient beings have the
health which results from the samadhi food. May all sentient
beings have the samadhi nature, quality.
     Last is the offering of musical instruments. There are
different types of instruments -- cymbals, bells, guitars, lutes -
- all of these are offered. Their nature is wisdom, which makes an
offering to the ears of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and all the
enlightened beings. Sound represents wisdom because wisdom is a
special power of the mind which penetrates phenomena. Compassion
is achieved through great wisdom; interdependence of all phenomena
is realized through great wisdom. of course all phenomena have the
nature of interdependence, causes and conditions, but sound is
especially easy to understand. If you play a guitar, what does the
sound depend on? it does not come just from the piece of wood, the
string, not from the finger. So where does it come from? It comes
from all these things, none alone is sufficient to produce the
sound. That nature is called illusion. We can hear the Sound, but
it has no independent existence. So we should see all sound having
that nature.  It just comes and goes like an echo. That
realization is wisdom, and through that realization we can attain
supermundane quality. May the wisdom, that quality of the
supermundane, arise within the minds of all sentient beings and
free them from all confusion and ignorance. May they achieve
Q & A
Q. - Should the bowls be emptied every evening?
A. - Yes, when you empty them, you should meditate on
   impermanence. Now all the enlightened beings are fully
   satisfied. Dedicate the merit accumulation of making these
   offerings to all sentient beings. May all those beings also
   become Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, free from confusion and
Q. - Do you have to have actual flowers, or can I use rice or
A. - Buddha said that there are so many different levels of
   meditation practice. from 100% to 1%. So all this we can do
   depending on the individual practitioner. But even the 1%, we
   should do it - it's better than nothing. When we make offering
   by filling all the bowls with rice, it is wonderful. The Buddha
   said that even if you take one piece of flower and throw it in
   the air while focusing on the Buddha, that will become a cause
   for freedom from samsara.
Q. - Some people make it very elaborate and elegant, expensive
   looking. others have simple white bowls with water.
A. - No matter what, you have to have a pure motivation. This is
   very important. With pure motivation, any offering you make is
   good. Expensive is great because you sacrifice a lot of things
   for that offering. but if you do not have pure motivation, like
   doing it to show wealth, then maybe it's not so pure. We work
   this entire life, so for us these things mean so much. When we
   make an offering of them to the enlightened beings, it has
   meaning for us. We sacrifice that part of our life. In this
   way, offering becomes a special meditation practice.
(An edited transcript of a talk given by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen
Rinpoche on May 1, 1993 at the Tibetan Meditation Center,
published in "The Dharma Wheel", Summer, 1993)