Tibetan Water Offering Bowls

Tibetan Offering Bowls

“The making of offerings is an antidote to the pattern of attachment and greed.”
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

 

The most common type of offering on Tibetan Buddhist shrines are water offerings — called “yonchap” in Tibetan — which are made in seven bowls.

 

Become a member here of A Practical Guide to Tibetan Buddhism: Tools for Beginners,
an 8-week online course. >>

 

Why Offer Water?

As we discussed in last month’s post on setting up a Losar shrine the main point of any offering is a pure motivation to cultivate generosity, and to reduce our selfishness, stinginess and greed.

We seek to give with an open, pure heart, with no attachment to what we are giving, and with no motivation of receiving something in return.

Paradoxically, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama often teaches, cultivating generosity and devoting ourselves to the welfare of others increases our own happiness in many ways, as we release the painful, stiff worry that accompanies greed and self-centeredness.

He encourages us to become selfishly altruistic, to become happy people by concerning ourselves primarily with the well being of others.

One reason that we offer water is that water in Tibet has traditionally been considered plentiful and free, and therefore painless to give. The idea is that all of our offerings should be given as freely as we would give water.

 

 

Another way to view the water offerings is as representing the seven aspects of prayer:

  • prostrating
  • offerings to the Buddhas
  • confessing our wrongs
  • rejoicing in the good qualities of oneself and others
  • requesting the Buddhas to remain in this world
  • beseeching the Buddhas to teach others
  • dedicating the merit of ourselves and others which has been accumulated throughout time, in order that all sentient beings may enjoy happiness and virtue

 

How Should I Set Up the Water Offering Bowls?

Traditionally in Tibetan homes, we make our yonchap every morning. In our busy lives in exile in the west, this does not tend to happen daily anymore, but just as often as we can.

  • Start with seven clean bowls — called ting in Tibetan — and a pitcher of fresh water. Tibetans usually use silver, brass or copper bowls, which range from very plain to carved and intricately decorated treasures.
  • One by one, pour a little water in each bowl before you place it on the shrine, lining the bowls up from left to right as you face the shrine. The reason to start with a little water in each bowl is that it is inauspicious to have a bowl sitting empty on the shrine.
  • Tibetan Buddhist masters explain that each bowl should be the distance of one barley seed from the next one.
  • Starting from left to right, fill each bowl with water, almost to the top. Again, the common thought is that you leave the space of one barley seed from the rim of the bowl.
  • While setting up your offering bowls, it is common for Tibetans to recite one of the more common mantras, like:

—  Om mani padme hung (Avalokiteshvara’s mantra)
—  Om muni muni maha munaye soha (Buddha Shakyamuni’s mantra)
—  Om tare tuttare ture soha (Tara’s mantra)

  •  Others may recite what is called the gyamdro prayer. The prayer can be whatever you choose. What is most important is that you pray with a sincere wish to cultivate generosity and an open heart.
  • In the same spirit, you might visualize that you are offering endless quantities of everything beautiful and precious, plus all the good qualities in our hearts and minds, to a vast assembly of Buddhas.
  • You can put a butter lamp between the third and fourth bowls, or between the fourth and fifth bowls, symbolizing the light of wisdom, dispelling the darkness of ignorance.
  • Once the bowls are filled, it is common to bless the offerings with kusha grass (also called elephant grass) or any kind of clean straw or stick that you may have access to. To do this, you dip your grasses into one of the bowls and sprinkle the shrine with water, reciting the purifying mantra “om a hum.” (From Khandro.net)
  • Finally, you can dedicate the merit you have gained by the offerings to the elimination of suffering and its causes for all sentient beings.

 

Tibetan Water Offering Bowls

 

Removing the Offerings

Normally, we will remove the bowls at the end of each day, any time before sunset. In central Tibet, this commonly happens as early as 3 p.m., but you can do it any time.

  • Empty the bowls one by one, starting from the right this time, drying each one as you empty it with a clean cloth.
  • When you are done, stack the bowls upside down as you see in the images here, and if you can, offer the used water to your plants.

May water offerings help you to cultivate generosity and to be relieved of the pain of selfishness and greed!

More resources

If you found this post useful, we would really love it if you share it with your Facebook fans or Twitter followers or Google+ circles today. All it takes is a simple click on the “like,” “share,” “tweet,” or Google+ buttons to the left of the post. Thanks!

 

 

By Lobsang Wangdu

 

Comments

  1. Can you tell us what is the gyamdro prayer please

    regards

  2. Dear Lobsang lak,

    Tashi Delek!!! Thank you very much for enlightening us with all the knowledge and the real importance of our daily morning offerings.. and prayers.. i am very much grateful for all your details but still i am facing some problems…. as you said that we need to make the bowl empty before the sun set but since we both are so much engaged in our job that mostly i reached home around 6.00 pm… so kindly tell us what should we need to do in such cases??? till now i used to put some rice in the 7 bowls and every morning i keeps on changing the water… so kindly allow me to hear from you soon….

    Kind regards,
    kenzom

  3. Ugyen Sangngag Tenzin says:

    Hi
    Its really a wonderful topic that we are discussing. Only through such means that we are beginning to accumulate merits.

    I always request and take interest in such as this post in the future also la.

    Regards
    Ugyen

  4. dear friend

    i want to know about the meaning of seven bowl……… why we only used 7 bowl ? plsssssssss let me know

    Regards
    choden la

    • Hi Choden la, and thanks for your nice comments. There are different reasons given for using 7 bowls, but one we like is this:

      Another way to view the water offerings is as representing the seven aspects of prayer:

      prostrating
      offerings to the Buddhas
      confessing our wrongs
      rejoicing in the good qualities of oneself and others
      requesting the Buddhas to remain in this world
      beseeching the Buddhas to teach others
      dedicating the merit of ourselves and others which has been accumulated throughout time, in order that all sentient beings may enjoy happiness and virtue

  5. Dear friend

    i am very happy to know the meaning of these offering water thanks a lot . well we bhuddist people do this every morning but few peoples only know the meaning of these offering water even i too have not knw about the meaning of these yenchap. thankssssssss a lot

    Regards
    chodenla

  6. Dear Lobsang,
    thank you for your video. I’d like to know, when I should bless the offering, can I use incense instead of kusha grass or a stick? and how can I practice? At the end of the day, is there some mantra that I should recite when I have to remove the bowls? Good path of light!!!
    Ciao e grazie tante.

    • You are so welcome, Gianluca! There is no special mantra to pray when you remove the bowls, so any mantra or prayer you like is fine. Incense is definitely fine. All the best.

  7. come potrei acquistare una statua del Budda?

    • Sorry, Enzo, we don’t have a good source for Buddha statues to recommend right now. We’ll post on Facebook or in the Resources section of the site if we find a good online source. All the best.

  8. harriet rowland says:

    Dear Yolanda and Lobsang,
    Thanks again for another interesting newsletter…I learn something new each time, such as leaving spaces of one barley seed between and at the brim of the water. I shall have to go and check out my horse feed to see if I can find a useful barley seed in it!Then my horses will also be practicing generosity, albeit a tiny seed! Ho,ho! You have been in my thoughts and hope that full fitness has now been restored…or very nearly…to the family. I send you much joy from beneath the lovely Andalusian 5am moon! Harriet x

  9. stewart says:

    Thank you for sharing. I have a shrine at home and found this useful. I like that you recommend using the water afterwards for plants, which is what I do.

  10. To sheare this beatiful ritual with us means the generosity of your mind.!!!! The ligth with you.
    Abel. Morelia, Mexico

  11. Todd Pope says:

    So glad for your tutorial…
    I am setting up the Macy’s Flower Show in Chicago called “The Painted Garden.” This year’s theme focuses on the floral beauty and cultural diversity of South Asia and I want to make the gardens appropriate and meaningful to people who visit regardless of their place of origin. Thank you for the education!

    • Thanks so much for the kind thoughts, Todd. What interesting work you have! Are you thinking of using some Tibetan components in your show? All the best to you!

  12. Thank you for the explanation, mantras and video. Ciao from Slovenia

  13. Dear Lobsang Wangdu, thank you for the details in the text and the video!

    Best wishes,
    Raissa

Leave a Comment

*