The flames leapt out, of the Tanchan fire pit moving in forms, morphing into figures, burning brighter as the devotees throw repentance in forms of herbal mixtures on the fire in hopes of clearing the past for new blessings. A rebirth of sorts. The master from Nepal perches on the make shift shrine, deep throated chanting coming in rhythmic intonations from his throat, creating a calm and serenity that spreads throughout the crowd, that chants softly along in unison.
The congregation for the ceremony this year is sparse, as only a few are permitted to attend in light of the global pandemic that forces the separation of physical bodies. “How lucky we are to be in Taiwan,” says Master, Rinchope Gyepa Dorje with his commanding, but very relaxed and cheerful speech. Like most Buddhist leaders, he believes it is Karmic state, and a universal contract that has caused this outbreak. To the believers this global tragedy is a cosmic sentiment of how action brings about certain results-a concept that many Western minds are uncomfortable with. In the same breath this cheery, well mannered and very animated man, of short stature with a jolly roundness about him also concludes, “we need a union of West and East. We need to come together to share wisdom. Both could benefit.”
Tibetan Buddhism is not as popular as Zen, (or Chan) in Taiwan, yet the few temples and centers that exist here are just as brightly decorated and embellished in wonders as the ones in nations occupied by Tibetan Buddhism. Intricate drums, shell and bone flutes and beads rest on tables, as multi colored prayer flags swing and interconnect between the trees that stand around the ceremony. For this event, the monks who usually attend to Rinchope are tucked away in Nepal, unable to come back to participate due to the Covid 19 catastrophe. To be one of the few in Taiwan invited this year is seen as a high privilege, and the gratitude of those in attendance is quite apparent. Fervent bows and arms reach out as he walks by, and he waves his hand as if to say “no need, for such displays.” He almost seems uncomfortable to receive such adoration. And, for the minority who enjoy the scenes and can understand some of the philosophy but are not pure devotees, they too perhaps see this level of commitment as a bit over the top. Yet, this man they call a master is quite charming and easy to like. With a humble nature he will chat about anything, diving into conversations on complex levels with an open mind. A refreshing character, and despite one’s beliefs or sympathies, an interaction with the Buddhist disciple can be quite engaging with a transformative quality.
The Fire Offering, which always takes place in May, is a very important ritual in Tibetan Buddhism. It represents the opportunity to make peace with our ancestors, liberate those caught between worlds, heal wounds, remove psychic debris from lives and clear the way for new things to happen. Intricate offerings of dried herbs, rose buds, grains and even pieces of rare coral and pure silver are heaped on plates and lines are made, as everyone files by tossing the mix onto the writhing pit of fire that gives off unbearable heat, with flames that reach out like frantic limbs. Hours of work and preparation gone in an instant. When the intense scene subsides and there is just the smoldering ash remaining, the worshippers attest to experiencing a profound hope for the future.
Energy clearing is often a theme in many spiritual and religious traditions. For the secular, it might be in the form of decluttering and removing old objects and material from a living or office space, or ending toxic relationships. Whatever form it takes, it cannot be denied that when we clear physical or emotional debris, there is often a lightness and fresh perspective that follows. Although, of course this sacred ceremony is meant to go far beyond the mundane to liberate us and those we love from the Karma of past lives, it too seems to have an immediate effect of wellbeing for those who attend, despite whether you are a Buddhist or not: “Departed, have left no addresses…But at my back in a cold blast I hear…The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear…My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart, Under my feet…After the event. He wept. He promised a ‘new start.” T.S Eliot, The Wasteland Section III: The Fire Sermon.