Bradley Kassian on Kawang and Serkym
What is Serkyem? What is its purpose? Why is it performed?
The Serkyem or Golden Drink offering, is part of Dharma Protector’s practice like that of Setrap Chen’s practice. In Tibetan,Ser means ‘golden’ and Kyem means ‘beverage’. Serkyem remains largely a unique aspect of the Dharma Protector practice. Lamas of the past developed this practice as an offering to the Dharma Protectors to request for swift assistance with obstacles, problems and dire needs. Hence, the Serkyem offering has become popular among modern practitioners who seek assistance.
The Serkyem offering is offered by pouring the beverage into a cup like a wine glass, which is placed into a lower bowl. The Serkyem offering or Golden Drink/Black Tea is offered from a jug, tea pot or any vessel that makes pouring easy. During the offering, the beverage is poured into the cup to the point where the liquid overflows down into the lower bowl. “In Buddhism, the symbolism of the overflowing liquid is highly auspicious because it represents an abundant flow of merits, virtues, material resources and conditions that are conducive for one’s Dharma practice.”
The beverage can be poured a little at a time during the recitation of relevant passages throughout the liturgy. “The Serkyem vessel can be of any material such as gold, silver, copper, brass or even glass. Offering vessels that are made of precious materials are considered highly propitious, especially for lay practitioners who want to create tremendous merits and establish the closest affinity with the Protector.”
The overflowing of Serkyem is symbolic of an auspicious offering to the Protector. Practitioners can even use a tall wine glass placed inside a glass bowl as a Serkyem vessel. You should use what’s practical and within your means at the time. Black Tea is traditionally offered as Serkyem because in ancient times, it was considered a precious beverage. The colour of black tea is golden and reflects the meaning of Serkyem. “When tea is offered, it is traditionally offered piping hot as a direct request to the Dharma Protector for the swiftest assistance, heat being symbolic of rapidity.” Tea is traditionally used but besides tea, beer or alcohol can also be offered because of the Tantric meaning behind such substances. Alcohol of any kind is considered a wrathful substance, an example of this is during a Tsog offering, “a little bit of consecrated alcohol and meat is partaken to symbolize the psychic winds and bodily elements used in Tantric meditation; therefore beer or alcohol represents Tantric attainments and is offered to the Dharma Protector as a direct request to overcome all obstacles that obstruct spiritual attainments and to bring about beneficial conditions swiftly.” Tea and alcohol are not the only beverages that can be offered as Serkyem, “milk, which symbolizes spiritual nourishment and also various types of soft drinks such as Coca-Cola.”
The actual Serkyem offering ritual begins with the pouring of a little of the beverage into the vessel so it’s not empty. “The Serkyem is consecrated with three repetitions of the mantra Om Ah Hum, while purifying with incense. Then, the Serkyem liturgy is recited with each stanza describing an offering of the Serkyem to a particular being or a class of beings that play a defined role in our spiritual practice.
During the offering, the Serkyem is visualized to be divine nectar that expands to fill an entire ocean. This ocean is made out of not just the beverage that the practitioner offered but of all the desirable things in the world that excite and please the 5 senses. This vast ocean is offered to the Protector and to the other special beings mentioned in the liturgy. In addition, the request or what the practitioner wants to achieve is visualized to come into fruition with the assistance of the Protector.”
During Dharma protector practice a practitioner will often make preliminary prayers, Take refuge in a Buddha perform prostrations make offerings first to a yidam like Lama Tsongkhapa, then mandala offerings. A practitioner may also reflect and study the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation by Geshe Langri Tangpa Dorgje Senge (1054-1123). The practitioner will then for example recite the Gaden Lhagyama or Guru Yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa before the actual protector practice. The reason for this is “through the yidam’s sadhana practice, we can achieve ordinary (health, wealth, clairvoyance and so forth) and extraordinary attainments (wisdom and compassion)” many merits (which can act as fuel for attainments to arise), and great purification of negative karma. Then comes the invocation of the Dharma protector such as Setrap Chen to come and abide here with his entourage, followed by a prayer to remind him of his vows and commitments. Then a practitioner will generally recite a confession prayer and confess any wrong doings since beginning-less time, then give praises to the Dharma Protector. Once that happens the practitioner will then commence the Kanshang or Kawang which is a wrathful method of visualization which cuts asunder obstacles, karma, and negativities. The Serkyem offering to Setrap Chen and his entourage then commences. His entourage consists of wrathful assistants which help with the clearing of obstacles, creating suitable conditions for our Dharma practice. Certain paragraphs are usually repeated a number of times, depending on the urgency of the request. After the Serkyem offering prayers of Enthronement are offered followed by mantra recitation. Praises to other Dharma Protectors such as Kalarupa maybe recited followed by their mantra, then come long life prayers for the lama to remain, teach, and be free of obstacles to pass on the dharma. Once that is all done the practitioner will often do dedication prayers to finish off the practice. An excellent dedication prayer to use would be the Yonten Shigyurma written by Lama Tsongkhapa. The Heart Sutra may also be recited during this period. Please follow the advice of a qualified Lama that has done the practice. They may instruct you differently, this is just a general overview.
When offering more Serkyem to Setrap Chen or other dharma protectors this is not to quench their thirst but to generate merit, and a strong affinity with the Protector so the practitioner would be able to receive his assistance and blessings. As stated above this is the typical practice that has been done in the monasteries over the ages due to its proven efficacy.
– Bradley Kassian
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in the Setrap Chapel of Gaden Shartse Monastery in Mundgod, South India. He is facing the sacred Setrap image and doing consecration. This Setrap image is visited by hundreds monthly and many requests are made to this image by pilgrims from around the world.
Sacred Setrap image in Gaden Shartse Monastery in South India consecrated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is the principal protector of Gaden Shartse Monastery.
Kawang, what is it? Why is it important?
Dharma Protector practice may appear to be shrouded in mystery, however these practices brings tremendous benefits to practitioners and by all written accounts, “these practices are originated by and descend from the greatest of Buddhist masters.”
Time has not diluted the efficacy of the practice and to the ancient practitioner as it is to the modern one, the noble role of a Dharma Protector remains that of alleviating obstacles and creating favorable conditions in the mental constituents and physical environment of the practitioner so that his training in Dharma may grow and flourish.”
At the centre of a Protector puja, lies the recitation of the Kawang also known as kanshag, which literally translated ‘clearing of obstacles’. “This is a special confessional prayer which is based on tantric visualizations, the recitation of which is to purify what may be significant accumulated negative karma threatening to obstruct one’s practice.” Given the amount of obstacles that need to be removed, the actual visualization becomes very graphic. A practitioner should dwell on its true meaning and not on its apparently aggressive language. “If the negative karma that blocks one’s practice is forceful, then the puja to counter it has to be equally intense.”
“The practitioner approaches the recitation of the Kawang by visualizing the Three Poisons – Ignorance, Hatred and Desire which altogether encompass a myriad of other poisons such as delusions, negative karma, habituations, and so forth. These negative elements are visualized in the form of a very large man or a woman.” That is to say a demon in human form that is an emanation of all your negativities, negative karma etc. Then as the visualization continues, Setrap Chen appears together with his entourage and he wields his weapons (a sandalwood cudgel from the forest of Malay, A noose that binds, A spear made of fluttering red silk, Bow and arrow a means of wisdom and union which pierces harmers without exception, and a blazing sword of transcendental wisdom which rips karma, delusion and ignorance asunder etc) to slay that being who is the personification of our negativities. He then slices the body in such a way that uncovers the inner organs.
First, he drains the blood into an offering vessel. Then, he cuts out the organs of the five senses – the tongue, nose, ears, eyes and heart and stacks them neatly into a mound thus resembling a grisly floral arrangement. Then, he pulls the bones & flesh out, arranges them into a vessel and burns them like stacks of incense sticks. Next, he extracts the human fat from the corpse and pours it into bowl, inserts a wick made of the human hair and lights it. Then he collects the rest of the bodily fluids like the bile, urine and so forth into an offering vessel (ie. perfume of human grease filling vessels). Then, he chops the flesh & bones and mixes it with barley flour and places it into another vessel as food. Finally, he pulls the thighbones, cleans it and fashions it into a trumpet before placing it into a vessel as well (this is a sound offering, ie “Various music thundering like a thousand dragons).
While appearing grotesque at first, this part of the visualization is indeed a beautiful and meaningful gesture of transforming what is foul and turning them into sublime offerings. The blood represents the Water offering, the arrangement of sense organs represent the Flower offering, the crushed bones represent the Incense offering, the human fat set alight represents the Light offering, the bile and urine are transformed to represent the Perfume offering, the human flesh becomes the Food offering and finally the thigh bone becomes a trumpet to represent the Music offering.”
These make up the wrathful sensory offerings which the Setrap Chen then offers to the Buddhas on the practitioner’s behalf. Huge amounts of negativities are purified when the Setrap Chen makes the offering to the Buddhas of the ten directions. In the Setrap’s Kawang text, it is also said that we offer up a mountain of torma soaring to the sky, a swirling lake of tea and beer to drink, Mount Sumeru, four lands sun and moon, the seven royal objects and five of sense, the wealth of all humans and devas actually arranged and mentally envisioned. All blessed into a sky treasure. “Essentially these are to request and create the conditions and karma for the Protector to come to our aid and fight our negativities, which are responsible for the obstacles and problems manifesting”, or in other words Setrap Chen’s and his infinite entourage’s heart commitments to be fulfilled.
Although not entirely necessary unless doing retreats, it would be even better if the “Kawang recitations were accompanied by the symbolic physical representation of each sensory object offered on the altar (offerings and Tormas).”
Numerous recitations of the Kawang are recommended especially for practitioners who are engaging in large projects and in particular those who are involved in activities that lead to the growth of the Dharma like the construction of a temple, monastery or Dharma center.” Recitations of the kawang are also particularly effective to purify huge amounts of bodily karma of those who are going through an obstacle year and old age. “Kawang is also particularly effective in clearing and stabilizing the mind when doubts and confusion arise.” Dharma protector practice which includes Kawang is particularity effective over time when done consistently.
Kawang is not just a powerful confessional practice to purify our negative karma but also a way to develop a closer spiritual bond” with dharmapala Setrap Chen. “The clearing of obstacles makes it effective for Setrap Chen to help us since it is our own negative karma that blindfolds the Protector.” Kawang is also recited to invoke the Protector to create the necessary conducive conditions for our practice, and hence it is a very important practice for any Dharma practitioner.
I enjoyed this write up. I appreciate it also. I thank Bradley for it. Bradley is practicing in order to have the knowledge to share here. Keep it up Bradley. Be like the old venerable monk practitioners of Gaden who devoted themselves to Setrap their whole lives and received great blessings as they have told me countless times. These senior monks of whom so many respect always advise to just trust Setrap and let Him bless our lives.
If anyone else has something they would like to share on my blog, send it to me and my team and we will have a look at it. We don’t promise to post everything, but send it in!
Gaden Monastery in Tibet was founded 600 years ago by the Incomparable Dharma master Tsongkapa. It has survived until today in Tibet. Back in 2009, I visited Gaden Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. Here I am pictured in the Setrap Chapel of Gaden Monastery in Tibet. I thought this would be nice to share with everyone. Setrap has been the main protector of Gaden Shartse Monastery in Tibet for 600 years. If you adopt Setrap as your protector, you will be in excellent company guided by a supreme enlightened being.
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