In the Buddhist theory of life, we have lived so many lifetimes in the past and, if we do not reach enlightenment, we will again live endless lifetimes in the future. In this process, we accumulate a lot of karmic debt, i.e. we commit actions which will lead to rewards and retributions. So, there are many human and non-human beings with whom we have karmic debts to settle and some of these sentient beings will come to harm us or cause misfortunes as a result of our negative actions towards them in the past. In order to avert the misfortunes caused by such malevolent spirits, people appease the spirits by conducting different rituals and techniques of pacification.
Moreover, there are many non-human forces with whom we share this existence and it is important to maintain a good relationship with these forces for harmony in the world. To make up for the acts of intrusion and harm we may commit towards them knowingly or unknowingly, and to please them and win their favour and protection, Bhutanese Buddhism recommends carrying out offering rituals to the non-human denizens of the world.
The Bhutanese ritual of offering lui (གླུད་) is a way of appeasing harmful spirits and making offering to the non-human spirits. The offering is made normally in the form of an effigy, which serves as the scapegoat. Although the theory of karmic retribution comes from Buddhism, the actual practice of lui ritual is a custom Buddhists adopted from the pre-Buddhist religious systems in Bhutan and Himalayas. In the lui ritual, the spirit is paid a ransom or substitute gift so that the person is spared of any harm. The substitute gift or scapegoat is normally an effigy of a person and/or animal made out of dough. Samples of food, cloth and all kinds of riches are included in the offering with the effigy.
Dhoe (མདོས་) ceremony is a type of lui ritual when the offering is enshrined in a structure made of intricate thread works. The Sipa Chidhoe (སྲིད་པ་སྤྱི་མདོས་), or the dhoe of the whole existence, is the most elaborate form of dhoe ritual. In the Sipa Chidhoe ritual, the priests create a small representation of the whole universe. The structure is built with a central pillar, beams and poles and wrapped and decorated with colourful threads in intricate designs. The dhoe represents the Mt Meru and four continents. In some cases, it can also represent a microcosm or just a mansion or a house depending on the ritual.
The structures is then filled with offerings of things such as the nine kinds of cereals, fruits, clothes, jewelleries, precious metals, etc. It also includes replicas of men, women and children, nine birds which fly in the sky, nine wild animals which roam in the forests, nine amphibians, which live in the earth and nine carnivorous beasts. Effigies of people are made from dough and those of animals and birds are normally printed from wooden blocks using dough. Having created this grand structure, which represents the world, mansion or a house, the priests conduct religious rituals and use their power of meditation and mantras to visualize the offerings as real things. With the full conviction that they are real riches, the offering is made to the various non-human spirits such as the eight classes of gods and devils known as lha srin degye (ལྷ་སྲིན་སྡེ་བརྒྱད་). Specific offering is made to the malevolent spirits and to those whom we owe karmic debts as forms of repayment. With these as parting gifts, the spirits are sent off to distant lands.
In some accounts of ancient history, even real people are said to have been sent off as scapegoats beyond the border. The ritual is essentially a method of placating the non-human spirits in general and the malevolent spirits in particularly by making a wide range of offerings. It is important that the person/s for whom the ritual is conducted give generously and think that the spirits are satisfied and his or her karmic debts are fully paid off. It is a good practice of giving and generosity and it would be good to insert as many real goods and riches as possible. Short of many real things, the priest basically uses the power of the mind to make the effigies and token substances appear as great wealth in the eyes of the spirits. Thus, it is important for the priests to carry out the visualisation and meditation effectively.
Lui and dhoe rituals are expedient ways of practising giving and a skilful way of appeasing and pacifying non-human spirits. It is a good way to establish order and balance in the world by pacifying non-human forces and redistributing wealth accumulated by the people. Through this practice, one also repays one’s karmic debts. Thus, such rituals are well known for averting sickness, misfortunes, warfare, natural calamities and harm by evil spirits.
Karma Phuntsho (PhD)