Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Consecration & De-consecration

Consecration & De-consecration | Confusions, Conflicts & Controversies | Backs of Paintings Main Page

Paintings created as portable scrolls 'tangka' and murals in temples are usually consecrated or blessed upon completion during a ritual called the 'Eye Opening Ceremony'. These two words 'consecrated' and 'blessed' are generally used interchangeably. Other English words can also be found which describe this process such as - sanctification, anoint, and enshrine. Once the blessing has been performed there is no such thing as de-consecrating or removing the blessing from paintings, ritual objects, sacred space, temples, etc. The only exception to this are figurative sculpture and stupas under certain specific circumstances.

The Tibetan word for the physical act of blessing a painting is rabne (rab gnas). A rabne can be as simple as a Buddhist monk or religious figure, even a lay practitioner or devotee, reciting a few prayers or mantras and throwing a few grains of rice or flowers onto the object. The most basic of recitations used for this blessing is the famous Ye Dharma verse which is: om ye dharma hetu prabhava hetun, tesham tathagato hyavadat, tesham ca yo nirodha, evam vadi mahasramana svaha.

The Sanskrit mantras of OM, AH, and HUM are often written on the back of a painting. Sometimes the three letters are written on the back for each and every figure represented on the front of the painting. (See Backs of Paintings Main Page).

For three dimensional objects the process of blessing is similar to that of painting. Figurative sculpture as well as small stupas typically are filled with auspicious materials and have a metal base plate which seals the bottom of the object and keeps the inserted blessed materials in place inside the hollow object. The inserted materials generally take the form of all kinds of substances and represent the body, speech and mind of a Buddha. Typically for speech sacred texts, dharanis or mantras written on paper are inserted. These blessed materials are often the same as what is placed inside the amulet boxes (ga'u) worn by many devout practitioners. (See Amulet Box Contents).

In the Himalayan Buddhist traditions it is considered extremely inauspicious to leave a sculpture of a religious figure, Buddha, deity, teacher, etc., open at the bottom, meaning without being blessed and without a base plate. The very superstitious of Buddhist followers believe that wandering spirits can take up residence in un-consecrated and unsealed figurative sculpture making the object unfit for ritual worship.

There is a ritual used for the opening of damaged sculpture and stupas for the purpose of repair or transporting to a new location (if the object is of a large size). Later the sculpture or stupa can be re-sealed and reconsecrated, or a simple renewal consecration performed.

Both painting and sculpture can be blessed any number of times by many different individuals directly or indirectly - indirectly through proximity to rituals or ceremonies conducted in the same location or space.

Temples, large or small, are often blessed (sanctified) after construction through elaborate rituals involving sand or painted mandalas. The rituals can take several days to perform. If there is natural or unnatural destruction of the temple then another sanctification ritual will likely be performed after completion of the repairs.

Jeff Watt 12-2015

Bibliography:

The Consecration of Images and Stupas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhism. Yael Bentor. Leiden, 1996.

Sutra Style Consecrations. Yael Bentor.

Consecration of a Buddha Image. Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen. Translated by Yael Bentor.

Inside Tibetan Images. Yael Bentor.

Mirror Consecration. Yael Bentor.