By Andy Weber
German artist Andy Weber, who lives in England, started studying Tibetan art in 1975, mainly with the great Thargye-la in Boudhanath, Nepal. “I want you to teach painting!” Lama Yeshe exhorted him at Kopan in 1982 – and he has been doing so, throughout Europe and elsewhere, ever since.
Here Andy explains how to consecrate a statue in order to transform it into a holy object.
The Tibetan word for sculptor is lha dzowa, which literally means “the deity maker.” Tibetan deity makers preferred to use metal for their work. The two main techniques were “lost wax casting” and “repousse” (hammering and shaping). Most small images were cast using the former method.
When a statue is finished, its hollow interior is filled with mantra rolls, relics, grains, incense and other precious objects and then sealed with a metal or wooden plate, which usually carries an image of a double vajra. Lastly, lamas give life to the statues with prayers and blessings.
Filling statues is an art and a spiritual exercise, and should be undertaken with sincere motivation and intention because you are trying to recreate the divine spiritual body of an enlightened being. For this reason you should if possible learn the finer details from a qualified teacher. The statue only gets its power when it has been filled in the proper manner and blessed by the consecration ritual.
To begin with it is good to wear facemasks in order to prevent foul breath entering the interior. The statue should be cleaned as much as possible on the outside and inside. Purify the interior with saffron water, using a brush, and then let it dry. Light incense and recite the relevant prayers holding the incense inside the statue to purify it and create a pleasant smell. Put a precious substance, for example a blessed pill or an item of your spiritual teacher, at the crown inside the statue. If the statue is very small and there is no room at the crown for the crown mantra, then a mantra slip (a piece of paper with a mantra written on it) can be cut in two and rolled together, taking care that the mantra syllables are not defaced.
To create the mantra rolls, use a piece of incense stick, the same size as the mantra slip. The writing of the mantra is rolled inside from left to right (clockwise). To tighten the roll, keep the top up, hold the roll in the right hand and roll sharply with the left hand. The whole roll should be so tight that the incense doesn’t fall out. Secure the roll with cello tape or sew a piece of cloth around it. Write the name of the mantra on the roll and mark the top as it is important to remember when placing these vertically into the statue.
While rolling the mantras, one should be aware of one’s motivation and recite mantras. There is even a specific mantra for rolling mantras. If you don’t know this, recite the mantra of the deity, and if that is unknown, om mani padme hum, Chenrezig’s mantra, is suitable. Depending on the size of the statue, sometimes the mantra slips of crown, throat and heart, etc. can be rolled together, the crown mantra being the innermost slip. The whole roll of mantras can then be held together by cello tape or cloth.
If possible one should use the mantras of crown, throat, heart, highest yoga tantra, the particular deity, the five greatnesses, auspicious prayer and lotus. If the status is tiny, one should use at least the mantra of the particular deity.
The empty spaces around the mantras are filled with little cloth bags containing fragrant sandalwood, amberwood, etc. and powdered incense. You can add a mixture of dried flowers, dried pine needles and any other available blessed substances. In larger statues, many more large items can be offered for the inside like prayer books, robes, little bags of jewelry, tsa-tsas (sacred images of the Buddhas usually made of clay or plaster), ritual instruments and ornaments.
In order to create positive collective karma for a whole group, donations from the spiritual community are requested such as personal jewelry, gold, silver, etc.
If the statue is large enough, you can put another, smaller, statue at the heart, or a vajra and bell. For a very large statue, you use a four-sided stick slightly tapered at the top with the base wider than the top. Painted red, it represents the central channel. Kusha grass is placed on the two sides and symbolizes the two nadis (channels of the subtle body through which the wind energies flow). The grass needs to point upwards. On the top of the stick, one draws an image of a stupa (a reliquary representing the Buddha’s enlightened mind) with gold (or gold-like) paint. Then, going down from there, draw the appropriate syllable for each chakra: just above the level of the forehead om, at the throat ah, at the heart hum, at the navel tram and at the secret place (four finger-widths below the navel) hrih. At the bottom of the stick, draw a double vajra (symbolizing enlightened method); otherwise, one can draw half a vajra on all four sides and a bliss swirl on the bottom of the stick.
The mantra rolls are then attached around the stick – sometimes just one mantra roll, although in many cases they are put in clusters of specific numbers. The whole stick is then carefully placed inside, and the empty space is filled with sacks and offerings.
If the statue is huge, platforms are attached to the various levels of the chakras and then mantra rolls are stacked upon them. At the bottom of the statue, place a picture, drawing or photocopy of a double vajra so that it faces the inside. One can also add various mandalas of offering dakinis, wealth deities, offerings and auspicious prayers. Finally, place the base onto the statue and ensure the mantras and bags do not fall out by using glue or by hammering the edges of the rim. If no base is available, one can cut a piece of thick cardboard, copper or plywood so that it fits the bottom well.
I live my life with buddhas and deities all day long and this affects my view of reality. For me, the images receive power and become vehicles for higher beings. There is the external power of an image which attracts us to it, but on the subtle level is the internal power of the blessed substances which gives the holy image its spiritual body. Looking at a blessed image should be like looking at a buddha. This is behind the belief that, whether you are a Buddhist or not, seeing an image of the Buddha brings blessings.
In order to give life to the statue, the Buddha must be invoked. This is done by the lama, who is the living manifestation of the Buddha, during the blessing ceremony. It is the same for the artist: until the om ah hum have been written on the back in the right places or given to a lama to be blessed, it’s just paint on a canvas. It may look fantastic, but until it has been blessed by the lama or the artist writes the syllables, it is just paint on a piece of cloth.
Only after the blessing does it become a different object. This is quite different from the way most artists would view the world. Deity makers are not merely trying to please the eye consciousness of sentient beings. They are creating the mandala of the enlightened beings and these higher beings come into the statues or paintings once they are blessed.
If you read Atisha’s life story, the statues talked to him, bent their heads left and right. I know of a statue of Vajrayogini that has talked. There are numerous anecdotes about people receiving messages. Having a blessed image on your shrine is like having a direct telephone line (or email!) to the higher world.Tags: andy weber, holy objects, vajra brothers and sisters have a say