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Torma are sculpted butter and flour cakes set on mandalas and on altars during Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies.

Does anyone know what the story is with Torma and why are we doing offerings anyhow? Is there anything that is distinctively Buddhist about them, or is this really a syncretic tradition (i.e. is this just Hindu sacrificial rituals, but without the Hinduism)?

Everyone talks about offerings as if the internal mental model for offerings is obvious. As largely a secular Buddhist, I want to understand, but I don't have a lot to go on here. Offerings in a Christian church is money donated to the institution to fund the minister, etc. This isn't that sort of offering. Is this an offering to goose a Buddha or Bodhisattva or other diety or demi-god into doing something for us? The dieties don't actually eat the torma, so do the just appreciate the gesture, i.e. it's the thought that counts? Does this work via depriving oneself of something of value, a sort of austerity? Are these intended to more like a symbol to carry meaning?

  • Did you try Wikipedia? – yuttadhammo Jun 28 '14 at 1:40
  • I completely rewrote the question so that LMGTFY doesn't work as an answer anymore. – MatthewMartin Jun 28 '14 at 14:10
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I found an interesting introductory article, "On Torma Offering", at http://shambhalatimes.org/2009/03/15/on-torma-offering/. These tormas are "given" generally in rituals by monastics who own nothing and usually have just about that much to give so the more important aspect of the ritual is the intent or motivation, the mental attitude. Indeed, appearances are absolutely deceiving so an open mind in all aspects is very helpful. For example, in the six realms, (god, demi-god, human, animal, hungry ghost, & hell realms), every physical thing thing is said to be exactly the same with just relative views and reactions by the beings in those realms as they "see" from their own point of view. (One example given often in sutras is the river that is seen as nectar of immortality by the gods, water by the humans, and pus and the like by the beings in the hungry ghost realms.) I often think all six variations are demonstrated, relatively, right here in our world, all the time. So, very little given with little to no attachment and great compassion for the receiver(s) (like the widow with 2 pennies and a monk or nun without attachment) can be quite an amazing gift.

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