Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Phurpa and the Liberation of Demons

If the thought of liberating a demon has never crossed your mind, you might want to take a look at this post. If you ever decide to attempt to do so yourself, I would suggest that you invite Phurpa to the party.

Who is Phurpa?

In some instances, Phurpa is seen as a manifestation or form of Hayagriva. As such, Phurpa can be held to be a protector of the Buddha’s teachings (a category of Buddhist deities known as Dharmapalas). For others, Phurpa is a source of power that bestows luck and fortune upon the fortunate and misfortune upon the unlucky (as a dealer in luck, Phurpa is associated with the planet Jupiter and Thursdays). For these individuals, Phurpa is typically held to manifest physically in three ways:

1) A wooden spike or dagger used to mark a sacred or protected area.

2) A large stylized metal dagger used to indicate the deity’s presence in a location, such as the inside of a temple.

3) A small iron dagger (phurpa) used by dagger specialists to, among other things such as yak banning, speed-walking and weather making, “liberate” a demon, thereby effectively ending the demon’s ability to cause misfortune among human beings.

The following is a short description of the dagger specialists’ tradition (#3 above) and their use of the phurpa as an instrument for demon “liberation” (Henceforth referred to as the Dagger Tradition).

Origin of the Dagger Tradition in Tibet.

According to traditional accounts, the Dagger Tradition was brought to Tibet by Padmasambhava who, while journeying to the Land of Snows, discovered the Dagger texts hidden in a cave.

Who are the Practitioners of the Dagger Tradition?

Apparently, dagger practitioners form a diverse group. Although textual references to female practitioners exist, they appear to be all males. Many are married and do not follow any ascetic rules. For the most part, the men of the Dagger Tradition come from the margins of Tibetan society - the socio-politically disenfranchised - and predominately hail from the Old School of Tibetan Buddhism (rnying ma). What appears to be a common feature among these individuals is their training in Tantra.

While a preponderance of dagger practitioners would appear to be members of the Old School, other schools have, to a lesser degree, enlisted dagger practitioners among their ranks as well. Even the 14th Dalai Lama, though he himself a proponent of the Virtuous School (dge lugs), is known to have had a dagger magician among his entourage.

The Liberation of Demons.

Despite its multifarious use in the past, the dagger practice of recent times seems to be primarily concerned with the exorcism of troublesome demons. What the excised demon undergoes as a result of the dagger ritual is not entirely clear from a reading of the dagger texts. In some texts the demon is said to be “killed” (bsad). In others, the demon is said to be “liberated” (sdrol ba). In yet others, the two terms are used interchangeably. (One may reasonably hypothesize that the term “kill” (bsad) exists as an older stratum of the texts and is a remnant left over from a pre-Buddhist dagger practices. This can only be determined by a careful analysis of the primary texts, however. ) Irrespective of these difficulties, the official Buddhist position is that the demon is liberated from the three poisons – namely, ignorance, hatred an desire.

The Liberation Ritual.

After an extensive preparatory period, the Liberation Ritual commences with an invocation of Phurpa. Whether Phurpa in invoked into the dagger practitioner or the dagger, or both, is not entirely clear. Through magical utterances (mantra) and magical gestures (mudra), the dagger magician entices (compels?) the demon to enter an effigy (either drawn or sculpted) that is situated in the center of a “demon trap” (Oftentimes, this “trap” takes the form of an equilateral triangle (drawn or otherwise) called a “yantra”). Once the demon is imprisoned within the yantra, the effigy is impaled by the dagger and the demon is “killed/liberated.” A burning of the effigy usually concludes the rite. Apparently, this ritual can be performed physically or mentally by the magician.

Two diverse interpretations of the ritual itself exist among dagger practitioners. The first is that the troublesome demon is an actual entity separate from human beings. The other, that the demon is an internal obstacle.

SOURCE: Dagger Blessing by Thomas Marcotty. A dated yet decent introduction to the Dagger Tradition.