Tea Serkyem offering: Generating the merit for Compassionate Activities — especially for protection from sickness and other obstacles

In Mahayana Buddhism, we often speak the language of “Wisdom” and “Compassion” practices. Yet our frenetic, danger-filled world also necessitates “Activity Tantra,” an important “activity manifestation” of Wisdom and Compassion.

Without activity, there is no progress on the path.

Without activity, there is no safety for practicing. We immediately think of the Mother of Activity, Green Tara, and her gentle protective embrace, or of the Lord of Compassion Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), who “hears the cries of the world” and saves us from the Ten Fears.

  • For a short simplified tea offering see below.

The four activities

The four activities we refer to are

  • peace
  • increase
  • power
  • wrath.

 

A large formal tea serkym offering set with grains and black tea offerings. The go-to practice for removing obstacles is the “Serkyem” tea offering to the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, and the Enlightened Protectors, who are the ferocious manifestations of the Buddhas.

 

 

Most of the time, we think of pacifying as the way to go to achieve Dharma objectives. Sometimes, though, obstacles to our Dharma practice require power, wrath, or increasing activities.

By way of analogy with societal issues, worthwhile objectives and causes sometimes require “wrath” in the form of peaceful demonstration; other times, the cause can benefit from fund-raising (increasing). Sometimes we rely on great motivational speakers or publicity — power activities. Just staying at home and meditating on “changing society” is sometimes not enough to make meaningful change happen.

In other words, Dharma living usually involves all four of pacifying activities, increasing activities, power activities, and wrathful activities.

Symbolically, these four activities are represented by colors. So, for example, for

  • pacifying activities, we might think of White Tara
  • for increasing activities Golden or Yellow Tara
  • for power activities, Red Tara
  • for wrathful activities Black Tara (For example, in 21 Taras: Tara 7: Tara Who Crushes Adversaries Vadi Pramardani Tara)
  • Or, in general, for activities, green — Green Tara.

 

The 21 Taras according to the instructions of Tara herself to Surya Gupta appear in different forms — including the five colours, each indicating an “activity” — with many arms, poses and symbols, representing all of her Divine activities. Usually, they are so detailed, each of the Taras has Her own Thangka, although occasionally, as here, you see them together.

 

More information:

 

Countless obstacles in Samsara

We sentient beings face countless obstacles and problems in Samsara. Even the most advanced and accomplished of Yogis most cope with hindrances: sickness, exhaustion, poverty, hunger, doubt, anger, distractions, fear of death. Imagine the sole Yogi, high in the mountains, meditating for three years in a cave. Even the most advanced of Yogis need protection — and meditations always start with Taking Refuge and, later, visualizing the protective mandala. For ordinary practitioners, we likewise face endless challenges.

 

Making a “tea” offering to Tara.

 

 

Practices for protection

Of course, our initial protection, in Buddhism, is always our Refuge in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. It might be as simple as thinking of the Three Jewels, or a formal statement of refuge, such as “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.”

As problems become more difficult, we might focus our meditations on the more active forms and practices — 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara or Mahakala, as emanations of compassion — or the 21 Taras and Tara’s fiercer forms. For Higher Tantric practitioners, they might turn to Palden Lhamo, the great Enlightened Protector we metaphorically visualize as a “female cannibal.”

 

A beautiful statue of thousand-armed Chenrezig.

 

Removing obstacles with Serkyem

Before any daily meditation, sutra recitation, or practice, it is common first to offer hot tea dedicated to removing obstacles to our meditation or practice.

The go-to practice for removing obstacles is the “Serkyem” tea offering to the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, and the Enlightened Protectors, who are the ferocious manifestations of the Buddhas. Typically, we think of the Protectors for tea offerings, but many people offer hot tea and grains to their Yidam, or Green Tara and the 21 Taras. People who have a Wisdom Dakini practice, such as Vajrayogini, also commonly make a daily hot tea offering.

For serious Vajrayana practice, many of us start our daily routine with the Serkyem (Golden Nectar) offering, recognizing that we must symbolically remove obstacles to create a safe space for our meditations. The mind is calmed through the process of meditating on the “four activities” of the Protectors.

 

 

Tea offering to Guanyin.

 

Hot activity and hot offering

The Serkyem is typically for the more wrathful deities — which visually represent the “four activities.” But many teachers have offered a simplified serkyem practice (one copied below) for peaceful Enlightened Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In particular, Green Tara or Guanyin or 1000-Armed Avalokiteshvara — who are accessible practices to everyone — can be offered hot “activity” offerings. Green Tara and 1000-Armed Guanyin are all about activity — the activities of Compassion and Wisdom.

Protective meditations often take wrathful visual forms to symbolize ferocious, urgent activity. It’s not generally seen as literal. Palden Lhamo appears the most ferocious of female manifestations — a cannibal deity — to emphasize her ferocious power. To some practitioners, it seems psychologically inappropriate to seek protection from a serene Buddha.

To manifest activity, Buddhas can manifest in “hot” forms. Tara, the peaceful protective mother (Buddha), can manifest in a number of genuinely ferocious forms — notably in the Surya Gupta meditation on the 21 Taras. Ultimately, you can think of Tara also as manifesting as Palden Lhamo, the cannibal with the sun in her navel and the moon in her crown, riding to our aide in a black tornado. We might visualize Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig) as fierce Black Mahakala.

Or not. If you feel more protected in the arms of beautiful Tara or Guanyin, this is your protector.

For these “hot” forms, we usually symbolically offer “hot” tea, Serkyem (Serkym) offerings, to symbolize our aspiration for quick (hot) activity (symbolized by the golden nectar offering.) We allow the hot tea to “overflow” to generate the merit of generosity and to symbolize our aspiration for abundance.

In this feature, we give the example of a tea offering that can be used daily for any for Enlightened Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and deities.

 

Pouring tea over the grains and allowing it to “overflow.”

 

Why Tea Offerings?

Enlightened Buddhas, Dakinis, and Protectors do not need offerings. We make offerings to generate merit — merit necessary to remove the obstacles that cloud our perception and obstruct our practice. To remove these obstacles, both the mundane — such as sickness, doubt, or poverty — we look to the “activity” of the Enlightened Buddhas. Daily “activity” offerings are typically called Serkyem — “Ser” meaning “golden” and “kyem” meaning “drink” — usually offered “hot” to symbolize quick activity or help. All monasteries, and many devout Buddhists, make tea or Golden Nectar offerings daily.

Typically, we offer water, milk, and the sensory offerings to the Enlightened Buddhas, representing peaceful wisdom and compassion. These same Buddhas emanation in wrathful or fierce forms to represent “activity” — the activity of wisdom and the activity of compassion. When we need help, we need fast activity. Serkyem (sometimes spelled Serkym) is all about activity. The offering itself connotes activity: pouring hot tea while reciting praises, allowing it to “overflow abundantly” from one bowl to the next. Overflowing activity and heated golden nectar representing both speed of help (the hotness of the tea) and overflowing compassionate help.

 

 

Simple Tea Offering — a How-To

Make heartfelt tea offerings to any Enlightened deities who are special to you. Traditionally, you should offer tea to the Enlightened Ones before you have your first cup of tea — but, that’s a symbolic gesture. Some of us need our tea or coffee to wake up first.

Prepare hot tea in a pot in sufficient quantity that you can pour constantly while reciting the full offering. Prepare grains to place into the cup. [See images.]

If you do not have a formal “serkyem” offering cup and bowl, you can simply but an attractive cup inside a bowl. The idea with serkyem (or serkym) is to symbolically “overflow” the golden ofering liquid (tea.)

Take refuge. Often you might recite a purifying mantra over the tea and the grains, such as Om Ah Hum. In more formal practice you will meditate on reducing the tea and grains to Emptiness and visualize them arising as purified nectar. Place the grains in the cup, then begin the simple offering.

Either use the words below, or make up your own sincere praise and offering. The words below are adapted from a longer sadhana. Your teacher will offer guidance on more formal practices, as always.

 

Refuge and Bodhicitta

In my heart I take refuge in the Three Jewels of Refuge,

May I free suffering creatures and place them in bliss;

May the compassionate spirit of love grow within me.

That I might complete the enlightening path.

 

Blessings

Meditate on Shunyata and Emptiness. Visualize the tea as glowing nectar rather than just “tea.” It can be helpful to bless the tea with any mantras you use, or simply

OM AH HUM

 

Grains

Start by spreading grains in your tea bowl (the center cup, not the lower bowl). Ideally, multiple types of grain. Some teachers recommend five grains.

 

While pouring recite

Try to pour non-stop (slowly) as you recite [but if that’s difficult, pour tea as indicated in brackets below] — or however you feel best. Use the name of your meditational Yidam or Buddha in addition to “Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Protectors and Deities” if you prefer. (Chances are, if you have a higher Tantric practice, there’ll be an appropriate Serkyem offering — use that instead of this. This is a general purpose offering.)

 

Example. For Mother Tara offering you could read as, “I offer to Mother Tara and the 21 Taras, and your assembly of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Protectors and Deities.”

 

HUM

In a beautifully shaped container filled with the essences of ingredients

Made from precious celestial substances,

This vast drink, delicious in taste,

Reddish yellow in color,

I offer to [Your Buddha, such as “Tara”] and your assembly of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Protectors and Deities.

[Pour tea — if you have a bell, ring with your other hand.]

 

I offer to the assembly of peaceful and wrathful mind-sealed deities.

Please bestow all the supreme and general attainments.       

[Pour tea — if you have a bell, ring with your other hand.]

 

I offer to the objects of refuge, the Three Rare Sublime Ones.

Please protect me from the fearful enemies of samsara and nirvana’s peace.  

[Pour tea — if you have a bell, ring with your other hand.]

 

I offer to the entire assembly of supporters, dakinis, and Dharma protectors. Please actualize all activities, whatever is wished for.     

[Pour tea — if you have a bell, ring with your other hand.]  

           

I offer to the assembly of siblings, the six types of transmigratory beings.

Please pacify the suffering of my mind’s hallucinated appearances.          

[Pour tea — if you have a bell, ring with your other hand.]

 

The four actions

Multiply your fourfold actions of peace, increase, power and wrath

Increasing the life, good health, merit, glory, and wealth,

Of myself and my retinue, and these your yogis, teachers, and disciples.

 

Dedication

As always, finish with your dedication.

I dedicate the merit of this practice and offering to the benefit of all sentient beings.

 

Lee-Clark-buddha-weekly-5

Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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