Torma: An Offering of Love

with No Comments

For the first time in the history of the North American Kagyu Monlam, Tibetan chöpöns—masters of the art and knowledge of preparing and presenting offerings for ritual ceremonies— have come in advance to prepare the elaborate flour and butter sculpture offerings known as torma. His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa has described the meaning of “torma” as giving something to someone else with love. The first syllable “tor” means to give something to someone. The suffix “ma” represents love. You can learn more by watching the beautiful one-hour film, Torma.

The chöpöns who have kindly come to Kagyu Thubten Chöling include Karma Wangchuk, a master artist from Rumtek Monastery, seat of the sixteenth Karmapa; and Karma Samten, who was trained at Dilyak Monastery in Nepal. Both are members of a select group of torma artists assembled by His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa in 2005, during which they received additional training in the intricate design and detail of torma as part of the preparation for the 2005 Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya.

The designs of the Kagyu Monlam torma that have been used since then emerged from a conversation between Gyaltsab Rinpoche and the Karmapa, during which Rinpoche recounted a description—passed to him from Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche—of the large, exquisitely designed torma offered in Kagyu Monlam ceremonies in Tibet before the diaspora in the 1950s. After this conversation, His Holiness Karmapa requested paper and a pen, drew his shawl over his head, covering his eyes, and through the power of transcendent vision, completed the drawings. Afterwards, he presented his renderings to Karma Wangchuk, who used the designs to create the torma for every subsequent Kagyu Monlam—reviving a tradition that had been lost for decades Since then, Karma Wangchuk and Karma Samten have been involved in crafting the torma for the Kagyu Monlams held each year in Bodhgaya, and traveling to assist in the creation of these exquisite offerings of love at Kagyu Monlam ceremonies all over the world.

Eight four-foot tall torma, painted in brilliant colors, are being created for the 2016 North American Kagyu Monlam, gifts of love to great lineage masters of the Kagyu tradition: Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa; the First, Eighth, and Sixteenth Karmapas; and the Eighth and Eleventh Tai Situpas. In addition, the torma will be ornamented with the Eight Auspicious Symbols and the Eight Auspicious Substances. Lama Norlha Rinpoche has requested the crafting of additional torma—which will be revealed during the 2016 North American Kagyu Monlam.