Tibetan Buddhist Rituals and Practices
Non-initiates in Tibetan Buddhism may gain merit by performing rituals such as food and flower offerings, water offerings (performed with a set of bowls), religious pilgrimages, or chanting prayers (see prayer wheels). They may also light butter lamps at the local temple or fund monks to do so on their behalf.
In Bhutan, villagers may be blessed by attending an annual religious festival, known as a tsechu, held in their district. In watching the festival dances performed by monks, the villagers are reminded of Buddhist principles such as non-harm to other living beings. At certain festivals a large painting known as a thongdrol is also briefly unfurled — the mere glimpsing of the thongdrol is believed to carry such merit as to free the observer from all present sin.
Tantric practitioners make use of rituals and objects. Meditation is an important function which may be aided by the use of special hand gestures (mudras) and chanted mantras (such as the famous mantra of Avalokiteshvara: "om mani padme hum").
A number of esoteric meditation techniques are employed by different traditions, including mahamudra, dzogchen, and the Six yogas of Naropa.
Qualified practitioners may study or construct special cosmic diagrams known as mandalas which assist in inner spiritual development. A lama may make use of a variety of ritual objects, each of which has rich symbolism and a ritual function.
Another important ritual is the Cham, a dance featuring sacred masked dances, sacred music, healing chants, and spectacular richly ornamented multi-colored costumes. Mudras are used by the monks to revitalize spiritual energies which generate wisdom, compassion and the healing powers of Enlightened Beings. With accompanying narration and a monastic debate demonstration, the program provides a fascinating glimpse into ancient and current Tibetan culture. However, due to China's occupation of Tibet, this ritual is now forbidden.