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WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: Purification through meditation and ablution in order to wash away defiling elements is an important practice in tantric Buddhism.

Trhuechu: The Holy Water

WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: Purification through meditation and ablution in order to wash away defiling elements is an important practice in tantric Buddhism. Sanctified water is used along with visualization and chanting of mantras to ritually cleanse a person of emotional defilements, karmic impurities, physical pollutants, problems and negativities. The holy water, Trhuechu (ཁྲུས་ཆུ་), given in Bhutan’s temples symbolizes the practice of purification using water invested with spiritual power. The practice of Trhuechu is akin to Trhuesol but different from it in being primarily a purification ritual rather than an offering like Trhuesol.

The water and its ingredients
According to the manuals of Trhuechu, the water used for it has to have the eight qualities of being cool, clear, clean, light, sweet, soothing and harmless to the throat and stomach. Many ingredients, which are believed to have cleansing and nourishing power, are also added to the water but the precise variety and quantity of ingredients depends on the specific tantric tradition and also on the particular purpose of the ritual of ablution. Ingredients include fragrances (saffron, white and red sandal, camphor, musk, etc.), medicinal herbs (jasmine, lily, rose, etc.), grains (wheat, barley, mustard, rice, soya, etc.) precious metals (gold, silver, pearl, coral, ruby, sapphire, copper, etc.) and five essences including salt, butter, honey, sugar and oil. Five secret nectars are also added in some esoteric tantric rituals. The ingredients are made into pills, powder or granules and added to the water.
However, in most Bhutanese temples, the Trhuechue is simply made from clean water with addition of slight saffron to give it a good colour and fragrance. Sometimes, lamas may add sacred substances, which are made by mixing all or some of the ingredients mentioned above.

Sanctifying the Water
The water and other ingredients, which have the material power to purify and nourish, are further injected with spiritual power through visualization and chanting of prayers and mantras. The holy water is prepared in a beautiful vase made of precious metals and adorned with beautiful cover and decorations. There is a wide range of meditation ceremonies to cultivate the power of Trhuechu but the most common is based on Buddha Vajravidāra or Dorji Namjom (རྡོ་རྗེ་རྣམ་འཇོམས་). The ritual involves visualization of the vase as a mansion of the Buddhas such as that of Vajravidāra, of emitting rays to invite Buddhas from ten directions, of worshipping the Buddhas, of imbibing their blessings, of the Buddhas dissolving into the water in the vase and turning into a liquid elixir which can cleanse impurities, cure illnesses, dispel troubles, nourish the body and mind, fill one with bliss and eventually lead one to enlightenment. The priest or lama who prepares the Trhuechu undertakes these visualisations and also recites the relevant mantra to cultivate spiritual power and obtain the blessings of the Buddhas.

The Act of Purification
Once it is ready, in the actual act of purification, the Trhuechu water is poured over the beneficiary, who is also guided through the process of visualization. The person must visualize the holy nectar of enlightenment washing away all internal and external impurities, such as the nectar of six perfections of giving, discipline, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom washing away the negativities of stinginess, lack of discipline, hatred, laziness, distraction and ignorance. Such special Trhue rituals are performed to cure people of various illnesses associated with contamination and impurities. However, most Bhutanese regularly experience Trhuechu when they visit a temple or a monastery.
When one is given Trhuechu in a temple, one must receive it respectfully and think of it as elixir of enlightenment invested with the power of the Buddhas to cleanse one’s physical, verbal and mental defilements, illnesses, troubles and karmic impurities. By sipping it mindfully, one must think that it cleans the internal negativities and while pouring it on one’s head, one must imagine that one is being drenched in soothing shower of spiritual nectar, which washes away all physical negativities and problems. Trhuechu is an expedient way of using a simple resource like water to practice mindfulness and meditation to mentally cleanse oneself of all negative thoughts, emotions, actions and states of the body, speech and mind.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.

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