The Tashi Dzegyé (བཀྲ་ཤིས་རྫས་བརྒྱད་) or aṣṭamaṅgaladravya is a set eight auspicious items, each of which is associated with a different event in the life of the historical Buddha. Each was offered to the Buddha during his life; he then blessed them as sacred substances to bring about auspiciousness. Like the eight auspicious signs, the eight substances also have pre-Buddhist origins but in the Buddhist context, they are sometimes construed as symbols of the Noble Eightfold Path. In the Vajrayāna tradition, the set is personified into eight offering goddesses.
The White Conch Shell (དུང་དཀར་གཡས་འཁྱིལ་)
After the Buddha experienced the profound and blissful nature of enlightenment, he remained as a recluse in the forest for seven weeks. The celestial king Indra offered the Buddha a white conch shell with a clockwise spiral, and requested him to share his experience by teaching the dharma. The Buddha blessed the conch shell as a symbol of the resounding words of dharma.
The Nutritious Yogurt (བཅུད་ལྡན་ཞོ་དཀར་)
After the Buddha concluded six years of strenuous meditation, the cowherd girl Sujata offered him condensed yogurt, a meal that revived the Buddha’s physical health and rigour. Thereafter, the Buddha blessed yogurt as a sacred nutrititive substance. He used it to offset the extreme of physical mortification, just as he avoided over-indulgence by renouncing a life in the palace. Yogurt is one of the “three white foods” mentioned in Indian culture alongside milk and ghee.
The Durva Grass (རྩ་མཆོག་དུར་བ་)
As the Buddha approached the Bodhi tree and prepared to meditate under it, the grass cutter Maṅgala offered him durva grass, a rough plant considered significant in Indian culture. The Buddha accepted the grass and sat upon it as he practised meditation until he reached enlightenment. The durva grass, which some identify with kusha, was blessed as a sacred substance and symbolizes the adamantine seat and stability. Subsequently, kusha grass has been used as a mattress in some tantric rituals.
The Bilva Fruit (ཤིང་ཏོག་བིལ་བ་)
The bilva or bael fruit occupies a sacred place in pre-Buddhist Vedic mythology, and was prized for its medicinal value. The Hindu god Brahma is said to have offered this fruit to the Buddha. In some accounts, a tree goddess offered this fruit to the Buddha in his youth while he was meditating under a tree. The fruit was blessed by the Buddha as an auspicious substance.
The Vermillion Powder (ཚོན་མཆོག་ལི་ཁྲི་)
The orange-red vermillion or sindhura powder, made from cinnabar or minium, has long been widely used in ancient Indian culture. It represents love and passion and is a substance for magnetizing activities. A Brahmin named Jyotisharaja is said to have offered the vermillion to the Buddha, who blessed it as a sacred substance.
The Clear Mirror (གསལ་བའི་མེ་ལོང་)
Being a pure object which reflects all things equally, the mirror represents the open, luminous and empty nature of the mind in which all empirical experiences are reflected naturally without distortion. The offering goddess Prabhavati is said to have offered a mirror to the Buddha, who blessed it as a sacred symbol of the enlightened mind.
The Giwang Medicine (སྨན་མཆོག་གིཝང་)
Giwang, which is a bezoar found in the digestive tract of an animals, is considered to have high medicinal value and a cure for certain diseases and poisoning. An elephant is considered most efficacious, and the elephant Sasrung (also known as Norkyong) is said to have offered bezoar to the Buddha who blessed it as a sacred substance with a power to heal and stimulate supramundane powers.
The Mustard Seed (ཡུངས་འབྲུ་དཀར་པོ་)
In addition to producing an important household oil, mustard seeds are renowned for their perceived power to alleviate problems and annihilate evil forces. Vajrapani is said to have offered mustard seeds to the Buddha, who blessed them as a sacred substance to get rid of negative energies and exorcize evil forces. It is widely used in tantric rituals of exorcism and subjugation.
The eight substances are offered to generate auspiciousness during important events.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel as part of a series called “Why We Do What We Do.”