Iconography and About Chösum
The red and 24kt gold zigzag kyungbur adorning the frame is the transition of passion into compassion and the resultant Buddha like purity of actions and thoughts. The 24kt gold continuous ‘T’-wave just under the top edge of the of the offering cabinet is also called the thunder wave. This is the thunder of the vajra (diamond scepter, dorje in Tibetan), symbolizing skilful means, compassion, samsara. This compassion is an active quality rather than mere sympathetic feelings not transformed into action. Compassion refers to action that is exactly consonant with whatever is occurring and that is not self-referential.
The front doors have magnificent floral ensemble, reminds one of fireworks; the Ashoka flower in the center flanked by two Champaka blossoms. Inside of this framed scene along with the flowers are durva grass, blue and green rock cliffs and Mahamudra Mists. The Ashoka, the second of the trinity of holy flowers, sprouts from the holy water-font of the Amitayus, one of the forms in which the Buddha Amitabha appeared (symbolizing the transformation from greed to discriminating wisdom). The sprout materialized from a tear that Buddha Amitabha shed when hearing of the deeds of the great warrior Ashoka that overcame all of his enemies to win freedom for his oppressed people. True spiritual freedom comes from overcoming the sins and lusts that enslave the soul. Ashoka ruled a vast empire 2200 years ago and put his peoples welfare and interests above his own, he supported Buddhism, however he was insistent upon tolerance and open dialog among all religions. The Champaka is the 3rd flower of the holy trinity of flowers in Buddhist symbology: the 1st is the Lotus. The Champaka is also called the camp flower. The Champaka is a white blossom from the wish-fulfilling tree and is an attribute of Maitreya Buddha, conferring love, compassion & beauty.>Grass, in sanskrit, Durva, is a symbol for long (or Longer) life and is used in life-enriching rituals. grass, being highly resilient, is believed to be immortal and so proclaims the end of samsara, the successive death and rebirth of all beings. The rock/cliff formation represents the syllable "E" which appears in the opening stanza of early Buddhist scriptures, ("'thus,' I have heard"). The blue and green cliffs represent the unmoving nature of the mind when enlightenment has been attained. The tops of these cliffs have Kusha grass growing out of them.The billowing clouds or mist are Mahamudra: the union of compassion and wisdom -- the ultimate realization of one’s true nature. They are represented as the transformation of our vices into the 4 powers of regret, vow, reliance, and remedy, so the practitioner will realize purification and enlightenment.
The floral ensemble on the front doors is then surrounded by a series of split 4 petaled flowers, colored blue, red and gold . The blue represents the death of ignorance and passion/desire. Red is the transmutation of passion into compassion. The gold represents purity of thought word and deed. The 4 petaled flower represents the 4 noble truths: the middle way and the first teaching of Buddha. 1. Life is suffering. 2. Ignorance is the cause of suffering. 3. The cessation of suffering is the goal of life because it transcends pains and pleasure. 4. The way to the cessation of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which aligns with the eight spokes of the Dharma Wheel.
The drawers offer a contrast in perceptions; with green and blue rock cliffs and mare's tail cumulus clouds. The rock/cliff formation represents the syllable "E" which appears in the opening stanza of early Buddhist scriptures, ("'thus,' I have heard"). The blue and green cliffs also represent the unmoving nature of the mind when enlightenment has been attained.This is then contrasted with the clouds; clouds may come and go across the heavens, like the transitory thoughts or delusions which appear to obscure the mind's true nature, yet the nature of the sky remains unchanged. this is like the mirror, which is always unaffected by the appearances which arise in it, the sky is clear, transparent, infinite and immaculate: this then becomes metaphorically an illustration of the Buddha Mind.
The sides prominently feature the Shou symbol which is presented here in the form of a stylized butterfly. The butterfly is a favored symbol in Chinese art and shows up in Tibetan art as well; recalling the dream of Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu, having dreamed that he was a butterfly joyously flittering, posed the question, “Did Chuang Tzu dream he was a Butterfly? Or is the butterfly still dreaming that he is Chuang Tzu?” The caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly, as unified symbols of transmutation, resurrection and immortality, are perhaps best described in the aphorism, “What the caterpillar perceives as the end of all things, the rest of the world perceives as the beginning of the butterfly”.
The Tibetan name is Chösum for the cabinet presented on this page. They were used as a butter lamp stand and as a butter sculpture stand for offerings and ritual purposes. It also housed the toma, a small sculpture used as an offering, made of tsampa. Tsampa is a staple of the Tibetan diet, composed of barley powder and yak butter. Usually once each year the High Lama will come to the practitioners house with the toma stick (see below), a long 4 sided mold for making different offerings, and make specific offerings for the family. Using the tsampa dough the High Lama would press the required amount into the carved molds on the toma stick for each specific request or need. These then will be kept for the entire year in the cabinet, taken out periodically and placed on the top of the cabinet and a little melted butter will be added for a new offering. Ornate Chösum stands like this one would only be found in a labrang (lama’s home).
The Toma stick has carved molds on all 4 sides, these carvings are the Auspicious symbols, the 12 zodiac symbols, peaceful and wrathful deities and other iconic representations and offerings. The Toma stick pictured here is more than 300 years old, over 27" in length and is a very large one; usually they are about 1/3 to 1/4 this size. It developed a small check or crack that cuts through the Dharma wheel, Parasol and the Victory Banner rendering it unsuitable for making those molds.