What is Torma?

Via elephant journal
on Aug 11, 2009
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In Tibetan Buddhism, some meditation practice involve elaborate cake-like designed semi-edible thoroughly-symbolic things called torma. They’re symbolic of generosity, of offering up what’s good and precious to the world and to the teachings of truth (Dharma), of letting go of what you want and beginning to enter a world that is sacred, full, and inherently rich. Okay, I tried.

Below is a reallll explanation, from tormas.biz (click here for lots of great photos). *They are for Buddhist practice, and not available to the general public (god knows why you’d want them, though they’re beeyuuutiful). If you are a Vajrayana Buddhist practioner, support my friend Phil Karl, the amazing artist of these tormas pictured above and below:

tormasun moon buddhist torma

Tormas are associated with many aspects of Tibetan Buddhist practice. At times described by westerners as “Tibetan ritual cakes,” tormas are in fact made from many different kinds of substances. There are various ways of understanding the significance of tormas for Buddhist practitioners and they are a meaningful element of the practice of the Tibetan Vajrayana.

The Tibetan word “torma” has two parts. The first syllable “tor” is a verb that means to “throw out.” In the Vajrayana sadhana practices, tormas made of barley flour, butter and other ingredients are literally placed outside as a gesture of making offering and generosity. The inner sense of throwing out is understood as the severing of attachment to desirable things–cutting through one’s entrapment in desire. It can also mean the throwing out of kleshas—severing from, or purifying, conditioned emotional reactions that cause so much suffering for oneself and others.

The second syllable “ma” is a feminine ending, which evokes a maternal, nurturing quality. Understanding the true meaning of this simple syllable is a means of cultivating loving kindness for all sentient beings much as a mother feels love for her children. So, with the first syllable one severs attachment to self-centeredness. Having removed that obstacle, with the second syllable one may radiate love and sympathy to others. This is the rich inner meaning of offering torma.

(The above was derived in part from remarks made by Lama Tashi Dondrup at Sopa Choling three-year retreat center in 1998. Translated by Elizabeth Callahan.) ~ Phil Karl.

tormatorma vajrayana trungpa

Via Phil Karl (again, tormas only available to Vajrayana Buddhist practitioners):

Great news! Money Magazine has just rated tormas one of the top 10 investments one can make in uncertain times. Not only do they hold their value, but they appreciate in worth, especially after I’m dead. Which will happen…

None of that, of course, is true. Not even in the slightest, except the part about me dying eventually. Then, I won’t be able to make you a torma. So best to act now, just in case.


Phil Karl

303-444-3849 office


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6 Responses to “What is Torma?”

  1. Kagyupa says:

    What no comments!? Beautiful Tormas. Helped make some this weekend ,but didn't really understand what they were. Used them in Nyugne retreat.

  2. jenn says:

    This is the first I've heard of this practice. As a pastry cooker and eternal practitioner, i'd love to know more about the process of creating these pieces.

  3. MoogMama says:

    What does "Semi-edible" mean? Either something is edible or it's not. There is no semi.

  4. Blake says:

    I had no idea there was such a practice! Cupcake Mandalas!

  5. Greg says:

    Great concept.

  6. NellaLou says:

    There is a film being made about tormas by some folks in India.
    His Holiness the 17th Karmapa is executive producing and directing it http://www.tormafilm.com
    He also designs torma particularly for the Monlam that takes place at Bodhgaya annually.