Before major rituals, Tibetan Buddhists offer the gek-tor, or “obstacle torma.” Recently, however, my Lama has started calling this a “spirit torma,” a change with which I agree. Gekpa, or obstructing spirits, cause obstacles to people because of their own frustration. When we offer the torma, we ask them to leave and enjoy the offering elsewhere. But this is more for their benefit than for our own. The spirit is a sentient being just like us, and one that may not appreciate the Buddhist rituals we’re performing. When we ask them to leave, that is as much so that we don’t disturb them as it is so they don’t disturb us.

Spirits are all around us. We are prone to think of the Earth as belonging to us, but in fact we inhabit it with many other beings. Humans, animals, gods and demigods, and spirits of all sorts share this same space with us. Even spirits that don’t have forms are given form through their interaction with our consciousness, and so we must share this place with them as well.

Exorcisms and banishments of spirits are harsh measures that create the impression that we can choose who should and should not be here. Of course, from a Western religious context, especially an occult or esoteric one, we can easily get this impression. Man inherits the Earth, after all, and we are the spiritual heirs of Godhood. But this is a rather narrowly applied reading and even so its inherent authoritarianism places us in a dualistic tension with the world around us. If we wish to live harmoniously, we must live as harmonious caretakers, even if our beliefs affirm our divinity.

Take time to appreciate the spirits that live with you today. Make an offering of some food or drink to the household spirits or the land spirits. By doing so, you can make steps to live harmoniously with the world around you in real, material ways. When we think about others as others we create division in our own minds, but by considering that we all share the same space, we can heal that division and move towards a better world.

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