CREATING SA TSAS
For use on a shrine or to contain the cremation ashes of the deceased
Sa tsas made by TLC Transitional Life Care workshop participants at Orgyen Dorje Den led by Nirabhra Taylor, lead artist at Pema Osel Ling’s ‘Magical Display of the Arts’. 5-21-17
Sa tsas are small clay statues in the forms of stupas or buddhas that are created for shrine use or in order to contain the ashes of the deceased. This sacred activity can be done by the sangha, family and/or friends of those who have died, or one may make offerings to a qualified practitioner to request they be made.
In addition to the instructions below, you may also place blessed rice or a rolled mantra into the underside of the form (along with the ashes) and then seal it with clay or wax.
Sa tsas are then consecrated with Vajrayana Buddhist practice to meld them with enlightened awareness, representing the body, speech and mind of the Buddhas. (A Lama's instruction is required to conduct this ritual.)
Sa tsas containing ashes are not meant to be kept or placed on a shrine, but are traditionally intended to be put into the ocean or large body of water where they will dissolve with the elements, and also serve as an object that gives rise to “liberation upon seeing”. Viewing such an image is a blessing for anyone who comes into contact with it. Water contains countless numbers of sentient beings, and is therefore a perfect resting place for these sacred vessels.
SA TSA MAKING DIRECTIONS
2 in. (or larger) metal stupa molds (Use stupa-shaped molds for ashes. Others types in various sizes, such as forms of Buddhas, can also be used for sa tsas intended as shrine objects only.)
Regular potter’s clay (White is preferred for painting later. Buy at any art or potter’s supply store. Get clay that doesn’t need to be fired, called “air-dry, non-fire” clay. For an alternative to solid, wet clay, buy ‘AMACO’ dry clay flour [white, gray, and terra cotta], a dry, powdered clay that can also be found on Amazon. Inside the bag provided, this gray clay powder is mixed and kneaded with water and makes a smooth, pliable clay for hand modeling. After molding, age the sa tsas 24 hours to improve plasticity–the clay will dry chalk hard and can be painted.)
Cheap cooking oil spray (low grade works best)
Inexpensive vegetable oil or “Pam”, not olive oil – it’s too thick.
A length of fishing twine or plastic thread to easily cut the clay. Art supply stores w/ceramic supplies will sell this tool. You can also use a knife.
A tray to put finished sa tsas on to dry.
Rubber gloves (optional)
A mallet or hammer to tap the clay filled mold in order to settle the clay so that the relief impressions will come out as distinctly as possible.
A cover (newspapers, plastic) for the table and floor below your work area–this can be messy.
A large bucket of water, and several containers of water (large yogurt containers work well
for cleaning hands and to throw things in after use, making them easier to clean.)
A spray bottle of water (to keep clay ‘active’, preventing it to dry out, used especially on a hot day.)
Toothpicks or a similar sharp object For sa tsas containing ashes–If you’re making sa tsas for multiple people during the same session and want to be able to distinguish one from another, this tool is for etching names or initials on the bottom, if desired .
A butter knife or plastic ‘take out’ knife to shape the clay, base ‘stand'
A toothbrush - to clean out mold after each use. (toothpicks are also helpful)
A pencil-sized implement
Prepare by draping the furniture and floor below your work area.
Spray sa tsa mold with inexpensive cooking oil.
Work the clay thoroughly in your hands to soften and make it pliable. Shape into a cone-like form, approx. 2.5 - 3 inches deep, to insert into the mold. This allows room for a base. In the first frame of this online video you will see a stupa-formed sa tsa with an approx. 1-inch base.
Pack the clay into the form with your finger, pushing all areas, particularly the center, so that it will reach the inner tip of the form.
Hold the sa tsa mold w/open end up and tap the mold with a mallet or hammer to settle the clay into the tip and relief designs inside.
FOR SA TSAS CONTAINING ASHES:
While it’s still inside the sa tsa mold, insert a pencil-sized implement to create a hole in the center of the clay base. The ashes are placed in this hole. Make sure to “score” the clay used to lay over and seal this hole. Smooth the clay when this step is complete, so that the base of the sa tsa is seamless and the bottom is flat.
Inserting the ashes into a hole at the base of the form is easier when using ready-made clay. If you’d rather mix the ashes with the clay, consider using the powdered clay (mentioned above) using 50% ash: 50% clay, then mix with water and press into the mold. This is easier than trying to mix ash with the solid, ready-made clay.
Shape and smooth the residual clay left outside the mold, the “base”, into a “stand” that’s flat on the bottom. If you want the sa tsas to be uniform in size, each base needs to be the same height.
For a cleaner and more finished look, ‘shave’ any excess of clay from the sides of the base (at the bottom of the mold) with a butter knife, so that it’s smooth and even with the outer rim of the metal mold.
Gently remove the clay form from the metal mold and set aside to dry.
Thoroughly clean the mold with water and a toothbrush to remove all residual clay. If desired, quickly and easily dry the mold with a hairdryer.
To make additional sa tsas, clean and spray the mold, and repeat the process.