What is Tsog?
By Lama Thubten Yeshe
The Tsog offering is a profound part of the Guru Puja regularly held at FPMT Centres.
Tsog means "gathering". We gather together the things we're offering, and we ourselves gather together to do the practice. Gathering together with other practitioners, concentrating our minds into the same space, gives us great inspiration. It is much better than just doing puja alone in our own rooms. This is the Tibetan connotation of tsog.
An example from my college at Sera likens a group puja to a straw broom. You cannot sweep much floor with just one straw, but when many straws are gathered together to make a broom, you can clean an entire assembly hall in no time at all. We are not as strong as distinguished practitioners such as Milarepa. He was okay by himself. We are not ready for that yet.
So it is good that we come together trying to develop single-pointedness of mind; one hundred people's minds all meeting at the same place. This becomes very powerful.
Tsog in the Tibetan tradition is a most profound method of purification, a profound way of gaining realisations. When you recite the text in English you can see how many subjects are included in the practice. The Guru Puja, for example, covers the entire path to enlightenment from beginning to end. So it can happen that in your daily meditations on the lamrim you're not making any obvious progress, then suddenly during a puja, because of the conducive atmosphere you have created. Zoom! - Some realisation comes into your mind. Many people have gained realisations during a puja simply because of the atmosphere.
Normally, we push ourselves to achieve, but nothing happens because we have not made the space for something to happen. By gathering together to offer tsog we are making space. When the right space opens - Zoom! - Realisations come as if magnetically attracted. This is true.
Therefore it is important to put yourself in the right atmosphere when practising a sadhana or anything else. You might have done a particular puja one hundred times before, but somehow you have never reached the right spot. When at a certain point, you do reach the right spot - Zoom! - Something happens. To grow, we need the right atmosphere.
In the philosophical terminology of Buddhism, we talk about karma: "Creating good karma and you'll get this or that good result." I am simply going to say that to get the results you want, you have to create the right atmosphere. If you build a greenhouse, flowers will grow and they will also be protected from damage by hail. It is the same thing with our baby minds. We need to create the proper environment in which they can
develop and we also need to protect them. Our gathering together for puja, giving each other energy is the kind of protection our minds require.
In the Tibetan tradition of Mahayana Buddhism we are always talking about the benefits we derive from all mother sentient beings. Take this Darjeeling tea we drink. Think how many people were involved in its getting here: the growers, the pickers, the sorters, the packagers, the shippers, the shopkeepers, our own cooks. Finally, we get to drink it here. You know from your lam-rim studies that, directly or indirectly, every sentient being has helped you get that cup of tea. And not just that cup of tea. All happiness, from the lowest samsaric pleasure to the eternal bliss of liberation and enlightenment comes from each of us to the other.
Thus, to gain realisations we need to create the right atmosphere. We do this by gathering together and directing our minds to the same place. The power of this practice brings understanding. I think it is great: we are an international gathering and each of us has developed in our own unique way; but despite our differences our minds can still meet at the same place and we can communicate with each other. I really think it is wonderful. Parents may not be able to communicate with their children but here we are from different countries all over the world and we are able to communicate with each other, heart to heart.
Another connotation of tsog is "party" - a party at which we share simultaneously born great wisdom and bliss. Now that is a party.
During his visit to Australia, our Spiritual Director, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, said, "Extensive offerings should be made in the gompa for the benefit of the Centre and for the students' inner (Dharma) and outer prosperity. Making beautiful and extensive offerings encourages people to practise and create merit. Anyone who is having difficulties in their job or business and does not have time to do offerings at home could sponsor offerings at the Centre. The gompa caretaker can make these offerings on behalf of these people and for the Centre. Whoever wants to participate, dedicate the merit for them. Success depends on merit" - Rinpoche said.
This teaching is an excerpt from from "The Tantric Path of Purification" by Lama Yeshe, and is available from Wisdom Publications, Inc., the FPMT publishing company, and can be found at many good bookshops.