"Tsog means gathering, and the traditional offerings
include food, alcohol, flowers, incense, and sources of light such as butter lamps or candles. All of these are offered as wisdom substances, beyond any dualistic concept of the ordinary, beyond attachment and aversion. The experience of the 'single taste' of the offering is unsurpassed as a means of pacifying outer and inner obstacles that arise from the grasping tendencies of the ordinary mind." ~Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche
Tsog practice, the culmination or closure of Varjajana retreats, means “gathering” or “feast” traditionally consisting of singing praise and offerings to the Spiritual Guides at the temple. To purify negative karma while accumulating positive energies in one space the pujas, or fire offerings are introduced in place of renewing as much as to averting future obstacles to our practice commitments. The closing and completion ceremonies of practice are seen as transitional times. We replace the seriousness and single-minded concentration of several weeks or months of austerity with the sweetness and softness of food and people coming together, both the living ones and the spirits of those who departed.
We are seated on the vine-colored pillows and given small bells to join when our turn comes. Drums and the deep and steady echo of chanting are already filling the room to the brim. Food offerings are arranged on paper plates next to an ornate table set with golden cups of fruit wine awaiting to be offered. The magnificent turquoise, gold, red, and green painted dome above me soak in the energy of celebration taking me back to my childhood and April Easter Mass.
The gathering and promise of Easter Sunday post-austerity abundance, the beauty of ornate sculptures of Holy Mary embracing her late son with dignity and acceptance, the frescoes of the dome, the offering of the sacramental bread and grape juice, the organ music and magnificence of the choir - all offered to us to wake up the senses to the living world. We are about to be rescued from the world of the restriction and negation of our senses, from our tapas. The ceremonies are lengthy and this helps us too. While our bodies are aching for movement, the chanting and drumming keep us right here and right now, centered and energized. We are timeless.
I have a reading partner I I share my scriptures with. At first, we try to follow the chanting lines to join the sounds around us. We soon get lost in the perceived cacophony. We give up and close our eyes. We surrender and find a natural rhythmic movement. Our bodies sway.
After a couple of hours - we pause. We get up and help with servings of food and wine advised eating slowly and deliberately, to look for the “one taste”. Between the muddy-sweet grapes mixed with bread and hummus, I approach my task with the curiosity of a child. Where do all my senses meet right now? At 7000 feet altitude, my blood is much thinner. The wine intoxicates me quickly. I feel happy. I feel content.
People are lining up to receive Lama’s blessings. We help with the plates and leave the building walking along the dark path back to our yurts and tents. It is past midnight. I am noticing that I am on the lookout for the rabbits that greet me each morning on my way to morning sits. I wonder if they are asleep or have they woken up wondering if the drums and bells of the hall will return.