“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

The Tsog practice is the culmination of the Tara Mandala Varjajana retreat, which gathered practitioners and students from all over the world.  Tsog means “gathering” or “feast” and traditionally consists of singing praise and giving offerings to the Spiritual Guides at the temple. This is intended to purify negative karma and accumulating positive energies in one space. During the puja, offering, prayers are recited to renew commitments and avert future obstacles.

Tara Mandala is the only temple hall devoted to a female deity in North America and students work diligently for weeks at a time. The closing ceremony of Tsog brings about a sort of completion. The seriousness of and concentration of the past weeks is now replaced with softness, both of faces and the movements of loved ones departing.

We sat on vine coloured pillows on the floor with small bells ringing around us. Drums and the low echo of chants filled the air of the room. Volunteers were given small tasks – taking food offerings in paper plates from one table to another then arranging them on an ornate table set with golden cups of fruit wine.  I was taken by the magnificence of the gold, red and blue dome above me, soaking in the energy of celebration. It was a long ceremony, but then my sense of time was lost in the temple with no schedule restricting me. Long was when my body ached for movement, but the drumming continued and energized in its own way.

My reading partner and myself shared a book, trying to follow the lines of the chanting, often lost in the concords of sounds. We eventually surrendered, closing our eyes to meditate on the music and sound.

After an hour or two, there was a pause. We got up to help serve the food and wine, advised to eat slowly in line with the deliberate nature of the temple’s practices, searching for “one taste” between the muddy-sweet grapes and bread and hummus, approaching food with the curiosity of a child. The wine took us away completely, at a 7000 feet latitude our blood is much thinner and intoxicants went deeper.

At the end of the ceremony a long line of attendants formed to receive Lama’s blessings. We helped take the plates out, then we put on our shoes and walked the dark path back to our yurts and tents. I looked out in search of the rabbits we see each morning on our walks to the temple from the mediation.  It was midnight and I wondered if they were sleeping or up with the drums and bells of the hall.