Happy Tsog Day: Offering the outer offerings

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 8 of a 44-part series.

O Guru, Refuge, and Protector, together with your retinue,
I offer you these vast clouds of various offerings:

When I first started practicing Dharma, I had a big problem with making offerings. There were several layers of resistance. First, I grew up in Oregon at the time of the Bhagwan Rajneesh. He taught love and all the right things, but he was systematically duping his followers, using money to buy Rolls Royces, engaging in secret orgies, mass poisonings, attempted assassinations, you name it – everything that one worries about in a cult. When I encountered making extensive outer offerings in the Dharma, I was like, “no way!” Second, one of the biggest fears Westerners have about Eastern spiritual guides is they are conning us out of our money. There are many examples of so-called spiritual teachers doing exactly that, so the fear is not irrational. Third, it made no sense to me why we should make such offerings – if the Buddhas had already attained everything, why offer to them and not to people in need? And fourth, I have deep imprints of miserliness and the way I was raised reinforced this. My father had millions, but mentally felt himself a pauper and was extremely miserly with how he spent his money; my mother was a single mom working two low-paying jobs just to pay the rent and we grew up on second-hand clothes and Value Village canned food. To this day, I tend to be very miserly as a result. All these obstacles together created many obstacles to embracing the practice of making outer offerings. If I am honest, I still have reluctance on this front.

So how can we overcome these objections? First, these offerings are just imagined, we are not physically giving our spiritual guide these things. Second, anything we do physically give our spiritual guide, he immediately turns around and gives it to somebody else (regifting is a virtue!). Third, we do not make offerings because the Buddhas need these things, but rather we need the merit or good karma of making these offerings. Each type of offering has a different karmic function, and we can want the karmic fruits of these offerings for selfless reasons. Fourth, Geshe-la is very clear that the offering that pleases him the most is an offering of our spiritual practice, showing his real intention is not to scam us. Fifth, it is normal to want to check these things, but after we have conducted a thorough investigation and found nothing to justify our fears, we need to leave them behind and not hold on tightly to baseless doubts. And sixth, it is precisely because I have tendencies for miserliness that I need to train in giving, lest I know the poverty I so fear.

Practically speaking, for each of the outer offerings, we should imagine ourself as Heruka emanates countless offering goddesses from our heart filling the universe with the corresponding offering, which our spiritual guide receives and generates great bliss. We should recall the specific karmic benefits of the specific type of offering with a bodhichitta motivation. Then we reabsorb the offering goddesses and make the next offering. Therefore, what will follow is an explanation of the specific karmic benefits of each type of offering.

The purifying nectars of the four waters gently flowing
From expansive and radiant jewelled vessels perfectly arrayed;

Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that if we make water offerings, we attain eight special benefits:

“(1) Offering cool water causes us to develop pure moral discipline.
(2) Offering delicious water ensures that we shall always find delicious food and drink in future lives.
(3) Offering light water causes us to experience the bliss of physical suppleness.
(4) Offering soft water makes our mind calm and gentle.
(5) Offering clear water makes our mind clear and alert.
(6) Offering sweet-smelling water brings easy and powerful purification of negative karma.
(7) Offering water that is good for the digestion reduces our illnesses.
(8) Offering water that soothes the throat makes our speech beautiful and powerful.

When we offer water to Buddha we should regard it as pure nectar because that is how it is perceived by Buddha. We can also arrange many sets of seven offering bowls filled with pure water, symbolizing our future attainment of the seven pre-eminent qualities of embrace of a Buddha.”

All these things are qualities we would want to attain. Sometimes we develop some resistance to thinking about the karmic benefits we will receive from our spiritual actions, thinking it is self-cherishing. But we can want all these good qualities for the sake of others. We need moral discipline to attain upper rebirth so we can continue with our spiritual practice, we want to find delicious food and drink so we can stay healthy and engage in the yoga of eating. We want a calm and clear mind so we can help others attain a similar state, etc.

When we make these offerings, we should imagine that we are Heruka and countless offering goddesses fill the entire universe making extensive water offerings while recalling the karmic benefits of making such offerings with a bodhichitta motivation.

Beautiful flowers, petals, and garlands finely arranged,
Covering the ground and filling the sky;

When we make flower offerings, it creates the karmic causes for everything and everyone to appear to us as beautiful and pleasing. This enables three main benefits. First, we are able to keep a balanced mind of equanimity because everything appears to us as beautiful and pleasing, so we are free from strong attachment and aversion. Second, we can easily develop affectionate love towards all beings because they all appear to us as beautiful and pleasing, like they would to a loving grandma. And third, we will easily generate great bliss for our tantric practice; thus, accelerating our quick path.

The lapis-coloured smoke of fragrant incense
Billowing in the heavens like blue summer clouds;

Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that offering incense enables us to always encounter pleasant smells and to always be reborn in pleasant places. The value of pleasant smells can be understood from the above explanation on flowers. We want to be reborn in pleasant places so we can focus on our spiritual practice and not basic survival and also because those who are likewise born into pleasant places will be more receptive to spiritual practice.

The playful light of the sun and the moon, glittering jewels, and a vast array of lamps
Dispelling the darkness of the three thousand worlds;

Light offerings temporarily make our mind sharp; thus, making contemplation and meditation easier. Ultimately, light offerings create the cause for great wisdom to dawn in our mind, dispelling the darkness of ignorance. We need both of these things for our bodhisattva training.

Exquisite perfume scented with camphor, sandalwood, and saffron,
In a vast swirling ocean stretching as far as the eye can see;

Perfume offerings create the causes to attain pure moral discipline. Pure moral discipline is the primary cause of fortunate rebirth. If we fall into the lower realms, it will be impossible for us to continue our spiritual training until we are lucky enough to take another upper rebirth, and only then if we refind the Dharma. But the practice of moral discipline ensures that we maintain an uninterrupted continuum of precious human rebirths between now and our eventual enlightenment. We need never attain lower rebirth again.

Nutritious food and drink endowed with a hundred flavours
And delicacies of gods and men heaped as high as a mountain;

Food offerings have two main benefits. First, in the future we will always easily find nutritious food, which we will need to remain healthy and sustain our precious human life. The truth is nutritious food is a luxury good in the modern world. It is expensive and difficult to find, whereas junk food is cheap and plentiful. Second, food offerings create the causes for us to attain pure concentration. Concentration on virtue is like healthy food for the mind. At the beginning of virtually every Dharma book and at the beginning of virtually every introductory course, we explain the cause of happiness is inner peace. Inner peace comes from mixing our mind with virtue. Mixing our mind with virtue depends upon concentration. Without concentration, our mind and virtue will not mix; but with concentration, they will mix inseparably like water mixed with water. The more they mix, the more we create the causes for inner peace, and the happier we will be – in this life and in all our future lives.

From an endless variety of musical instruments,
Melodious tunes filling all three worlds;

By making music offerings we create the causes to only hear pleasant sounds, never hear bad news, and always hear Dharma. The value of only hearing pleasant sounds can be understood from the explanation on flower offerings above. Never hearing bad news has two aspects – external and internal. The external aspect is things simply do not go wrong in the world we inhabit because we have so much merit, so there is not a lot of bad news to hear. Internally, it is a special wisdom that can hear any news as good news because we see how it teaches us the truth of Dharma or gives us an opportunity to train in Dharma. Always hearing the sound of Dharma is essential if we are to continue with our spiritual practice in the future. We have found the Dharma in this life, but there is no guarantee we will find it again in our future lives. Being born human is not enough, we need to be born human where we can hear the sound of pure Dharma. There is no guarantee we will attain enlightenment in this life, so we need to make sure we find the path again in our future lives. Further, there is no guarantee we will continue to hear the sound of Dharma even in this life. Many people come to teachings, even for many years, but then they fade away and gradually lose their practice. They then come to inhabit a private world in which they do not hear the sound of Dharma, which then reinforces their separation from the path until eventually their previous spiritual life they were so enthusiastic about becomes nothing but a fond memory of their past.

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