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 10 of a 44-part series.
Offering the mandala
O Treasure of Compassion, my Refuge and Protector, supremely perfect Field of Merit,
With a mind of devotion I offer to you
A thousand million of the Great Mountain, the four continents,
The seven major and minor royal possessions, and so forth,
A collection of perfect worlds and beings that give rise to all joys,
A great treasury of the desired enjoyments of gods and men.
Geshe-la explains that mandala offerings are the best method for creating the karma to take rebirth in the pure land. Why is this so? It seems that our practice of self-generation as the deity in the pure land would be the best method since that is what we are directly doing (presumably with a bodhichitta motivation). There are three reason why mandala offerings are superior: it is the highest possible offering we can make, we are making it with the greatest possible motivation of bodhichitta, and we are offering it to the supreme object of offering – our spiritual guide, the synthesis of all the Buddhas.
A mandala offering is the highest possible offering we can make. For me, the key to mandala offerings is understanding what, exactly, I am offering. I am not simply offering a completely purified universe; I am offering a promise of practice that I will not stop until I have transformed the universe into the pure land I am offering. The mandala offering is an offering of promise to fulfil our bodhichitta wish. An offering of our practice in general is the highest possible offering we can make because it is what delights the spiritual guide most. An offering of a promise to not stop until we fulfil our bodhichitta wish to transform the universe into a pure land is the highest possible offering of practice possible. Therefore, there is no offering greater than a mandala offering.
Geshe-la explains in the teachings on bodhichitta that engaging in virtuous actions motivated by bodhichitta is a merit-multiplier – we multiply the merit of our virtuous action by the number of beings for whose behalf we engage in the virtuous action. Since bodhichitta seeks to liberate countless living beings, any action engaged in with a bodhichitta motivation is karmically equivalent to engaging in that same virtuous action countless times. Making a mandala offering with a bodhichitta motivation is karmically equivalent to making a regular mandala offering countless times.
Finally, the Guru is the supreme recipient of our offering. In the same way that bodhichitta acts as a merit multiplier, Geshe-la explains that an offering to the Guru is karmically equivalent to making that same offering to each of the countless Buddhas individually. Why? Because the Guru is like a portal to all the other Buddhas – an offering directly to the spiritual guide is indirectly an offering to all the countless Buddhas.
Taken together, we can see that when we make mandala offerings to our Guru with a bodhichitta motivation, we quite literally “max out” the virtuous potential of the action. The offering itself is the highest possible offering of our practice (the promise to fulfil our bodhichitta wish), multiplied by countless living beings due to our bodhichitta motivation, all offered to each of the countless Buddhas through our spiritual guide. Each mandala offering we make with these three recognitions creates countless karmic potentialities to attain the pure land. It only takes one of these to ripen at the time of our death for us to take rebirth there. From this, we can conclude that making mandala offerings is indeed the best method for attaining rebirth in the pure land, for how could it even be possible to offer anything greater than this? It is for this reason that Je Tsongkhapa emphasized mandala offerings and Geshe-la encourages us to engage in mandala offering retreats every year and to complete 100,000 mandala offerings as part of our great preliminary guides for Mahamudra practice.
Offering our spiritual practice
O Venerable Guru, I offer these pleasure gardens,
Both arranged and emanated by mind, on the shores of a wish-granting sea,
In which, from the pure white virtues of samsara and nirvana,
There arise offering substances of broad, thousand- petalled lotuses that delight the minds of all;
Where my own and others’ mundane and supramundane virtues of the three doors
Are flowers that bring colour to every part
And emit a multitude of scents like Samantabhadra’s offerings;
And where the three trainings, the five paths, and the two stages are the fruit.
Geshe-la explains that offerings of our spiritual practice are the highest possible offering. Why? The definition of an offering is that which delights the Guru. Nothing delights our spiritual guide more than our practice of his instructions. He does not want us to practice to flatter his ego that we spend time doing what he says, but because his only wish for us is that we escape permanently from samsara and that we seek to help others do the same. He knows that the only way we can do that is by training in the stages of the path of Sutra and Tantra. When we do so, he is delighted because he knows we are moving closer to the fulfilment of his ultimate wish for us.
Any offering of our practice delights our Guru, from simply smiling to a stranger out of kindness to engaging in advanced completion stage meditations. We can offer our spiritual practice throughout the day and the night as we engage in our different practices. Simply engaging in our practices itself if not the offering of our spiritual practice, we also have to have the recognition that our practice itself is an offering to our spiritual guide.
With the explanation above about how mandala offerings are an offering of a promise of our spiritual practice to fulfil our bodhichitta wish to build our pure land for the sake of others, we can appreciate the description of the offering of our spiritual practice in the sadhana. In effect, we are simply describing in more detail the experience of living in the pure land we have created for others with the mandala offering.
I offer this ocean of nectar with the five hooks, the five lamps, and so forth,
Purified, transformed, and increased,
Together with a drink of excellent tea
Endowed with a hundred flavours, the radiance of saffron, and a delicate aroma.
There are four types of offering – outer, inner, secret, and thatness offering. Each of these types of offering correspond with the four different Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments we receive – vase, secret, wisdom-mudra, and precious word empowerment. The outer offerings create special karmic seeds on our mind which are then activated during the vase empowerment. This merit then powers our meditation on the profound generation stage of the body mandala and leads to us eventually attaining the resultant Emanation Body of a Buddha. Inner offerings create the special karmic seeds that are activated during the secret empowerment, which powers our meditation on the completion stage of illusory body and leads to us eventually attaining the resultant Enjoyment Body. The karma of secret offerings is activated during the wisdom-mudra empowerment and power our meditation on the completion stage of the clear light of Mahamudra and enable us to attain the resultant Truth Body. And thatness (or suchness) offerings are ripened by the word empowerment, empowering us to mediate on the completion stage of inconceivability and attain the resultant union of Vajradhara. When we clearly understand the relationship between the different types of offering, the different empowerments, the different tantric stages, and their corresponding bodies of a Buddha, the practice of each of these becomes much more powerful.
What are inner offerings? This refers to the transformation of the five meats and the five nectars into completely purified nectar, which we then offer. The five meats and the five nectars refer to disgusting substances and liquids in our body. When we bless the inner offering, we recognize the emptiness of these substances and liquids, then generate them as completely pure nectars that we offer. Samsara is identifying with the contaminated aggregates of our ordinary body and mind. Because our aggregates are contaminated, when we identify with them, we are a contaminated, samsaric being. But if we completely purify them, then there is no longer a contaminated basis to identify with, de facto removing us from samsara. The inner offerings primarily refer to our body, and the end result of the secret empowerment is the attainment of the illusory body of completion stage and the resultant Enjoyment Body of a Buddha. These are our vajra bodies, our deathless spiritual bodies.
If we wish to make a tsog offering to emphasize the accumulation of great merit, such as in a long life puja, we should do so at this point.
According to the sadhana, we can engage in the tsog offering at different points of the practice to emphasize different attainments. For auspiciousness, I will explain the tsog offering in the context of emphasizing gaining the realizations of the stages of the path. But there are times when we feel we are particularly lacking in merit, and doing our tsog offering here enables us to emphasize its accumulation. How do we know if we are lacking merit? A typical sign is no matter how hard we try to accomplish our pure wishes, we never manage to do so and we always come up short. It should be noted there is nothing stopping us from doing the tsog offering multiple times in a single session at different points of the sadhana if we want to emphasize more than one aspect of the practice.