Offering ceremonies and rituals form an important part of Buddhist practice as they are an opportunity to create merit, i.e. positive karmic causes that will ripen as spiritual and worldly success. There is a Tibetan saying that for every handful of successful studies, you need two handfuls of prayers. The recipients of the offerings, the Three Jewels, are a powerful field of merit because they represent the fully realised qualities of awakening. By respecting and honouring them, we begin to respect and nurture those qualities within ourselves.
The term guru means spiritual master or guide, and puja means to please with offerings. This practice honours our spiritual guides, both outer and inner, by emphasising the inseparability of the two. This union is what is meant by the term guru yoga, a fundamental practice in all Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
The Guru Puja is the most elaborate guru yoga practice in our Gelug lineage, and it is an essential lineage transmission as it summarises the entire path to awakening in a single session. We perform this practice together with a ganachakra (tsog in Tibetan, meaning gathering) offering on the 10th and 25th lunar days each month. Contributions of food and drink as part of the gathering of offerings are welcome.
Four mandala offerings to Tara ceremony and other Tara practices
An offering ceremony to invoke and honour the 21 Taras, female Buddhas who are in essence swift enlightened compassion in action. Tara practice brings us wisdom and clarity to see and overcome inner obstacles and outer dangers. It will also help us to be successful in accomplishing the spiritual and worldly benefits swiftly. With practice we will find ways to transform our fears and enables us to protect self and others fearlessly.
During the ceremony four rounds of mandala offerings are made, and the Praise to the 21 Taras is recited in sets of two, three, and seven repetitions. Other practices include the 21 Taras sadhana and White Tara sadhana which has a special emphasis on healing and longevity. Tara practices are traditionally done on the 8th lunar day, so we do Tara practice if the 8th day falls on a Sunday. We can also do the ceremony on request.
Medicine Buddha practices
The historical Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Seven Medicine Buddhas Sutra out of compassion for beings in degenerate times. The seven Medicine Buddhas, headed by Medicine Guru King of Lapis Light, each made powerful aspirational vows as they were working towards awakening to relieve sentient beings of the sufferings of body and mind. Since they have reached their goal of awakening, their vows have been accomplished and whoever invokes their healing blessings by merely reciting their names and dharanis can receive worldly and spiritual benefits. Through various Medicine Buddha practices such as the offering ceremony, solitary Medicine Buddha sadhana, and seven Medicine Buddhas sadhana, we invoke the Medicine Buddhas' energy to benefit ourselves and others.
Palden Lhamo practices
Palden Lhamo is an awakened protector deity mentioned in the tantras taught by Buddha, and considered the wrathful aspect of the female Buddhas Tara and Sarasvati. She is the general protectress of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's lineage, and one of the personal protectors of Geshe Palden Tsering and Za Choje Rinpoche. As such, she has also been enshrined as the principal protector of our centre. By honouring her, we invoke protective, nurturing energy to guide us.
We perform the extensive offering ceremony before dawn on the first day of the lunar year, and a brief golden drink (tea) offering ceremony once a month on the Sunday closest to the 29th lunar day.