WHAT IS A PUJA OR
Tsog or puja means gathering. We gather together offerings and we gather together practitioners in unison, to do the practice. We make an all-out effort to concentrate on the same space that stretches before our minds. Understandably, individuals in group practice experience much stronger inspirations than one can possibly feel while doing it all by oneself. In general, it has to be much better than just doing puja alone in our own rooms. This is the Tibetan connotation of a tsog.
An example from my college at Sera
likens a group puja to a straw broom. You cannot sweep much floor with
just one straw, but when many straws are gathered together to make a
broom, you can clean an entire assembly hall in no time at all. We are not
as strong as such distinguished practitioners as Milarepa. To such a great
Master, it is okay by himself; we are not ready for that yet.
Tsog in the Tibetan tradition is a most profound method of purification, a profound way of gaining realisations. When you recite the text in English you can see how many subjects are included in the practice. The Guru Puja, for example, covers the entire path to enlightenment from beginning to end. So it can happen that in your daily meditations on the lamrim you're not making any obvious progress, but then suddenly during a puja, because of the conduciveness of atmosphere you've created, zoom! -- Some realisation comes into your mind. Many people have gained realisations during a puja simply because of the atmosphere.
Normally, we push ourselves to achieve, but nothing happens because we've not made the space for something to happen. By gathering together to offer tsog we're making space. When the right space opens, zoom! - Realisations come as if magnetically attracted. This is true.
Therefore it's important to put yourself in the right atmosphere when practising a sadhana or whatever. You might have done a particular puja one hundred times before, but somehow you have never reached the right spot. When at a certain point, you do reach the right spot, zoom! - Something happens. To grow, we need the right atmosphere.
In the philosophical terminology of Buddhism, we talk about karma: 'Creating good karma and you'll get this or that good result.' I'm simply going to say that to get the results you want, you have to create the right atmosphere. If you build a greenhouse, flowers will grow and they'll also be protected from damage by hail. It's the same thing with our baby minds. We need to create the proper environment in which they can develop and we also need to protect them. Our gathering together for puja, giving each other energy is the kind of protection our minds require.
In the Tibetan tradition of Mahayana Buddhism we're always talking about the benefits we derive from all mother sentient beings. Take this Darjeeling tea we drink. Think how many people were involved in its getting here: the growers, the pickers, the sorters, the packagers, the shippers, the shopkeepers, our own cooks. Finally, we get to drink it here. You know from your lam-rim studies that, directly or indirectly, every sentient being has helped you get that cup of tea. And not just that cup of tea. All happiness, from the lowest samsaric pleasure to the eternal bliss of liberation and enlightenment comes from each of us to the other.
Thus, to gain realisations we need to create the right atmosphere. We do this by gathering together and directing our minds to the same place. The power of this practice brings understanding. I think it's great: we're an international gathering and each of us has developed in our own unique way; but despite our differences our minds can still meet at the same place and we can communicate with each other. I really think it's wonderful. Parents may not be able to communicate with their children but here we are from different countries all over the world and we're able to communicate with each other, heart to heart.
Another connotation of tsog is 'party' - a party at which we share simultaneously born great wisdom and bliss. Now that's a party.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche said, "Extensive offerings should be made in the gompa for the benefit of the Centre and for the students' inner (dharma) and outer prosperity. There should be many offerings as it is very inspiring. Making beautiful and extensive offerings encourages people to practice and create merit. Anyone who is having difficulties in their job or business and doesn't have time to do offerings at home could sponsor offerings at the Centre. The gompa caretaker can make these offerings on behalf of these people and for the Centre. Whoever wants to participate, dedicate the merit for them. Success depends on merit."
(An excerpt from The Tantric Path of Purification)