Tibetans, Chinese, Nepalis, Westerners and Offerings


Lerab Ling, France, 21 August 2012

Tibetans, Chinese, Nepalis, Westerners and Offerings

Lerab Ling, France, 21 August 2012

While teaching the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo, as he explained the section on the paramita of generosity, Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche felt it was important to relate it more closely to western people, and he gave this very useful instruction.

The first of the six paramitas, the perfection of generosity, is not exclusively about giving things to poor people. Both offering to the Three Jewels and to those in need are included in the paramita of ‘generosity’.

I have noticed something about offering that seems strange to me and so I want to talk about it.

When a ceremony and a tsok are performed in a Tibetan context, many people join in. Each lama and monk brings a large bag and a bowl. Lay women and men bring incense, oil, and a little money. You will see all this if you go to Tibet. Strictly speaking, lamas and monks are supposed to bring more offerings than lay people, but in reality they each carry an empty bag and an empty bowl. Lamas rarely make even the tiniest offering whereas every single lay person will bring something. This happens all over Tibet – it’s a Tibetan tradition. But it is wrong.

We attain enlightenment having perfected the accumulations and eliminated all obscurations – lamas and monks know more about this than lay people. If my lama, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, heard that someone was reciting a short practice or wanted to buy a few dharma books, he would immediately give them a little something, saying “This is my offering. I want to make a connection with your virtuous activities”.

In the West, as practitioners, you know that you must perfect the two accumulations of merit and wisdom, and eliminate the two obscurations. The accumulation of merit involves bearing in mind the various aspects of a meritorious action and requires you to make an actual offering. You then make imagined offerings in addition to your physical offerings. To accumulate wisdom, which is beyond all reference, we must meditate. When we organize group practices to accumulate merit, we have to tell most westerners that they should bring offerings. We even have to tell them what they should bring and how much! Very few westerners know about bringing offerings.

When I organize vast tsok offerings, at Bodhgaya for example, the Tibetans and the Chinese all bring offerings. The Chinese, who are richer than the Tibetans, tend to bring larger offerings and the Westerners bring their cameras. But if the Westerners are told, “You cannot pass beyond this point unless you pay 500 rupees”, they have no problem handing over the money. So, if you tell them that they cannot enter Longchenpa’s monastery unless they pay a fee, they pay up immediately. If I were to tell the westerners, “Tomorrow I will organize a tenth day tsok at my house and each of you needs to bring a certain amount of money,” they wouldn’t hesitate to bring the money. But if I say nothing, they don’t bring anything.

I have often worked with the Nyingma Monlam organizing committee. We find that the most generous offerings come from the Bhutanese and the second most generous offerings from the Tibetans. A few East Asians also make offerings, but very few Westerners. The Nepalese only ever take stuff away with them – they bring nothing and leave with their hands full. Westerners don’t take anything away, but neither do they bring anything – equanimity. I told Tarthang Rinpoche about it. He said, “That’s right. Unless you tell them to pay, they don’t offer. You need to make rules, otherwise they won’t give anything.” But we Tibetans don’t have a tradition in our culture of making that kind of rule.

These days, all the lamas are making rules and setting prices. But the point is to be motivated to make a connection with any act of generosity that is being performed by contributing something towards it. If there is a tsok, you could participate by bringing tsok substances. If butter lamps are offered, you could offer a few lamps. Whatever the virtuous action, you can connect with it by making a small offering. And when you do make offerings, you can easily make that offering qualify as the kind of generosity described in the paramita of generosity by not being stingy, and so on. It is good to start small and increase your offerings slowly. If you start by making small offerings, you will eventually be able to make big offerings – it’s important to understand this. But being forced to pay a fixed price to comply with a rule is a completely different story. Who knows how pure your motivation is if all you’re doing is following the rules?

That’s what I think. I have been thinking about this for a long time and, having found myself among so many westerners, I felt I had to say something. Not making offerings is probably just one of your cultural habits, nothing more, because when there is a fixed price, you all pay up instantly. But if there is no fixed price, you don’t even think about giving some money. If you are told “this is the price”, if you have money you pay it, and if you don’t, you simply leave and don’t think any more about it. This is not a good tradition.

The six paramitas are the true basis of all the Mahayana paths. This needs to be explained because although some of you know this teaching, some of you don’t and need to learn about it. If you don’t know about the six paramitas it is difficult to follow the path. There is a discussion about sadhana practices and so on, later in the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo, that begins by talking almost exclusively about offerings – outer offerings, inner offerings, secret offerings. It is all about perfecting the paramita of generosity and perfecting the accumulations, right? This is why you need to know a bit about it. At least, that is what I think. I don’t know if it’s true or not.

Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Janine Schulz

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