RELIGIOUS MASK DANCE – TSAM

Tsam is one of the Buddhist rituals and its origination and development are inevitably connected with Buddhist devotees and nations. A research recorded that there was a performance of Jakhar tsam in 775, which aimed at subduing local nagas and lords of the land while Guru Rinpoche, a founder of Samya monastery of Tibet and great Niyngma tantric master was visiting India. Some research paper mention that the first tsam was performed in Tibet in 811 which leads to a conclusion that there is a need to further this fact.

In Mongolia, the tsam was introduced at the beginning of the 18th century from India through Tibet. For instance, the first tsam in Mongolia was performed in Erdenezuu Monastery in 1786 and it was prepared and instructed by Tibetan umze (chant leader) of Ikh Khuree, Agramba, Bilegt Nanso and Gelong Sengerapten (fully ordained monk).

The word ‘Tsam’ means a dance of the Buddha and elements of this dance show as if protectors and deities have physically descended on the Jambudtiva (Southern continent).

Although the Buddhist tsam performance could be seen as a dance from artistic point of view, but in depth it is a secret tantric ritual, which has very subtle meaning. It is a religious ritual with a secret meaning and its rules and meaning were studied by knowledgeable Buddhist monks, who reached certain levels of realizations and they performed them by abiding by strict rules. The fact it was a religious ritual could be proved by the custom that the tsam performance was not carried out separately, but was combined with Buddhist chanting and the performance had specific days and places.

As mentioned above, the tsam performance was an important gurim (remedy practice) of Buddhist secret tantra and only well prepared monks carried out gurim by certain requirements and in certain circumstances. For example, the tsam performance was carried out in order to subdue and purify external environment, eradicate diseases, suffering, wars, famine, and hardships and spread auspiciousness. The performing monks had to first qualify by taking exams of rules of the tsam well in advance and they prepared for performance by doing secret tantric meditations.

Performing monks should study Buddhist secret tantric teachings, choga  and chakling in depth.

Besides illustrations of protectors, devas and Buddhas and their motions, there is also a subtle meditation on emptiness, which is an inner meditation ritual to abandon all mental afflictions and please local nagas and lords of the land. Another advantage of tsam performance is to help devotees recognize different types of wrathful yidams, choijins and protectors by seeing them and know them well in their next lives especially in intermediate states of rebirths and generate faith to them, so that to take higher rebirth, therefore it has a subtle meaning of Buddhist theory of karma.

Besides pleasing the external environment, the tsam performance also purifies internal environment or mental afflictions of all sentient beings including humans and to lead them to the Buddha’s path.

The internal meditation of tsam has a complete nature of Buddhist theory and its external expression also closely connected to its nature.

 

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