My first Sang Puja with a Tibetan family

It’s inconceivable how the universe conspires to see you thrive. My mind has been stuffed. I haven’t been able to feel happy; mostly numb and in a dream-like state. The heaviness of losing loved ones, and not doing too well at living in the present moment.

It’s normal.

I am in a place where I am leaving an experience and diving deep into the waters of another. Loving myself and those around me. I’ve become closer and more aware of my weaknesses than I have ever experienced. It’s not a bad thing, but it can be heavy.

I’m trying not to push away these feelings, but really experiencing the depths of confusion. Every feeling demands to be felt; and what a shame it would be to push away what is not

My inner voice tells me it will pass, to be patient.
So I wait, and here I’ve been sent. Following my best friend to Dharamsala, India. Only a few miles away from where His Holiness the Dalai Lama resides. I’m staying in a small village on top of a mountain where rivers gush fresh water, forests and tenderness of the Tibetan people surround me. The little shops all have photos of the Dalai Lama. In fact, the pool hall I go to on Friday nights filled with tattooed men, blaring hard rap, reeking of cigarette smoke has a happy little photo of His Holiness on the wall. Even the young scar faced Tibetan man who approached me mid-game who I thought would laugh at my ability to miss every ball I shot, gently gave me instructions on how to improve my game. Speaking  with me and smiling so brightly I could have melted into a little puddle.

I asked Tenzin, my new friend, if he could describe the personality of Tibetan people to me. He responded, “kind, patient, and peaceful.”

Yup. The people here are just that beautiful. How I ended up in a place like this at a time when my heart is in such need for rest is beyond my comprehension. And how I ended up being in a purification ritual?
You can’t just make these things up.

The welcoming to my first sang puja, or ritual, went a little bit like this:

There was a monk in the corner, sitting; chanting his chant. Drumming his drum. He wore deep red robes, an yellow vest underneath, prayer beads hanging around his neck. A presence of peace. Just next to him on the bedside table was a shrine of Buddhas and glowing candles.18698738_10155254870470883_739490300_o
The room just seemed to feel so clean- spotless, purified, and filled with warm light. This is the point of the puja already working its magic,perhaps. I sat there, taking it all in. This ritual has been used to gain clean the impurities in the mind.

I share the room with a nun, a monk, and a couple of my new friends. The universe placing these moments in my life when I need them most. It’s an ancient ritual that has been going on for several thousand years. In Tibetan, sang means to remove, purify, cleanse, and awaken. Not only is it intended to purify our minds, but our guests, too, which was the next step, and what I found to be an especially beautiful part of this ceremony.

The first guests are called the “Three Jewels”, which are the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We offer to them because they have overcome all kinds of obstacles and delusions. Offering to the Three Jewels therefore increases our merit and wisdom, which enables us to receive their blessings and guidance.

Then, the “Three Roots” are called upon, which are Lama, Yidam, and Dakini. Making offerings to the Three Roots enables us to receive their blessings of protection, as well as be free from obstacles and receive help from them in our careers.

Then we ask the protectors of wisdom to come.

And finally, energy in need of karmic debt are welcomed to the ritual, too. These are called the six protectors of Samara. By welcoming them we can be relieved from supernatural obstacles, are able to pay our karmic debts, and lead them to liberation.



We them to freedom. There’s something particularity special about inviting dark energy in need of karmic cleansing, that shows the goodness of this culture. After conversations about trying to understand the fundamentals of what it is to be Tibetan- and trust me, I’m not anywhere close to having it all figured out- I have found that there is one very distinguishable characteristic. Acceptance.

You know, I’ve been taught to be afraid of negative energy my entire life.
We used to tell scary stories as a child before going to sleep at a friends’house, or watch spine-chilling movies where these spirits woke up people at night and were nothing else but terrifying. Bad luck. The phantoms that needed to be expelled completely from homes, communities, and were certainly not welcomed to come and spend time with us during a purification ritual. And this is the difference. Acceptance seeps within the this culture. And where acceptance is, love and peace are free to flourish. In fact, acceptance is so deeply a part of this culture that they warmly welcome spirits to join intimate rituals in their homes because they know that they, too, need love and liberation.

Now, the offering. It’s a fire: it can be small or big; the most important part of this is that it’s clean. There’s different versions of these offerings, but most traditionally it is a mixture of “three whites”, “three sweets” (for example sugar, honey, flour, butter) called sangdze, incense, 5 different colored cloth representing the different elements, medicine, alcohol, and stones or jewels. But, it must absolutely not contain meat, garlic, eggs, or onion. Other example of offerings can also include beer and wine.

The offerings are put in a bowl and then deposited inside the fire reduced to ashes.
There it is.

The Sang Puja.

And this made me revisit my past self, six months ago, when this all was so foreign to me. I remembered the first time I saw monks in Asia I remember squealing out of sheer delight. I could hardly get myself to look away from their enchanting presence. I took a photo and sent it to my friends with a big arrow around their bodies with a pointed arrow that said “Monks on the subway!” I was a child wide eyed in amazement, stepping into my kind of candy shop.

I craved so much to know different ways of expressing belief and spirituality, in any shape or form.
And I still do.

So here I am,

Diving myself into different cultures. Finding myself within different philosophies of the world. It’s only shown me to have overwhelming appreciation for all that is in the world. Learning to live in the present. Stumbling upon special humans who naturally exemplify how we can share unconditional love and compassion. The universe taking me in its sweet arms and reminding me that the only constant in this life is change. Reassuring me this time of sorrow will pass as long, as long as we are open to look for the light and love surround us, and that we hold inside ourselves.


Photo credit : Johanna Patton

Testimony from Johanna Patton

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