Buddhist offering honors those affected by 9/11

By Dylan Silver, Tahoe Daily Tribune, Sept 10, 2011

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (USA) -- In Buddhism, a Tsok offering is a powerful ritual, typically reserved to honor certain gods. But this Saturday, the ceremony will focus on blessing the lives of those affected by the tragic events that happened 10 years ago.

“In all Buddhist practice, our motivation is to help others, our prayers are sent out to all sentient beings, which includes survivors, their families and all who felt the effects of that horrific day,” said Melanie Foerschler, who's organizing the event. “Venerable Sogan Rinpoche is holding this particular Tsok to help all who suffered on 9/11.”

During this event, there will be no flags at half mast, no tears and no salutes. During a Tsok, or “accumulation cycle,” participants each bring a food item. With the guidance of the lama, they bless the food with prayers, silent meditation, visualizations and mantras. The meal is then feast upon. The event sometimes concludes with poetry reading, chanting or singing.

“Tsoks are usually held on specific days, honoring certain deities and dakinis, based on the Tibetan lunar calendar,” Foerschler said.

Foerschler believes Buddhist teachings on compassion, equanimity and attachment apply well in difficult times like the 9/11 tragedy, she said.

“In Buddhism, it is very important to take care of others first, and we really saw all Americans show their Buddha nature, helping one another following that tragic day,” she said.

For Sogan Rinpoche, who's originally from Tibet but has lived in the Bay Area for more than 10 years, the event holds special significance. Next week, Rinpoche will take his tests for American citizenship.

“I came up here to visit some friends and I saw that 9/11 was coming up,” Rinpoche said. “I thought it would be a good time to pray for the victims and families. And it would be a good thing to do as a good citizen.”

Rinpoche has visited Lake Tahoe several times, to meet with students in the area. In recent years, he opened a high school in Tibet, a rare occurrence for the Chinese-governed country. He's raised money to provide a fresh water system for a Tibetan province devastated by an earthquake in 2010. And he's traveled across the U.S. and the world to teach Buddhism.

Ten years ago, he was in India when the planes struck the twin towers. He remembers the day clearly.

“I didn't have TV in my room,” he said. “A close friend called me and said ‘Come here, something has happened in the U.S.' We were shocked.”