Tom/Ja/Thuk Chö: Offering of Food

Saying tomchö is similar to the grace people say in Christianity before eating. Before one eats the food, one should first offer it to others, particularly to enlightened beings who are worthy of such offering. One can do that by putting a small portion, representing the cream of the food () in front of a shrine. Bhutanese call this to pü for food, ja pü for tea and chang pü for alcohol. If one is not able to make such offering, one can chant the verses for offering, be it tea, alcohol or food.

Offering rituals Food Offering Bhutan Cultural Library Bhutan
Why do we say to chö?

The verses of offering are numerous and one can find different verses of offering composed by different people for different occasions. On the whole, all the different words of offering serve two purposes: firstly offering the food to the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. According to Buddhist scriptures, such actions increase one’s sense of giving and make one more charitable. This in return leads to rebirth with wealth and wellbeing.

The second purpose is to help oneself cultivate mindfulness. The verses of offering should remind one of being mindful of the food one is eating, why and how one is eating. The tochö verses should help us remain mindful of and think about the process of consumption and nourishment. Some verses talk about the kind of food one should be eating, such as the food which comes from right livelihood, which is not robbed or stolen from others or obtained through deceit or trickery. It reminds the person of having wholesome nourishment and avoiding non-virtuous means of living.

What should one think of while saying tomchö?

While saying offering verses, one must think of living a wholesome life. One should look at the food and be mindful of process of food production such as the interdependence of things. That is why the pious, older Bhutanese generation does not waste any food because they are aware and conscientious of the hardship involved in producing a single grain of rice.

With the knowledge of how things have come about and understanding the inter-connectedness and hard work others have put into one’s sustenance, one must build one’s own moral and spiritual resolve to use the sustenance to help the body work for the welfare of the society and sentient beings. The body is viewed like a boat to ferry sentient beings across the sea of suffering and food like fuel for the boat.

On the level of Vajrayāna practice, the whole process of having a meal is turned into a spiritual feast where one is not viewed as an ordinary individual having an ordinary food given by an ordinary person. Instead, one should visualise both one and others as deities in a divine maṇḍala because sentient beings are primordially enlightened although they do not recognise it.

The group of people enjoying the food is visualised as a maṇḍala of male and female divinities and the food as spiritual feast of immortal and ineffable nectar. Nectar doesn’t mean honey or some sweet substance but rather sublime energy which has the power to enlighten and take sentient beings to the adamantine state of enlightenment. Through meditation, ordinary food is transformed into tsok spiritual feast in Vajrayāna practice. That is why the offering of food in the evening in Bhutan is called tsok.

The religious ceremony for enjoying food as tsok offering are long and elaborate involving a lot of visualisation. The simplest prayer for making a food offering is chözhé, where one is offering the food and requesting the enlightened beings to accept the offering.

 

Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, founder of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called "Why We Do What We Do."

 

 

 

 

 

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Before one eats the food, one should first offer it to others, particularly to enlightened beings who are worthy of such offering. One can do that by putting a small portion, representing the cream of the food (phue) in front of a shrine. Bhutanese call this toh phue for food, jah phue for tea and chang phue for alcohol.

This piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called "Why we do what we do".

Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)
Author Karma Phuntsho
Editor Bradley Aaron
Year published 2015
Original year published 2014
Subjects
Places