Tendrel (རྟེན་འབྲེལ་) means ‘dependent and connected’. It refers to Buddha’s theory of interdependence or dependent origination or law of causation. The Buddha explained that our life and existence are results of causes and conditions.
There are three features to this natural law: 1. Things do not come out of nothing. Otherwise, everything will occur everywhere or not occur at all. 2. Things do not come out of an eternal cause. Otherwise, things will occur for eternity. Causes are impermanent and so are results. They are not static and absolute, and can be changed. 3. Causes and results are connected. Results correspond to the causes: good results come from good causes, bad results from bad causes, hot chilies from chili seeds, and cold cucumber from cucumber seeds. If results do not correspond to causes, one would reap rice after planting potatoes, and a lazy person would have a lot of work done.
This law applies to all things in our lives, including our life goals, such as prosperity, happiness and enlightenment. Each is dependent on its causes and conditions and to experience them, we must identify and cultivate those causes and conditions. For a tree to grow, we must first plant a seed and nurture it with the proper conditions of soil, light, water, and manure. If one seeks prosperity, one must cultivate its causes and conditions which include merit, hard work, financial skills, and so forth. Every goal we seek depends on causes and conditions. That is why we focus on tendrel; to remind ourselves that we must seek and cultivate the causes of a particular thing in order to obtain the thing itself.
The tendrel ceremony that Bhutanese observe before starting a project or journey is a ritual aimed at cultivating an auspicious and effective beginning under the most ideal circumstances possible. It marks the onset of the process in tandem with the proper conditions such as time, place, company, motivation, and intention. One chooses a time with the best alignment of stars and planets and a place with the most impactful and auspicious setting. One chooses the right company of people who hold affection and good will and employs the right prayers and mantras to imbibe the blessings and powers from higher beings and forces to lend their aid. One cultivates the right intention and aspirations to kick off the process. During the tendrel ceremony, people accumulate the necessary causes and conditions right at the start so that they can easily actualize the intended results.
Thus, the tendrel ceremony involves accumulating the known and unknown factors including right time, space, company, intentions and spiritual blessings to help bring about the targeted result. However, it is important to remember that a symbolic ceremony alone will not bring about the result, because the results are dependent on the causes. After establishing an auspicious beginning, one must further cultivate the causes and conditions to achieve the goal.
While the tendrel ceremony is being conducted, it is crucial to reflect on the law of causation. One should not be satisfied with the ritual alone but neglect to invest in cultivating the actual causes and conditions. One of the most important causes for a successful project is the intention. One must have a positive and wholesome intention, preferably one that is altruistic with the goal of helping others as well as oneself.
As one starts a project, it is pertinent to remember the meaning of tendrel, cultivate the best of intentions and set the right circumstances so that the project begins well and also ends well. The mantra of tendrel is recited to help generate this effect:
ye dharmā hetu prabhavā hetun,
teṣāṃ tathāgato hyavadat,
teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha,
evaṃ vādī mahāśramaṇa.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel as part of a series called “Why We Do What We Do.”