Bhutanese believe some days are düchen (དུས་ཆེན་), or auspicious, marked by right alignment of astrological bodies and, as a result, offer ideal opportunities for inner spiritual achievements. The tenth day of a lunar month, or tsechu (ཚེས་བཅུ་), is considered to be düchen, when constellations and stars align to create an environment conducive to spiritual achievements. Tsechu is a düchen associated with the 8th century Indian master Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoché. Guru Rinpoché is believed to have been born on the tenth day of the Monkey month, though depending on the calendar employed, the Monkey month can vary between the third and sixth lunar months. In Bhutan, the most popular is the tenth day of the fifth lunar month and is when most communities observe the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoché on this day in an event known as Trelda Tséchu. However, in some eastern valleys of Bhutan, Guru Rinpoché’s birth is observed a month earlier in a celebration called Prue Chö.
In addition to the celebrations during the fourth or fifth months, devotees observe the tenth days of every lunar month throughout the year. Each of these tenth days are associated with different miracles and activities performed by Guru Rinpoché, and his biography is aligned so that there is a major life event associated with each of the tenth days. Therefore, the tenth day or tséchu are considered very important days for those following Guru Rinpoché.
Today Bhutanese observe tsechu, the tenth day, in remembrance of Guru Rinpoché and his great acts. Like the celebration of his birth during Trelda Tsechu, Bhutanese celebrate and honour his activities throughout the year on other tsechu by making offerings and supplications to him. Tséchu days are also special because Guru Rinpoché has pledged to appear and assist those who seek his aid on this particular day. Guru Rinpoché is generally said to respond to people’s prayers anytime but he is believed to have made a special commitment to return to the Himalayan world every tenth day of the month, riding on the rays of the rising sun in order to help sentient beings.
What should one do during tsechu?
Tséchu literally translates as the tenth day but because many festivals are observed on tséchu, it has now become a common term for a festival. Today, Bhutanese mistakenly use it to refer to all festivals. There are many other festivals such as düche, druba, drubché, rabné, and chöpa, which are not tsechu festivals. Tsechu is just one category and they are mostly a commemoration of Guru Rinpoché's life and works.
Tradition maintains that one should observe tsechu with full awareness of Guru Rinpoché, and remembering his personality and the values, ideals, and causes he stands for. If Guru Rinpoché represents compassion, enlightenment, and wisdom, one should remember Guru Rinpoché by actualizing these values and principles in one’s own life. Guru Rinpoché isn’t pleased simply by receiving gifts and praise; his enlightened attitude encourages people to do good and help sentient beings alleviate suffering. Thus, many believers feel it is important to live and behave the way Guru Rinpoché wishes his followers to live and behave.
During tsechu, one should chant prayers to Guru Rinpoché and make the request to help reach his state of insight and perform useful and meaningful actions in the world, just as he has done. Guru Rinpoché's mantra is Om ah hung vajra guru padma siddhi hung, which roughly translates as “Om ah hung, may I attain the state of adamantine teacher Padma”. For adherents, the best way to observe tshechu is keep Guru Rinpoché at the forefront of one’s mind, live up to his ideas and aspirations, and recite prayers that seek his blessings to be able to live up to his ideals. Also important is chanting the seven-line prayer alongside the above-mentioned mantra, which is the essence of all prayers to Guru Rinpoché.
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.”