One Step At A Time: Making 100,000 Tsa-Tsas in Crestone

The consecration of the Tashi Gomang Stupa in Crestone.

Marianne Marstrand will be at KTD July 20-22, 2012, for the first-ever Tsa-Tsa Retreat.  It will include teachings on tsa-tsas by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, a hands-on workshop led by Lama Karma Chopal, and a screening of “Eye of the Land,” a film about the creation of the Tashi Gomang Stupa. Marianne is part of the “stupa team” that made tsa-tsas for the famous Tashi Gomang Stupa in Crestone, Colorado. She is featured in the film and will answers questions afterwards.

We began making the tsa-tsas needed for the Tashi Gomang Stupa around 1991, about five years before its completion. The 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, who inspired and initiated the construction of the Tashi Gomang Stupa on HH Karmapa’s land, advised the stupa team*  to make at least 100,000 of the 2 ½-inch plaster tsa-tsas to be placed within the 42-foot stupa. A small group of us met two days a week.

Tsa-tsa making became our meditation practice. On a good day we could make 250 of them, using special latex and rubber molds created by Paul Kloppenburg.  He had visited Tibet, India and Nepal beginning in the 1970s to collect sacred relics for stupas and locate and discover the diverse forms of tsa-tsas used by Buddhists for many centuries.

With knowledge and skilled craftsmanship, Paul restored authentic tsa-tsas made from clay in copper molds to their original detail, bringing out more clearly the holy images and mantras that time had worn away.  From these restored tsa-tsas he created the new molds used by many lamas and stupa builders around the world with tremendous appreciation for his invaluable contribution.

Strong bonds of friendship were created in those thousands of hours in Mark Elliott’s studio where the tsa-tsas were made. Laughter, frustration, cold, cracked and bleeding hands and dusty white faces were a part of this human experience.

The Final Surprise

It seemed that the teachers did not want to overwhelm our small group all at once with the daunting task of making so many tsa-tsas so they only revealed one step at a time.  Little by little they explained to us the next step required, such as the long roll of prayers to be placed within each tsa-tsa, either when the plaster is still soft (easier) or placed within a drilled hole after the tsa-tsa has hardened (not as easy!).

When Mark’s garage was filled to the ceiling like a Costco warehouse with boxes of layered tsa-tsas we were told that each now needed to be painted yellow and red!  This was a favorite activity of many of the young children in Crestone who came to assist us, bringing their wholesome energy, joy and enthusiasm to the work.

Once painted, the 100,000 tsa-tsas were ready to be moved up to the actual stupa site for one month of consecration prayers and pujas. Volunteers from other Buddhist centers came with trucks and strong arms to help move them to the site.

The long and complex consecration of the tsa-tsas was performed by lamas Karma Chodrak and Tashi Dhondrup. In the harsh elements of the high mountain valley in Colorado, not unlike Tibet I imagine, with sun, winds and rain, these two great Tibetan masters chanted and prayed most of the day under a canopy tent while Maria kept four small fires burning in the cardinal directions as part of the ritual.

By late afternoon, the tent under which the lamas sat often blew away down the hill and the sunburned and parched lamas returned to the center some miles down the road to work all evening to prepare the tormas and other ingredients required by the Buddhist texts for the following day’s ceremony.

Before the final placement within the stupa, we were informed that it would be best if each tsa-tsa was crowned with a square ‘brocade silk hat’ glued to its top syllable “AH” before being placed on the mandalas and forever sealed within the stupa. Under great time pressure, my sister Jytte Marstrand helped to oversee and ingeniously orchestrate this final stage. A great fear in those last days before the stupa consecration was that they would not all fit within the ‘bumpa’ of the stupa. Of course, they did.

Taking Time To Engage in The Sacred

I regard those many days of tsa-tsa making as a special time in my life.  I am grateful I had that opportunity to participate along with others in this.  It is rare now that we take time to engage in the ‘sacred’ in life. Often our days are taken up by work, by the busy flurry of distracting activities that mark this current era – we even think its normal.

While I struggle sometimes to recall our thoughts and conversations during those days, I hope that each of us approached the practice with a pure heart, with a sense of offering, not doing it for or desiring  ‘the merit’ that is said to come from such activity.  I believe that the many individuals who helped over the years brought their generous intentions and clarity of mind so that something pure would emerge for the whole.

It has helped me value much more the extraordinary contributions of Buddhist culture in Tibet where for a thousand years such rituals, ceremonies, and prayer were held in the highest regard and therefore flourished. Many in Tibet sought to enrich themselves not with ‘stuff’ or money-making, but by blessings of the everyday rites of the human journey –  linking the sacred with the ordinary, the divine with the worldly, the formless expressions of wisdom and compassion rendered into form.

This is our gift and power as humans, the ability to bring these together, conjoin the physical with the invisible and by doing so honor the power of divine expression in our world.  Tsa-tsa making is of course, only one of many sacred traditions the Tibetan Buddhists offer us. – Marianne Marstrand, New York City, July, 2012

Note: The stupa team included myself, Maria Eugenia Pelaez, Mark Elliott, Paul Motsinger, Bo Wiberg, Paul Kloppenburg, Joey Townsend, Barbara Falconer and Robert Flagg. Over the years much help was offered by sisters, mothers, daughters and sons, visiting Buddhists, friends from the Crestone Mt. Zen Center and Dzigar Kongtrul’s center, as well as members from other local spiritual traditions.

— Marianne Marstrand

Tsa-Tsa molds with Tsa-Tsas

2 thoughts on “One Step At A Time: Making 100,000 Tsa-Tsas in Crestone

  1. Reblogged this on Torma Film Blog and commented:
    Here is a good article by Marianne Marstrand on tsa-tsas. Marianne was part of the team who made the tsa-tsas for the Tashi Gomang Stupa in Crestone under the guidance of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.

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