Buddhist Arts

Gar Cham – Meditative Dance – “Lama Dance”

Lama Dances 2008 (110)

Meditative Dance

Tibetan Meditative Dance, or Gar Cham , often referred to as “Lama dance”, is a ritual performance.  Lamas and  practitioners dance within the three fold meditative practice of deity, mantra and wisdom. These “dances” are not ordinary physical performances, but contain layers of profound meaning. Meditative dance displays the unfolding of enlightened activities and the participants have prepared through meditative training.

Tibetan Meditative dance demonstrates the process of awakening from ignorance and negative actions. Because these dances are performed by an accomplished tantric master, they are capable of planting the seeds of liberation within the viewer’s mind-stream. Therefore, this ritual display represents a very unique example of compassionate skillful means.

Meditative Dance: The Benefits for the Spectator

Meditative dance brings benefit for the spectator.  Practitioners with faith and interest watch the dances and partake in their inner meaning.  This presents a profound method of the vajrayāna path to receive blessings and purify ego clinging. At the same time, some aspects of the dances also contain worldly activities of appeasing local deities and taming the negativity possibly present on the surrounding land.

Each year lamas perform these dances at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling monastery and many other Tibetan monasteries. The dances are a colorful and fascinating display of the richness of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of skillful means. Thus, the celebration offers a sacred opportunity within a happy and festive occasion. Loud and dramatic ritual music accompanies the slow and solemn dance steps.  Then, the entire monastery courtyard transforms into a colorful feast for the senses.  Gar Cham attracts a large crowd of spectators who believe that by watching this performance, they are witnessing the display of ultimate truths. Moreover, they know they are planting the seeds for their own liberation.

Lama Dances 2008 (187)
HE Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.