Cham, the Sacred Dance of the Vajrayana



 “Cham is not ordinary dance. Cham is a kind of divine behavior, assuming the posture of deities that practitioners have seen in their meditation travels to purelands. It is a Vajrayana practice related to movement of the body. Maintaining pride of the deity while using the power of costume, the dancer meditates while performing large and exaggerated mudras. These postures are related to the channels and winds of vajra body and help them to function better, which benefits one’s meditation.

…In 1961 or ’62, Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche gave empowerment for the Nyingma Kama in Tso Pema, India. On Guru Rinpoche Day, we performed Cham. Right in front of the temple was the lake, Tso Pema. In the lake are little islands. One represents Guru Rinpoche, another Yeshe Tsogyal, Mandarava, and the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, eleven in all. Especially on Guru Rinpoche Days, these little islands move around the lake, always in a clockwise direction. When someone chants the Vajra Guru Mantra or prays, for instance, then the islands move and come right in front of them. Some people take blessings from the island, such as a sprig of grass. Normally, this kind of thing happens. I had stayed in Tso Pema for a little over a year, but until that Guru Rinpoche Day when we were dancing Cham, I had never seen all of the islands move at the same time. Before performing, I saw Guru Rinpoche's large island with lots of prayer flags way over on the other side of the lake. But when we performed the Eight Manifestations dance, the islands started to move. Guru Rinpoche's island came and parked right next to the gompa! I saw that one. I didn't see the rest because I was dancing, but later I heard that all the islands move and formed a line. What a special time that was, in the holy place of Tso Pema, with Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche performing the empowerments.

Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche and Khamtrul Rinpoche from Tashi Jong were both helping us dress and put on masks. When we started to dance, I thought, “I’m champön, the person who goes first during this first Sha-Nak (Black Hat) Dance. At the temple door, I saw so many people watching, I got a little nervous. But I thought getting nervous would not be good, especially as I was leading, and if I made a mistake, the other dancers might follow and make a mistake. I was trying to relax my mind when suddenly it was like, “Bing!” I felt like I was the size of a mountain, with my consciousness way up there. I could see everyone, but their faces were very small. I could feel, but all my concepts were gone. After this peaceful portion of the dance, the rolmos clashed – cham! cham! –  to mark the change to the wrathful portion. That woke me up!

The wrathful part of the dance I did consciously. The peaceful part… I have no clue what I did! I got nervous again after the dance because I had to go back inside to Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche and Khamtrul Rinpoche. Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche untied my strings, took off my hat, and shouted, “Bring water!” I looked at Rinpoche, but Rinpoche did not show any sign of how I had done, and no one else said anything.  Finally, I asked, “How did that dance go?” Rinpoche said, “Great!” I asked, “Did I do that peaceful part okay?” He said, “Perfect.” But that was just good luck! Later, I told that story to Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche and asked what happened. He said, “Real dance should be that way.”

When we dance Cham, before we begin, we set our main goal to attain full enlightenment through this practice of entering the mandala of Guru Rinpoche.” – Lama Tharchin Rinpoche (excerpted from “Cham, Sacred Dance 2003”)

In honor of today’s Drubchö siddhis and Sacred Dance at Pema Ösel Ling, you can stream two newly produced teachings by Lama Tharchin Rinpoche on the origin and practice of Cham on SoundCloud:

Origin of Cham Sacred Dance 1986

Cham Sacred Dance 2003

To learn more about participating in the Tenth Day ceremonies and making offerings, please visit:


Photos: First Annual Drupchen, Pema Ösel Ling, June 9, 1992. 1) Sha-Nak, Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, 2) Sha-Nak, Lama Tharchin Rinpoche followed by Regina DeCosse, 3) Lama Sonam Tsering helping dress Lama Tsering Gyaltsen in Sha-Nak, 4) Dorje Drolö, 5) Lingdro, 6) Chinbeb, Agnes Wang, 7) Gings preparing for dance (by Susie Iverson)

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