The word ‘Tsam’ means a dance of the Buddha (deva) and elements of this dance show as if protectors and deities have physically descended on the Jambudtiva (Southern continent). In general, ‘tsam’ is a Tibetan word and at present, two meanings of this word are well known. Firstly, it signifies a dance or ‘garcham’. Secondly, it is dedon yer med ji cham or subduing negative mental afflictions by emptiness. Although the Buddhist tsam performance could be seen as a dance from artistic point of view, but in depth it is a secret tantric ritual, which has very subtle meaning. It is a religious ritual with a secret meaning and its rules and meaning were studied by knowledgeable Buddhist monks, who reached certain levels of realizations and they performed them by abiding by strict rules. The fact it was a religious ritual could be proved by the custom that the tsam performance was not carried out separately, but was combined with Buddhist chanting and the performance had specific days and places.
As mentioned above, the tsam performance was an important gurim (remedy practice) of Buddhist secret tantra and only well prepared monks carried out gurim by certain requirements and in certain circumstances. For example, the tsam performance was carried out in order to subdue and purify external environment, eradicate diseases, suffering, wars, famine, and hardships and spread auspiciousness. The performing monks had to first qualify by taking exams of rules of the tsam well in advance and they prepared for performance by doing secret tantric meditations.
Performing monks should study Buddhist secret tantric teachings, choga and chakling in depth.
Besides illustrations of protectors, devas and Buddhas and their motions, there is also a subtle meditation on emptiness, which is an inner meditation ritual to abandon all mental afflictions and please local nagas and lords of the land. Another advantage of tsam performance is to help devotees recognize different types of wrathful yidams, choijins and protectors by seeing them and know them well in their next lives especially in intermediate states of rebirths and generate faith to them, so that to take higher rebirth, therefore it has a subtle meaning of Buddhist theory of karma.
Besides pleasing the external environment, the tsam performance also purifies internal environment or mental afflictions of all sentient beings including humans and to lead them to the Buddha’s path.
The internal meditation of tsam has a complete nature of Buddhist theory and its external expression also closely connected to its nature.
Although some external forms and motions of tsam seem to resemble shamanistic elements, it is clear from internal nature of tsam meditation that they are completely different.