Supports for Practice

If you have somewhere to live, it might be a good idea to make yourself a shrine, and although it need not be elaborate, always include a statue of the Buddha Shakyamuni.

As Nagarjuna mentioned in his Letter to a Friend, even a wooden image of the Tathagata should be considered to be the Tathagata himself. Longchenpa agreed. He said that all images of the Buddha should be thought of as manifestations of the Buddha. Just the fact that a statue has been made in the form of the Buddha means it is automatically blessed by him, and therefore precious and not to be mistaken for an inanimate object.

Often, though, vajrayana students fill their shrines with images of vajrayana deities and omit the Buddha altogether, which makes it hard to tell whether they are Buddhist at all.

While you practise ngöndro, it might help to include a representation of the field of merit specific to your practise in the form of a thangka, a painting or a line drawing. And remember that the purpose of a shrine is as a support for your practise, a reminder of the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha, and a reminder of mindfulness.

Shrines should be inspiring and clean, not like a mantelpiece piled high with don’t-know-what-to-do-with garbage.

Photos of lamas can be inspiring, but remember not to flaunt them like some kind of plaque or certificate as a way of boasting about your connections.

Buddha himself said that in the future he will appear as writing on a page, so we should always wash our hands before handling sacred texts.

We should also always show the greatest respect for representations of the Buddha wherever they may be, near or far, up or down, and one excellent method is to discipline ourselves to be mindful about not stepping over holy objects such as dharma texts and monks’ robes.

It is a habit Indian musicians formed millennia ago. They revere and pay homage to their instruments as a matter of course, and would never think of stepping over them.

Dharma texts these days are often photocopied rather shoddily. Nevertheless, the words that appear on those grubby pages have the power to liberate us from delusion, and by making the effort not to step on or over a text in itself accumulates a great deal of merit.

As a result, the next time you read a dharma text, you will find you are able to understand the words of the Buddha even more clearly. And so, when you dedicate the merit of your activities towards the enlightenment of all sentient beings, always add, “May all dharma practitioners never tread on their dharma books.” It may require a bit of reconditioning, but is a good habit to adopt.

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse – Not for Happiness – A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practises – Shambhala Publications

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is the eldest son of Thinley Norbu, and the grandson of Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje. Rinpoche has teachers from all four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and is a follower and champion of the Rimé (non-sectarian) movement. He considers Dilgo Khyentse as his main guru. He is also the primary custodian of the teachings of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo.