Discovering Buddhism at Home -FAQ
What does it mean to be a member of the Sangha?
A student writes:
Are the members of this group part of the Sangha?
There are a couple of ways to look at this question, and there is scriptural authority for both views.
The highest level of sangha (considered as external beings) are known as Arya Sangha; these are practitioners who have generated a direct realization of the nature of reality (transparency or emptiness) - that is the truth of the mode of existence of themselves and all phenomena. These beings are our guides on the path. The true Sangha is the realization in the minds of these beings.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama can be considered as Arya Sangha; and, of course anyone we meet might be. We don't really know, and can't tell from outer appearances. The communities of monks and nuns who hold vows that come down to us from the Buddha are exemplars of the Arya Sangha.
And, of course there is Buddha, Dharma and Sangha refuge on an inner level - our own buddha nature, the realizations that we generate as we travel the path, and the inner transformations that occur as a result.
How do I properly dispose of materials like flyers or computer media that contain Dharma?
A student writes:
I was asked to burn some trash from the Dharma Center. I had a couple of questions that didn't occur to me until I got home. Why does the trash need to be burned? In the trash there was a video tape and a couple of cassettes. Do they need to be burned as well or can they be bulk erased and then disposed of? What about computer media that has Dharma material on it? I'm not sure how well CDs or DVDs will burn. In addition, what is the status of my hard drive if I store any teachings, images etc on it?
Nick Ribush responds:
For a start, here's what we put at the back of every free LYWA book:
What to do with Dharma teachings
The Buddhadharma is the true source of happiness for all sentient beings. Books like the one in your hand show you how to put the teachings into practice and integrate them into your life, whereby you get the happiness you seek. Therefore, anything containing Dharma teachings or the names of your teachers is more precious than other material objects and should be treated with respect. To avoid creating the karma of not meeting the Dharma again in future lives, please do not put books (or other holy objects) on the floor or underneath other stuff, step over or sit upon them, or use them for mundane purposes such as propping up wobbly tables. They should be kept in a clean, high place, separate from worldly writings, and wrapped in cloth when being carried around. These are but a few considerations.
Should you need to get rid of Dharma materials, they should not be thrown in the rubbish but burned in a special way. Briefly: do not incinerate such materials with other trash, but alone, and as they burn, recite the mantra OM AH HUM. As the smoke rises, visualize that it pervades all of space, carrying the essence of the Dharma to all sentient beings in the six samsaric realms, purifying their minds, alleviating their suffering, and bringing them all happiness, up to and including enlightenment. Some people might find this practice a bit unusual, but it is given according to tradition.
Thank you very much.
I was disposing of such material the other day and chucked a CD in the fire, and, while it did seem to smell a bit, it disappeared. I'd tend to burn tape too, but there may well be environmental concerns. So far, here, it hasn't been that much of an issue. I think if you erased it and then threw it out, it might be OK.
Your CPU...mine stands on the floor, containing, as you might expect, loads of Dharma teachings etc., so I certainly don't put my feet on it. I figure the hard drive is far enough off the floor, in there somewhere, that it's just about OK. Still, it's a holy object.
Also, some people don't feel comfortable calling Dharma material to be disposed of "Dharma rubbish" or "Dharma trash," from the standpoint that it's about as oxymoronic as you can get and it may not be creating the best karma, calling Dharma "rubbish/trash"...so personally, I tend to avoid using those terms too.
One more thing: a while back, Lama Zopa Rinpoche said that images (of lamas, buddhas, deities, stupas etc.) should not be burned with the writings...they should be cut out and saved for placement into a stupa or tsa-tsa house or some such, where they can later be
circumambulated and in that way used to create merit. I'm not sure why they have that status whereas words don't, as it's usually said that words are a more direct way of communicating the teachings than are visual images, and monasteries traditionally kept the texts above the altar, higher than the statues etc.
It's a trip!
Nick asked what it was that the office put out some time back about dharma burn
and such. I don't find the exact message but this is what we put in the backs of
all Education Dept materials:
Care of Dharma Materials
Dharma books contain the teachings of the Buddha; they have the power to protect against lower rebirth and to point the way to liberation. Therefore, they should be treated with respect - kept off the floor and places where people sit or walk - and not stepped over. They should be covered or protected for transporting and kept in a high, clean place separate from more mundane materials. Other objects should not be placed on top of Dharma books and materials. Licking the fingers to turn pages is considered bad form as well as negative karma.
Disposal of Written Materials and Photographs
If it is necessary to dispose of written Dharma materials, they should be burned rather than thrown in the trash. When burning Dharma texts, it is taught to first recite a prayer or mantra, such as OM, AH, HUM. Then, you can visualize the letters of the texts (to be burned) absorbing into the AH and the AH absorbing into you, transmitting their wisdom to your mindstream. After that, as you continue to recite OM, AH, HUM, you can burn the texts.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche has recommended that photos or images of holy beings, deities, or other holy objects not be burned. Instead, they should be placed with respect in a stupa, tree, or other high, clean place. It has been suggested to put them into a small structure like a bird house and then seal the house. In this way, the holy images do not end up on the ground.
What is the process for building a stupa? Should we consult with a lama before doing anything?
A student writes:
[My husband] and I have been thinking about this for a while, but got side tracked. Now he has just again suggested that we build a stupa. Nothing too big, just something for our little family. After some research, [we] found out that the normal practice is to speak to a Lama about them coming and choosing the best place to build it. We live on eight acres in the Adelaide foothills so have plenty of room.
Is it considered better to have a Lama choose the spot or is there an alternative? Can you recommend any building instructions and items that we include in the stupa? We would be very grateful.
Thanks in advance.
Garry Benson responds:
At the moment an offshoot of Buddha House (the FPMT centre in Adelaide) is involved in building the Enlightenment Stupa at the De-Tong Ling Retreat Centre on Kangaroo Island, a project blessed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche during his visit in May for the Mahamudra Retreat. . .
The Enlightenment Stupa is being built of mudbrick (as my house is) and they are always on the lookout for volunteers to help with the construction. Details are available on
the website www.detomgling.org. Ask Will for a copy of the Spring 2004 Newsletter that contains a great article on The Meaning of Stupas.
The FPMT has established a Stupa Fund after Lama Zopa Rinpoche expressed enthusiasm for the idea at fpmt.org/projects/stupa/. There is a good book entitled 'Buddhist Stupas in Asia: the shape of perfection' by Cummings and Wassman, published by Lonely Planet in Melbourne - I have a copy if you want to check it out when you visit.
The following basic notes may be useful.
What is a Stupa?
It refers to a particular type of structure important to many Buddhists in their meditation practice. The word stupa (or in other languages, chorten, thupa, or dagoba) literally means "hair knot" likely relating to the characteristic look of the spires on the buildings. These are designed to represent the shape of the body of the Buddha in his characteristic meditation pose, from his crossed legs in lotus position to his topknot. Indeed, many stupas also have a central pole or spine running up the middle of their interior.
The first stupas are said to have been built to house relics of the Buddha. There are eight, of these at locations which have historical significance in the Buddha's life. Lumbini (Buddhas birthplace),
Bodhgaya (attainment of Enlightenment), Sarnath (First teaching or Turning of the Dharma Wheel), Sravasti (transmission of the Sutras), Sankashya (descending from Tushita Heaven), Rajagriha (First council of monks), Vaishali (final teaching), Kushinagara (Buddha attains parinirvana). For more information on all of these important sites, see the About Buddhism collection of Buddhist Pilgimage Sites
Expanding the Concept
It is said that King Ashoka, in about 250 B.C.E. divided the relics of the original eight sites and placed them into "84,000 stupas" - which, although it is probably an exaggeration, gives a sense of the King's efforts to spread the veneration of the Buddha. It is recognized that there are three other types of stupas, in addition to those containing relics of the Buddha (or of another Buddhist saint, teacher or holy person). These include stupas containing an object or objects used by the Buddha or a saint, stupas commemorating an important religious historical event and those built solely for devotional purposes. There are many benefits said to be connected with building a stupa, among these are long-life, happiness, and the praise of others. Similar benefits obtain to the ritual of circumnabulating a stupa.
Representing the Universe
There is more symbolism in the structure of the stupa than just the basic shape of the Buddha body. Basic geometric shapes are evident throughout. Seen from above, the square (representing Earth) and the Circle (representing Water) are clearly elements of the basic design. Seen from the side, the Fire representation - the triangle of the
spire - appears, and atop these are often a semi-circle (Air or Wind), and a flaming jewel (Space). Excellent descriptions of this symbolism can be found at Buddhanet and also The Rocky Mountain Shambala Center. In Tibetan Buddhism, the layout of the floor plan of a stupa is meant to represent all of the elements of the universe, with symbolism quite similar to that of the famous sand mandalas created by Tibetan Monks.
How do I make mandala offerings?
A student writes:
Where would I find instructions for making mandala offerings? I looked on the web site but they were geared towards specific deities?
We have a very nice booklet on how to make mandala offerings on the FPMT site.
Just go to: fpmt.org/shop and choose the "Studies and Practices" category from the left column. Then do a search for "mandala". You will see a booklet that comes up, "How to Make Mandala Offerings"...which is very complete and extensive and inspiring.
That is my recommendation.
Is it necessary to receive empowerment or permission before reciting the mantra of Green Tara?
A student writes:
A newsletter was recently sent out by Ven. Chodron and Sravasti Abbey requesting that everyone recite at least 108 Tara mantras each day on behalf of establishing the abbey.
Does anyone know if empowerment or instruction is required to do this practice? I noticed that in Ven. Kathleen McDonald's book on meditation there are two Green Tara practices, one a visualization and one a full practice with a short prayer that is recited a number of times.
The letter is available at:
Here is the excerpt in question:
"...we request you to recite at least 108 Tara mantras on behalf of
this project. Tara is a female manifestation of the Buddha who brings
success in virtuous activities. Her mantra is om tare tuttare ture
soha. Please recite at least 108 Tara mantras–one time, daily, or
until the Abbey is realized–to strengthen the Buddha's teachings in
the West by establishing Sravasti Abbey."
May the Abbey be established swiftly and may it be of the greatest possible benefit to all beings!
It is not necessary to receive an empowerment to recite the Tara mantra nor the Tara praises. It is always best to receive the oral transmission (or "lung") of any mantra, but there is no fault to recite this mantra without the lung. If you have questions of this sort about other practices we have two listings of materials on the fpmt shop called: "general practices" and "materials requiring empowerment" The former category are all practices that can be done without any sort of initiation or lung. All of these have been checked with lama Zopa and so you can have confidence that the postings are correct. Further, we are now putting a "practice requirement" on the front page of all our booklets to help clarify this confusion that often arises.
The general rule of thumb is that without empowerment one can not absorb thedeity (any deity) into the heart nor arise as the deity oneself. Without empowerment one must keep the deity on the crown of the head or in front of oneself. If the practice says to "absorb the deity into the heart" and one does not have the empowerment then you visualize the deity melting into light and the light only absorbs into the heart. Hope this helps clarify some of the questions around this rather complicated subject!
May your practice bring about great benefit for others.
What is the level of experience required for the annual November Kopan course?
In response to a student wondering about the level of experience/skill required for the the annual November Kopan course:
The month-long retreat at Kopan is designed for all skill levels. It was one of my first Tibetan Buddhist intensives and I did it again for my 10th year Buddhist anniversary and it was equally valuable! That is one of its unique qualities - you can walk in as a total beginner (and many do), or participate with many years of experience under your belt and still get a lot out of it. It sounds like your current amount of exposure is probably quite perfect as you have some idea of the concepts and have some familiarity with many Buddhist terms, so you aren't "learning the language" at the same time.
When over 35 FPMT teachers and spiritual program coordinators came together to create Discovering Buddhism, one unanimous opinion was that there was nothing to compare with going to Kopan! So, if you are leaning at all in that direction, I would encourage you 100%!
How do we keep from getting attached to our altars? I’m finding it hard to meditate as well when I’m away from mine.
A student writes:
My meditations are steadily growing stronger and I am fairly pleased with the results so far. However, I have noticed that I am developing an affinity for my little altar. When I am away from home my meditations are not as strong or effective. It occurred to me that maybe some of you are experiencing the same thing and may have some fresh ideas or insights on how to address this situation. If you are willing to share, what sort of things are you doing to maintain the quality of your meditations when away? I thought it might help to have some of my things with me so I am putting together a little package for carrying some of the more important items from my altar to use while traveling. Anyone else?
The FPMT development department is putting together a whole altar kit that will include foldable "puja" (meditation) table, ritual objects, water bowls and more. I think this will be all together within the coming weeks and items can be purchased individually, so keep an eye on the shop for these goods. Maybe this is where you will find that special object to carry with you when you travel.
Oh... then lastly lastly RE: Liberating animals: we do have this practice available both in vol 2 of Essential Buddhist Prayers as well as alone within "general practices" on the "Prayers and Practices" page of the shop. We have recently received from Lama Zopa a drawing of the alter to be used when doing this practice so in time we will add this to the practice booklet as well.
I get very anxious since there doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done. How can I better develop patience so I can handle these feelings when they come up?
A student writes:
I have a question for our esteemed elders (Dharma Friends) and groupies... I am having a real struggle with patience. I am Very mindful of it all the more so that I am noticing that I am very anxious because of my lack of patience. I know I am the queen of multi-tasking with family and work, but I was wondering if there were any prayers or practices i can do to start lessening these feelings of " come on come on...". I am very aware of the moments I am losing my patience with the outside world (and myself when I don't seem to find the time for my practice) but tare there any mediations for this?
My guess is that there are many meditations on patience, mainly of the analytical type. Study the 6th chapter of "Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life" and His Holiness's commentary, "Healing Anger," for a start. Most lam-rim texts, like "Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand," will have helpful sections on the shortcomings of anger (like rebirth in hell) and the benefits of its antidote, patience.
But there's no magic prayer or mantra that will allow you to overcome anger, irritation and impatience right away. Our negative minds are too deep-rooted for that.
First study the teachings; then think about them deeply to convince yourself that they are right (or wrong); then meditate strongly on the conclusion to which you come. This is the gradual method of overcoming specific delusions and developing their antidote.
The blanket technique is to purify all your delusions with, say, Vajrasattva meditation-recitation at least every night before going to bed (you can do it often during the day, too, especially after you blow it). When you do this, you can also single out the particular problems you had that day and focus on getting rid of those and their causes too.
In the morning, generate bodhicitta motivation in general and also set yourself specific goals for the day, like being more patient than you were yesterday and not getting angry. When doing this you can look ahead at your day like a soldier going into battle and prepare yourself for the confrontations with annoying people that you think you're likely to have.
Then, before you do your evening purification, review your day and see how you did. Then specifically purify your failures; the times you lost it when you said you wouldn't, for example.
Anyway, there's loads more on this that could be said, but maybe you get the idea from this summary?