Lama Tsultrim Khandro will be teaching at KTD May 4 – 6 on Sacred Space at Home: Shrinekeeping and Tormas.
Shrinekeeping is a bit of an arcane enthusiasm. What drew you to it, or what about you led your retreat masters to uncover your talents in that area?
I love shrinekeeping. I’m a little OCD, sure, but the act of preparing and taking down the shrine provides a neat frame for my practice.
What is your mental state when shrinekeeping?
I always considered a shrine a physical representation of devotion, altruism and Skillful means. One practices mindfulness even in turning over a single bowl. One practices devotion when one wipes the dust from the image of the Buddha. One practices compassionate thought when one thinks, “May all beings have fresh water to drink..”. In this way the shrine and the simply act of tending the shrine becomes a means of gathering the accumulations.
I confess, I love fine dining… a lifetime ago I was fortunate and experienced the best services in the country. When I went to retreat and it was my turn to chopon I simply acted as if I were actually serving the Buddhas. In the way I had once been served. Strict attention to detail, poise, precision. My kind retreat master made sure I did not settle for mediocrity. I did not stand out, as in my entire retreat I excelled in the excruciating detail of ritual procedure. Yet as it is only myself and Lama Lodro left in the country from my particular retreat, I will take all the credit as one who stood out as you say.
My mental attitude when opening and closing the shrine are one of mindfulness. I am only in the present. The last bowl I turned over is in the past; the next bowl I will turn over is a future which is not yet here. All that matters is the water pouring into the bowl that is now.
What specific things will you be teaching in May at KTD, and who should attend?
I recommend this practice for those with the devotion to engage in it, for those who need a bit more structure or grounding, and for those who are Buddhist… that’s pretty much anyone who asks me.
Anyone who wishes to know what all that stuff is up there, who are open and respectful may attend this teaching. I will teach the outer meanings and preparations, set ups, torma making (food offerings). Nothing is off limits. What’s appropriate what’s not. There will be Q&A. I will be moving from my teaching seat to walk about to explain as I do things. It is always my goal to fully engage the students, to inform, to challenge and to enhance your confidence in ritual.
BONUS QUESTION: Can you give me a rough inventory of your beasties at the moment? The number of different species on the Lam-ark will be sufficient even if you can’t arrive at a number of each.
On the Lama ark question… Is the isle of doomed animals mostly. I have a small farm. And a vow. When it is with in my power to ease the suffering of a being I will. It’s not about what’s convenient it’s about what’s right. We are the protectors of beings, we must be aware enough to see suffering and have some shred of wisdom and skillful means to do something about it. And plenty of courage! Most recently I saved 10 baby chicks who were badly injured. 6 are alive yet. the ones who passed on did so peacefully and having heard the great mantra. I consider them a life release practice. I also have a calf I saved from being veal. I could really go on but I feel like I shouldn’t. Everyone is well cared for. Horses, pig, cow, chickens, ducks, dogs,cats.
I’m going to a livestock auction this weekend so we will see what I save from the block.
DOUBLE BONUS QUESTION: I often tell my fellow rescue rangers–especially the ones who care nothing about dharma practice–that in our tradition, the monks hold that helping abused or unwanted animals is the fast lane to good karma. Yet I don’t know where I first heard this. Surely you have heard it, haven’t you? Maybe you’ve said it, too.
Take not lightly the practice of virtue. When you directly or indirectly intercede in saving a being from certain death not only to you help that being but also the person who would be doing the act of killing. You can never be sure how far the ripples of your actions reach only a Buddha knows for sure but I do know it matters. It matters a great deal.
I will tell a brief story. Having lots of animals, I go to the feed store regularly twice a week at least. I always say the great mantra over all the animals there. I saw this hen off in a side cage I had not noticed before and went to her saying the mantra to her. She had a tumor in her face, it was quite large. I asked the boy who loads the truck what was up with the bird. He told me she’d been there for weeks. I was surprised because I hadn’t seen her before, she was hard to miss. I went inside and bought her. When the boy packed her into the box he thanked me. I said why? The owner of the feed store was making him wring her neck later today. He thanked me because he really didn’t want to do the deed. She died a few weeks later knowing peace. So everything matters in some way.
Oh I forgot the rats. Another story for another day
– John Chacona