“It seemed as though the air around me pulsed with the sacred.” So began the teaching on Shrinekeeping & Tormas by Lama Tsultrim Khandro. She was describing how she felt the first time she entered the magnificent shrine hall at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra.
She encouraged us to get up and look at the shrine room with fresh eyes, and see if there was anything we hadn’t noticed before. “A shrine is the physical symbol of devotion, and in a well-tended shrine you feel the air of the sacred in a society where things are disposable and easily cast off.”
While a home shrine cannot be as magnificent at the one at KTD, it can also be a sacred space that is tended, loved and blessed. Lama Khandro showed us how to arrange a formal three-tiered shrine, how to make offerings with our body, speech and mind, and how to respectfully close it at the end of the day. “Fall in love with your shrine,” she said. “If it becomes too familiar, take it down, clean it, and rediscover the sacred.”
The next day we went down to the basement to learn how to make tormas, the hand-made food offerings for the shrine. Even though they look simple, they are not something one does perfectly from the start — even practicing with Play-Doh.
I found myself getting frustrated, not liking what I produced. The second wasn’t any better than the first. Nor was the third. I felt my impatience, my desire to be perfect the first time out, a sense of competition with someone whose Play-Doh tormas looked better. I watched all these things arise as I worked.
But as I was making the tormas, which look so simple, I remembered how much practice and repetition it took to learn how to give a facial, which I do at Red Lotus Skin Care studio in Ellenville. It took teachers, a gift, the desire to learn, a wish to give to others. I recalled how much work I put into learning how to do that simple thing, a “service” which is not particularly highly regarded in our culture. I felt a sense of respect for what I had accomplished in that one small sphere instead of taking it for granted. I realized how much patience and practice it takes to be good — really good — at almost anything.
So I took home a bag of semi-precious stones from the bookstore to fill my mandala, which is now newly polished and sparkling on my newly cleaned and pared-down shrine. I also took home two permanent tormas to bake in my oven at home.
Lama Khandro made everyone in class an elegant one. And there was a less beautiful one that I made. But it’s okay. I’m going to the new torma-making class on Saturdays from 1 to 2 p.m., and I feel sure that with practice, I’ll improve. And it’s not about being good at something, especially right at the beginning. It’s about showing devotion, and having something to offer the world.
— Anitra Brown