"Showing Respect to Holy Objects
Holy objects and Dharma materials represent and contain the teachings of the Buddha and thus protect against lower rebirth and reveal the path to enlightenment. Therefore, they should be treated with respect. Below is advice taken from Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings about how to treat holy objects and Dharma materials in various contexts.
Showing Respect to Dharma Images and Texts
Dharma images, which include images of holy beings, deities, and other holy objects—such as temples, stupas, and prayer wheels, which all represent the Three Rare Sublime Ones—and Dharma texts, which contain the teachings of the Buddha, and include phones, tablets, laptops, and hard drives containing Dharma, should not be stepped over or put in places where students’ feet or buttocks will point at them. They should not be put on the floor or on a bed without a cloth underneath. They should be covered or protected for transporting and kept in a high, clean place separate from more mundane materials. Other objects, including statues, stupas, ritual implements, malas, reading glasses, and so forth, should not be placed on top of Dharma books and devices containing Dharma materials. Avoid licking the fingers to turn the pages of Dharma texts.
It is best not to get tattoos of holy beings, deities, holy objects, mantras, sacred syllables, or Dharma words or quotations in Tibetan or any other language because it is easy to lay on top of them, take them into the restroom, and get them dirty.
Instead, if a student wants to get an inspiring tattoo, then it is better to get a tattoo of a meaningful slogan or saying that people can read and understand, as this will have more impact and the tattooed student won’t create the negative karma of being disrespectful to the Dharma. These slogans and sayings should not be Dharma quotes or teachings taken from sutras, tantras, or commentaries.
If a student already has a Dharma-related tattoo, the student should not cover up the tattoo with another tattoo, which is considered disrespectful. Students should simply do their best to treat the tattoo with respect.
T-Shirts, Bags, Mugs, and Other Souvenirs
It is best to avoid printing holy beings, deities, holy objects, mantras, sacred syllables, or Dharma words or quotations in Tibetan or any other languages on t-shirts because students lie down on them, wear them into the restroom, wash them with dirty underwear, and do not regard these as representations of the Buddha or Dharma. It is also best to avoid having bags with similar designs on them as students often put them on the floor. Similarly, it is best to avoid having mugs with similar designs as people put them in their mouths and store them with mundane objects.
If a student treats a t-shirt with respect and doesn’t lie down on it or wash it with other clothes, Lama Zopa Rinpoche says it is OK to have a holy image or word, such “Buddha,” on a t-shirt.
Students can print slogans on t-shirts and souvenirs that make people think about Dharma but should avoid using Dharma images and words. Instead, students could consider having images of non-religious objects, for example, a smiley face.
In general, logos are OK. However, if the center logo contains a vajra, for example, that is considered a tantric implement and a holy object. The eight auspicious signs should also be treated with respect as Dharma and should not be embroidered on cushions to sit on, for example, or painted on the ground for when a lama arrives at a center.
The names, signatures, and hand writing of Lama Yeshe and other gurus are considered Dharma and should be treated with respect.
Distributing Holy Objects
Holy objects, such as prayer wheels, Dharma books, statues, images of gurus and deities, mantra rolls to go inside prayer wheels, double dorje brocade for thrones, stupas, and dorje and bell sets, should never be produced and distributed with a mind believing they are being “sold.” However, it is OK for one to collect money to cover the costs of materials and the time spent creating and distributing these holy objects.
It is OK to have holy images on posters and brochures as their purpose is to attract people to Dharma teachings. Moreover, these materials are usually placed up high and are not posted in the restroom or placed on the floor. When using Dharma images in promotional materials, it is best to not crop the image in such a way that the head or body of the holy being or deity is cut off.
Special Considerations for Khatas and Prayer Flags
Khatas, because they often have Dharma words, mantras, and the eight auspicious symbols woven into them, and prayer flags, should be treated with the same respect as other holy objects. It is best not to put khatas featuring Dharma words, mantras, etc. on the table in front of the teacher as this is where tea cups, clocks, and texts are placed. Using khatas without Dharma images and words on them is ideal.
Disposing of Holy Objects
Lama Zopa Rinpoche quotes Lama Tsongkhapa as saying that disposing of holy objects can easily become “giving up the Dharma” and disrespectful if one isn’t very careful with one’s thinking.
If it is necessary to dispose of printed Dharma materials, they should be burned rather than thrown in the trash or recycled. When burning Dharma texts, visualize that the letters transform into an A and the A absorbs into one’s heart. Imagine burning blank paper. As the paper burns, recite OṂ ĀḤ HŪṂ or the Heart Sutra, while meditating on emptiness.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche recommends that images of holy beings, deities, and holy objects, even on khatas and prayer flags, not be burned. Ideally, if undamaged, they should be put in a stupa. If damaged, they should never go into stupas as doing so affects the minds of people who circumambulate them. Instead, put them high up in a tree inside a well-sealed structure, something like a bird house, so that the images are protected from the weather and do not end up on the ground.
Undamaged CDs, video cassettes, DVDs, etc. containing Dharma images and texts can placed in stupas. Do not put damaged or broken holy objects, such as tsa-tsas, inside stupas or statues. Instead, repair the holy objects, or, put unrepairable holy objects into tsa-tsa houses. Ensure that the objects are stored in such a way that they do not get dirty.
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Caption: Practice books, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, March 2017. Photo by Ivan Siarbolin."