Enlightened Journey: Buddhist Practice as Daily Life. By Tulku Thondup, edited by Harold
Talbot. Shambhala: Boston London, 2001.
philosophically, the most important point to understand is that Tibetan
Buddhists are not idol-worshippers. We do not worship religious artifacts
expecting that we will receive them as tool or support to create an inspiration
toward Dharma and to generate virtuous experiences, such as devotion,
peace, compassion, contemplation, and wisdom. If the religious object
becomes a tool to generate virtuous thoughts in our hearts, then that
artifact turns out to be a very powerful and beneficial spiritual support
for our lives. However, it is not because of the object, but because of
our own positive perceptions and devotional feelings, inspired by seeing
and being with the religious object. So we are using the object as a key,
but the main source of blessing lies within our own minds.
We see the image of the Buddha as the true Buddha endowed with all the Buddha qualities, such as compassion for all sentient beings, like that of a mother for her only child, the wisdom of knowing all the happenings and needs of beings simultaneously, as well as the ultimate truth, and the power of pacifying the sufferings of the world and fulfilling all our wishes.
every detail of the artifact has its own unique significance. Each symbolizes
various aspects of Buddha qualities and teaches the meaning of the Dharma.
Consider, as an example, a thangka of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion,
and I will explain the significance of the details.
The wish-fulfilling jewel in his first two hands signifies his skillful means, which fulfills the wishes of all sentient beings. The white lotus in his second left hand signifies his wisdom, which is unstained by any intellectual and emotional defilements, even if his manifestations appear in various realms, just as a lotus is clean even though it grows in the mud. It also symbolizes that he belongs to the lotus family from among the five Buddha families. The crystal rosary in his right hand signifies his Buddha activities, which serve sentient beings endlessly, as the rosary rotates with no end.
If you are trained in seeing and concentrating on the virtuous significance of spiritual objects, you will go through different stages of spiritual appreciation. First, your spiritual experiences, whatever you have had or are having, will be rekindled just by seeing or being in the presence of spiritual objects. Then, there will come a time when there is no more need of religious representations to rely on, and every appearance of the universe will become a source of spiritual teaching, inspiration, strength, and experience.
In Tibet the richest religious artifacts are preserved in the temples of the monasteries, with elaborate offerings and constant prayers and ceremonies. Also, in almost every village you will find a temple filled with images and scriptures, which serve as the object of devotion and prayers for the local population. Then, in every home, if they have the means, people reserve a room as a shrine, filled with religious representations. And even in the homes of the poorest families, their utmost efforts and dreams will be to have a little shrine table with some religious representations and to arrange at least some water bowls and a butter lamp as an offering before the altar, as their spiritual exercise in generosity, devotion, and meditation.
Through the support of spiritual objects, if the spiritual experience of peace and enlightenment is born in us, then wherever we live, our surroundings become a temple of spiritual beauty and joy.
Essay © Tulku Thondup