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Ritual - Women-s Order Convention 1987

by Sangharakshita

SANGHARAKSHITA IN SEMINAR

QUESTIONS ON RITUAL AND CEREMONY IN THE ORDER
[Women's Order Convention 1987]
Those Present:
The Venerable Sangharakshita, Parami, Bodhishri, Punyamala,
Vajramala, Dhammadinna, Dayamegha, Aniketa, Gunabhadri, Dayanandi,
Gunavati, Marichi.
Sangharakshita: All right.
In your reading from work in progress on Sunday evening, you mentioned having a rupa
consecrated by Dhardo Rimpoche. How important is it to have a rupa consecrated? How
can a rupa be consecrated? Could it be done by Order members? Is there a way of telling
if a rupa has already been consecrated? Could the consecration of thangkas and malas
help our practice, for example by helping us to develop a more devotional attitude?
All right, how important is it to have a rupa consecrated? Hmm. I think one has to distinguish
here between objective and subjective attitudes. By objective attitude I mean the idea that a rupa
is consecrated in the sense that it now possesses, having been consecrated, a sort of magical
quality, and constitutes almost a sort of magic charm. You don't bother so much how you behave
or your attitude towards it, you're just glad to possess this magical object, which you believe, well
at the lowest you believe brings you 'good luck', or whatever. But then of course there's the more
subjective attitude which consists in thinking or feeling that the attitude that the rupa is
'consecrated', single inverted commas, by your own devotional attitude. If you genuinely regard
it as a reminder of the Buddha, and if you use it as a focus of devotion and if that helps in your
spiritual life, well that's what is important. You consecrate the rupa in a sense by your attitude.
So clearly if one puts it in that sort of way the second is more important than the first. And the
first, I think we can say, is of importance only to the extent that it does help with the second.
Because one has heard of Tibetan Buddhists in the old Tibet possessing these specially
consecrated images and even other things, magic pills, which they believed offered them
protection in their worldly life, but didn't influence their life at all. You found even, apparently,
bandits and robbers proudly possessing these consecrated objects of various kinds, sometimes
believing that they'd offer them protection in battle and all that sort of thing.
So, even though it may be important to have a rupa consecrated in a more objective sense, it's
really of importance only in so far as it assists your subjective attitude of devotion and your
actual practice.
So how can a rupa be consecrated? There are various ways of doing this of course. Here, of
course, we're speaking of the objective consecration. As the question mentions I spoke of having
a rupa consecrated by Dhardo Rimpoche, and I don't know exactly what he did on that occasion,
but I know that the general procedure follows the Vajrayana tradition, and one consecrates a rupa
or other object by visualising the Buddha or Bodhisattva that that rupa represents in the same way
that you normally do, and you then visualise that visualised figure descending into the image and
you, as it were, fix it there, and there are sometimes accompanying rituals, and that is a Vajrayana
consecration, whether of an image or a thangka or a pill or whatever it might be. So I assume
that that was what Dhardo Rimpoche did.
Could it be done by Order members? Well in theory or in principle it could be, but clearly they
would need to be proficient in that particular visualisation. I do have the necessary texts for this
which Dhardo Rimpoche gave me shortly before I left Kalimpong, but I've never passed them
on to anybody.
Is there a way of telling if a rupa has already been consecrated? In the case of Tibetan rupas, if
it has been consecrated the bottom will be sealed. Sometimes what happens, but this is a more
specifically Nyingmapa tradition, sometimes what they do is - I have done all this myself - they
get a little copper pot. In that copper pot various substances are placed. The seven precious things
for instance, and then one makes a sandalwood stick of the same length or height as the image
and places it in the pot. On the side of that stick various mantras are written, then that is inserted
inside the image. That represents the sort of, what does one call it? - the susshumna - the median
nerve, as it were, because the consecration makes the image alive, so one inserts this and then
seals it up. Very often if you shake a Tibetan rupa which has been consecrated you feel
something, hear something, rattle inside. Sometimes relics are put inside of various kinds.
So in the case of a Tibetan rupa, if the bottom is sealed, and usually there's a double vajra put on
it at the same time, then it has been consecrated. In the case of a thangka, if you look at the back,
if it's been consecrated you'll find Om Ah Hum written against the three centres. You know then
that it has been consecrated. If the artist is a lama he does it himself after painting the image.
Otherwise he takes to an incarnate lama and asks him to do it. It can be just a very brief
ceremony, or the person for whom it's been painted takes it along to his own lama. This is the
general custom. Years ago people used to ask me to do this sometimes.
So could the consecration of thangkas and malas help our practice, for example by helping us to
develop a more devotional attitude? Well it could be. It depends very much how you regard the
whole thing. It's not a question of thinking 'oh I've got a consecrated object' as though it's a sort
of more expensive type of rupa or a rarer kind of rupa and this puts you a notch above other
people who haven't got that sort of rupa. You've had it consecrated, maybe it was consecrated by
the Dalai Lama, so you're rather proud of that. Do you see what I mean? Essentially it's your own
subjective devotional attitude that is of importance. If you feel that having a rupa consecrated in
any way does help, well fair enough, get it consecrated by all means.
There are also ceremonies of blessing images. You do find those in Theravada countries too. In
some Theravada countries - I know in Sri Lanka - they have elaborate ceremonies for blessing
an image, especially a big public image, after it's been completed. That consists mainly in the
painting in of the eyes. I suspect that that ceremony is really of Hindu origin though it is a part
now of popular Theravada Buddhism. There's nothing about it in the Pali scriptures of course.
Dayamegha: Is that what happened at the opening of the LBC with the rupa?
S: That wasn't really a Vajrayana type consecration. It was more like a blessing you could say.
I did encourage people to copy out texts and put them inside, because the image represents a
focus of devotion. In some ways it's very much a personal matter, how you feel about having
something consecrated in this way or that, whether you really do feel it helps you in your
devotions. Some people don't feel that. Some people are quite happy picking up a battered old
wooden buddha image and just having that, and maybe a few flowers and pieces of grass around
it, and they don't feel any need for any ritual consecration. Well fair enough. It depends on the
effect the image has on their minds. Others attach tremendous importance to having something
properly consecrated, well that's all right too, if it does incite greater devotion.
As regards malas - these are also mentioned - they too can be, as it were, consecrated, though it's
more like a blessing. Sometimes people bring malas to me and ask me to keep them and bless
them, though very often they're not sure what they mean by my blessing them and I don't usually
say but what I usually do is I keep them with me for a few days and I use them myself for a few
days and then I give them back. So if it helps people to use their mala more frequently well fair
enough.
__________: I suppose one's own mala, if you use it a lot is.
S: Yes, well it is, as it were, energised, you could say. Yes indeed, yes. If you had the divine eye
you might even be able to see it giving off rays of light after a few years. There is such a thing
as psychometry - I'm sure you've heard of that, yes? - I had an experience of that sort, though it
was a negative one, which showed to me that there was something in psychometry. I had
someone staying with me in Kalimpong years ago, as often happened, and one day a letter came
for him. It was with the post. The post all came to me and I was looking through it and I saw this
letter for him, but as soon as I touched the envelope I knew that it contained something evil,
something harmful to that person, so I kept it with me for a few hours and I pondered whether
I should give it to that person and whether perhaps I shouldn't open it and have a look. But
anyway the person was an Englishman, so I thought well English people being what they are
perhaps I'd better just hand it over. So I handed it over and a few minutes later this person came
running to me with quite a white face and it was an anonymous sort of poison pen letter he'd
received. So I had that experience quite decisively. So I'm quite sure therefore the opposite thing
can happen.
Maybe you've experienced ...

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