Some Etiquette Guidelines for Dhardo Rinpoche’s Visit…
A Rinpoche (Tib: “precious one”) is one who has achieved, by years of study and practice, a high degree of spiritual awareness and attainment. A Rinpoche has frequently gone through extensive training, even in worldly terms, and he has devoted his life to bringing out the highest spiritual potentials in everyone that he contacts, as well as in himself. His compassion extends to all beings, and he selflessly strives to be a purified vessel of the enlightened attitude, and gives of himself to others without hesitation. He is truly a holy person, and for this reason he deserves not only respect, but great consideration.
If the Rinpoche is also a Tulku (Tib: “nirmanakaya”), he is considered an incarnation of a highly evolved individual or bodhisattva, who has been practicing such compassion and selflessness for many lifetimes, to the point that he has deliberately forestalled his own complete liberation in order to return to the realm of suffering and help free others. Anyone who has had experience with the Rinpoches can verify that extraordinary qualities of generosity, compassion and wisdom are unfailingly manifested by them, each in their own unique ways. And in addition, they are repositories of truth, of Dharma. They are due every courtesy that can be extended to them.
Proper respect towards a lama is shown in a simple way. To greet him traditionally, according to the custom of Tibet, one would offer a white silk scarf (Tib: “kata”). If the lama is a high Rinpoche, and especially one’s own teacher, it is customary traditionally to prostrate three times upon arriving and once when leaving, if it is a formal situation. In the West, people are not always comfortable with such demonstrations, particularly if they are not Buddhists, and if this is the case, one may show respect in a natural way, perhaps with a short, Japanese-style bow with hands folded, or with an American-style handshake. The important thing is to acknowledge the lama as one would acknowledge any dignitary or religious personage, in an appropriate way.
When addressing a Rinpoche, he is called “Rinpoche,” as when speaking of him one refers to him by his name as well as his title, for example, “Kalu Rinpoche.” Very high Tulkus, such as His Holiness Karmapa or His Holiness the Dalai Lama, one would address as “Your Holiness.”
If a student is requesting an interview, it is appropriate and customary to bring an offering. Flowers, incense, fruit, candles are symbolic offerings made to the purified Buddha-mind that you perceive in your teacher. Useful items are also good offerings, and money, needless to say, is perhaps the most useful gift of all, and it may be offered without hesitation, wrapped in paper or in an envelope. The lamas have needs like anyone else who inhabits a physical body, though theirs are very simple as a rule, and they are not paid for services rendered, nor do they think about such things. Frequently offerings are immediately turned toward benefitting others, and any offerings made are certainly more for the benefit of the donor than the lama himself. He is a sublime opportunity for the student to express generosity, and he is also an unsurpassable steward, using all things he receives to assist beings.
Awareness in his presence:
When in the presence of a Rinpoche, defer to him in every way possible. Stand when he enters a room – especially the shrine room. Offer him a chair, and if it is the only chair, he should have it and others stand or sit on the floor. If he needs assistance to stand or get around, offer it immediately. His needs should be carefully looked after, and this sometimes requires some insight and observation, as he may not mention his needs even when asked. The lama, not being grasping, will most likely humbly say that he needs nothing. It is up to you to find out, and it is crucial when you are in a position of hosting a lama or coordinating a visit for him. He is a precious bearer of truth, and acts selflessly, sometimes to his own physical detriment, so it is the responsibility of his attendants and hosts to thoughtfully provide for him, protecting him when necessary. This can range from simple things like making sure he has ample water or tea while teaching, has adequate meals, or that he is not over-scheduled during a visit. The lama needs time for rest and meditation. He will rarely say no to a request. It is a visit-coordinator’s responsibility to see that he has time to himself and is not run ragged by lectures, ceremonies and personal interviews. Consideration is the watchword.
An instance of the group of people, all of whom had several opportunities to speak with a Rinpoche apart from teachings and who still insisted on seeing him again as a group, despite the fact that he was exhausted after receiving people steadily for five hours is an example of what should not happen. The obligation rests not only with visit coordinators, but on students who demand extra time, and who might well consider if their ego-satisfaction is more important than the Rinpoche’s well-being.
The Buddha, the Dharma, the Shrine Room
Dharma books and puja texts do not belong on the floor, out of respect for the truth that they contain, but on a table or cushion. Texts should not be stepped over, stepped on or sat on. Like the written Dharma, spoken Dharma is treated respectfully, and strictly speaking, unless one is serving tea, or has a physical problem, one should not get up and walk in and out of teachings and pujas. It shows lack of consideration for others, who are distracted by it, not to mention disrespect for the lama who is teaching. When questions begin, one may freely leave.
Some final notes:
Most of the foregoing are guidelines that could be substantiated by consulting Amy Vanderbilt or Emily Post’s rules of etiquette, because what they embody are common courtesy and respect. In our so called “free” society, many such attitudes of politeness have unfortunately gone by the wayside. Courtesy that springs from the heart, a result of respect, has since ancient times formed a part of spiritual disciplines, as well as been operative in society. To be courteous, respectful, and polite is not a superficial form, but can be a great practice of mindfulness and a way to develop bodhisattva actions. It is with this attitude that one may approach the particular kind of attention to detail that showing respect involves, be it to a lama, in a shrine room, or in ordinary daily interactions.