Tips on How to Feel Empowered as a Rural Buddhist
By Sarah Noel
For anyone on a spiritual path, support is critical to our progress. The mind is an extremely deceptive companion that can quickly convince you that you have made great spiritual progress when in fact you can rapidly be heading in the opposite direction. In the presence of great teachers, inspiration just blossoms by itself within your own heart.
They carry a living flame of the ancient Buddhist traditions within their being, and it’s important to remember that traditions such as Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism have been passed on directly from guru to student for many generations for a reason. The sacred teachings are not merely philosophical ideas and written mantras written on paper, they are a living energy that is transmitted through the lineage. When the Lama or teacher initiates their student, a sacred and incredibly deep, living bond is formed between them that you can directly experience; it is a relationship transcending the mind and ego, and the foundation from where empowerment comes to the student to perform their spiritual practices sincerely.
The Rural Buddhist Path is Very Difficult
As a rural Buddhist, the path can become very difficult and you may suddenly find yourself cut off from the support and immense value you received out of those precious moments you had meditating with your Sangha in the temple, and clearing your doubts with your teacher. It is critical for your remote practice that you maintain your spiritual disciplines no matter where you are, because only then can you have a chance at taming the unruly mind, ego, and emotions.
First establish a strict timetable with yourself, like making an appointment with yourself to do sadhana (spiritual practices) regularly that you do not allow anything to break. The more you can stick to your schedule, the more the positive habit will grow and deepen so that in the future you won’t want to break the habit at all, and will naturally miss it when you do.
Next, it greatly helps to reserve a place for meditation and practice in your home and try not to use that space for anything else. Even if it’s just a corner in a room, it makes a difference. During your practice you are subtly changing the atmosphere around yourself as well as yourself, and the positive vibrations go into the space and remain there as you continue day after day in the same space. That space becomes more sacred and you can experience it as your personal temple that will inspire you to continue just by sitting there. Decorating the space with your personal mandalas and creating your own altar will give your mind something positive and purifying to focus on, that you will remember whenever you pass by your sacred place.
Connect via Internet
We are fortunate today to have access to our teachers, sangha and even Dharma texts online, making remoteness less a problem of resources, and more one of isolation. Yet, an active practitioner online can have very fulfilling and helpful interactions with the sangha and guidance from some teachers. Some teachers have embraced this way of reaching out to a broader sangha, such venerable pioneers such as Chogyal Namkhai Norbu who not only post their teachings on YouTube, but even offer live empowerments online. Don’t dismiss the effectiveness of such techniques, since it is clear that any contact with your Teacher is beneficial and empowerments are largely the realm of the mind.
Tips on home sacred space from Venerable Master Sheng Yen
• Consider the space available: if the house is big enough, dedicate one room to the Buddha images; if the apartment is small, a shelf will do.
• If even a small shelf is too much space, consider a portable box or a portable shrine that can be set up when it is time for prostrations or practice.
• Do you need incense, flowers and offerings? Not necessarily, if you’re not able.
• If you have no Buddha image, that’s okay too, just write the name of the Buddha or Bodhisattva
• If you have a Sutra or sacred book, that could be placed on the shrine instead.
• If you have nothing at all, simply know that you are honoring the Buddha and make mental offerings—there is an image of the Buddha in your mind.
• You don’t need form, the Buddha is in you. You have the Buddhist Shrine always with you, in your mind.
If you do have a shrine room, Venerable Master Sheng Yen adds:
• Try to have lots of sunlight.
• Place the Buddha against a wall, with support behind.
• Buddha and ancestors and other deities should not be on the same level: Buddha and Bodhisattva’s always higher and centered, other honored deities lower and to the left or right.
• If you have a larger statue and a smaller statue, the larger statue should be behind.
• Ideally, the altar should have fruit and fresh flowers, but if that is not possible, a glass of fresh water every day is fine.
• Offerings should be simple, clean and fresh. They are not for display, they are there to express your sincerity.
“An altar is a focal point for sincere devotion. If you have no space, maintaining an altar in the mind is enough. If you do have space, elegance harmony and cleanliness should be emphasized.” Master Sheng Yen
Every Moment of the Day
Every moment of your day is contributing to what kind of meditation you will have the next time you sit down. Bringing mindfulness into the every day can be achieved by many little things, such as:
- keeping a picture of your teacher or the Buddha or your devotional deity on your desk at work if possible.
- wearing your mala in the form of a bracelet, necklace or keeping it in your pocket to help you remember the mantra; even if you don’t consciously chant, the positive vibrations of the mala will help you remain positive on a subtle level.
- maintain the cleanest and most organized environment possible at work and home, to help balance your mind.
- be generous to others. Actions you do for others will naturally help weaken the grip of your ego, and take you to the heart of true spirituality.
Remember too that your bond with the teacher is internal just as much, if not more, than it is externally.
By listening to recorded talks from your teacher, reading their books or other great Buddhist guide books, you are developing that internal relationship with them that will guide you when you cannot visit them. Online Buddhist forums are a good support too for advice, and to help others going through something you’ve been through before.
A short home video on how to set up a home shrine and conduct a basic puja: