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Tibetan Buddist Shrine/Creative Commons Photo by Wonderlane

Ask A Buddhist: Shrines in my home


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Is it inappropriate to have shrines to people in my home?

The purpose of a Buddhist shrine or altar is to remind us of our objects of refuge—the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha— and also of our potential to attain Buddhahood by actualizing the Dharma through practice. The central figure of a shrine is typically the historical Buddha Shakyamuni represented by a statue, picture or thanka of him. The Dharma he taught is represented by a Buddhist sutra, text or commentary. And the Sangha is represented by a stupa. Sometimes practitioners include photos of their main teachers on their shrine, but it is not appropriate to include photos of family, friends, pets or non-Buddhist teachers on a Buddhist shrine.

After a loved one dies, Asian Buddhists often set up a small shrine with a photo of their dear one with a few momentos in their home. Sometimes they will put a statue or picture of the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha on that shrine, because this bodhisattva with compassion looks over beings born in the lower realms. This small shrine is separate from the larger altar for the Three Jewels—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

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About Ven. Tenzin Tsepal

Ven. Tenzin Tsepal
Venerable Tenzin Tsepal met Venerable Thubten Chodron, founder of Sravasti Abbey, in Seattle and studied Buddhism with her from 1995 to 1999. During that time, Venerable Tsepal attended the Life as a Western Buddhist Nun conference in Bodhgaya, India in 1996 as a lay supporter. An interest in ordination surfaced after she completed a three-month meditation retreat in 1998. She lived in India for two years while continuing to explore monastic life. In 2001, she received sramanerika (novice) ordination from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. While Venerable Tsepal was in India, some Australians friends introduced her to the 5 year Buddhist Studies Program at Chenrezig Institute (CI) north of Brisbane, Queensland, where she subsequently lived and engaged in intensive residential study from 2002-2015. As the Western Teacher at CI, she tutored weekend teachings and retreats, and taught the Discovering Buddhism courses. Prior to ordaining, Venerable Tsepal completed a degree in Dental Hygiene, and then pursued graduate school in hospital administration at the University of Washington. Not finding happiness in 60 hour work weeks, she was self-employed for 10 years as a Reiki teacher and practitioner. Now a member of the resident community at Sravasti Abbey, Venerable Tsepal is compiling and editing the many years of Venerable Chodron’s teachings on monastic training as well as leading a review on the Buddhist philosophical tenets for the residents.

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