If you are attending events at Buddha House it is useful to be familiar with some basic guidelines for conduct at the centre.
“Gompa” is an imprecise term used by westerners usually referring to “a place of study”. The Gompa is the focal point of Buddha House. It is a meditation room with an altar used for meditation, teachings, pujas and celebrations on auspicious days.
You may find that some people will do prostrations when they enter the meditation room.
While many students do full or half prostrations on entering the Gompa, it is not an essential practice and there is no reason to feel uncomfortable if you do not do this. Also, you may see older students making these at the beginning and end of teachings – at this time, just stand and wait respectively, and sit down when they do.
If you wish to learn the way of doing prostrations, senior students would be happy to demonstrate and explain it to you, and it is explained and illustrated in the “Gompa Etiquette” pamphlet available free at the centre.
A prostration, when your knees, hands and forehead touch the floor, is showing your intention to purify your body, speech and mind, rendering them flexible and expansive, and open the way to an understanding and appreciation of the dharma.
In western countries, prostrations have evolved to also mean reverence and gratitude; typically one prostrates three times: once to the Buddha, once to the Dharma, and once to the Sangha.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche said: “When you make prostrations you are not bowing down before me but before your own Buddha-nature.”
The greatest respect is shown to teachers as representing the Buddha and transmitting the lineage of teachings.
Please stand whenever the teacher enters or leaves the room and sit down immediately after he or she sits down.
Unless you are certain that a specific teacher holds another honorific title (Geshe or Rinpoche), all monks and nuns may be addressed as ‘Venerable’ or ‘Venerable [Name]’.
It is not appropriate for members of the opposite sex to touch a monk or nun; do not expect to shake hands. A greeting with palms together and slight bow is an appropriate greeting.
Prayer Books & Other Dharma Items
Great respect is shown to holy objects, especially Dharma books including the Gompa prayer books. To avoid creating negative karma, Dharma material, including your own notebooks, should not be placed on the floor or chair without a mat, or on any low or dirty place, or under other objects, even Buddha statues. Dharma presented in audio-visual formats are similar to books. The same applies for images – statues, photos or artwork.
It is considered polite to wear clothing that is not revealing, and of course wear something that is comfortable for sitting on the floor if that’s where you choose to sit!
Cushions and Chairs: Please use as many cushions as you need to be comfortable. There are also chairs inside the Gompa for those unable or not wanting to sit on the floor.
Shoes and Phones
Before entering the Gompa please remove your shoes and turn off your mobile phone.
Choose a sitting posture that is most comfortable for you. Ideally you would sit with your legs crossed and spine straight. However, flexibility can be challenging for many people, so find a position that suits you personally.
Traditionally, it is preferable that people sitting on the floor don’t stretch their legs out so that their feet are facing any of the Buddhist sacred objects or the teacher.
We try to start teachings and services at the scheduled time. It may be helpful to plan on being present 10-15 minutes early in order to register and pay, especially if you are new and need to ask questions.
Please try to be present before teachings/events commence.