Everyday sacred

By ANN SHAFTEL, The Chronicle Herald, Feb 24, 2007

Halifax Shambhala Centre treats all things as inherently sacred

Halifax, Nova Scotia (CA) -- THE HALIFAX Shambhala Centre on Tower Road is known for its colourful shrine rooms filled with sacred art.

<< Someone sits in prayer at the Halifax Shambhala Centre. The Shambhala Buddhist tradition doesn’t make a division between sacred and secular. (Eric Wynne / Staff)

Centre director Andrea Doukas discussed the symbolism and care of Shambhala Buddhist sacred art as we walked through the rooms and offices.

She said that in the Shambhala Buddhist approach, everything is inherently sacred. Art objects used in ceremonies are symbolic of that sacredness.

"These objects represent the sacredness in everything. If we understood that, we would be treating our entire world as sacred."

Ms. Doukas said the bright orange colour of the main Buddhist shrine room represents wakefulness. The symbol on the front of the shrine is called a Knot of Eternity, which represents continuous meditative awareness.

Shambhala Centre shrines display beautiful Tibetan Buddhist paintings, statues, bowls of saffron water and other offerings, as well as Japanese archery bows and a calligraphy brush.

Most of the sacred art forms at the centre originated in the Himalayan region and are fragile and, therefore, challenging to care for.

There are sacred paintings called Thangkas: painted or appliqued picture panels sewn into a frame of rich brocade cloth. These require an expert trained in their care to preserve them. The paintings are sensitive to natural and artificial light, which can damage the pigments and the traditional silk brocades around the paintings.

There are sacred objects (paintings and statues) in the offices and hallways as well. Books in traditional Tibetan form and script, and Buddhist texts in English, are considered sacred and are stored respectfully and safely.

Ms. Doukas said the oldest and most valuable sacred art are relics that were carried from Tibet by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of the Shambhala Centre. Some are more than 1,000 years old. Their value lies not only in their age and history, but also in the continuity of the Buddha’s wisdom that they embody. These relics are kept respectfully in a climate-controlled safe.

The centre also holds a collection of personal and spiritual items that belonged to Trungpa Rinpoche. In the Tibetan tradition, anything that has touched the teacher’s body is considered sacred. He also brought with him treasured ceremonial robes of his lineage from Tibet.

The shrines are maintained by shrine keepers who come in once a week. A few sacred objects are rarely removed from the shrine, but others lead a temporary existence. Offerings of food and saffron water are removed from the shrine at night and placed outside for the animals.

Certain sacred art treasures, if retired from use at the centre, might be stored respectfully or given to someone in the community for use on their own Shambhala Buddhist shrine. Many church members have shrines in their homes.

"In the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, we don’t make such a division between sacred and secular. We do hold events that aren’t religious practice in our shrine rooms, and we don’t consider that, because they are secular, that they are not also sacred," Ms. Doukas said.