Palyul US Summer Retreat - Shrine Room Etiquette

Shrine Room Etiquette

Many visitors and retreatants are unaware of proper shrine room etiquette so, at their request, the following information is provided as a guide.

Etiquette is an expression of respect and gratitude for one's own Buddha nature, which is embodied by one's teacher and is reflected by the shrine room environment. It can also be a source of merit: By not disturbing one's fellow practitioners, one is actually aiding their practice.

Part of the practice of making the shrine a sacred space is that we try our best to leave ordinary activities, speech and thoughts outside. Please remove your shoes before entering the shrine room. By doing so, you can imagine leaving the distractions and difficulties of the outside world at the door along with your shoes – and also avoid tracking in any dirt from the road.

Be sure that you do not leave your shoes in the way of others entering the shrine. It is possible that His Holiness will enter at the same place, and it is always nice to keep a neat environment for all to see before the teachings begin. At times students may offer a special carpet for His Holiness to walk on. Out of respect for this offering try to remember to walk around it when entering or exiting the shrine room.

Try to arrive early for teachings. If you find you are running late and your arrival coincides with that of His Holiness, stand in a slight bow and wait until the teachers have entered first. After a few moments you may go in and find your seat.

If you fell the need to stretch your legs while in the shrine room, please cover your feet. Also, try not to point your feet towards the shrine. In many cultures it is considered very disrespectful to show the soles of your feet to a teacher, and the teacher is always present in the shrine.

If you need to use the restroom during a teaching, please use the restrooms located near the dining room. Restrooms in the temple are for use by monks and the disabled. When leaving, you can turn at the door to face the shrine and bow slightly if you wish, or simply exit. Prostrations are not customarily offered when exiting the shrine room but may be offered upon your return. During empowerments, and explanations given at these times, as with certain high teachings it is best not to leave the shrine room. But of course you can if you need to!

A respectful way to greet an ordained person is with a simple bow, with your hands in the gesture of prayer. You are bowing to one who represents the Buddha's Sangha. When His Holiness enters the shrine room, you should rise and stand in a slight bow until he is seated. The monks and the students may then offer three prostrations if they wish. When His Holiness stands at the end of a session, please rise and stand, again, in a slight bow. It is customary to remain in this attitude of respect until His Holiness has left the shrine room.
Texts, including prayer sheets, should never be placed directly on the floor, neither stepped over nor stood on, because of their power to bring liberation and happiness. Please help those who must pass through the shrine room when it is crowded by picking up and holding your text.

In the shrine room we try to offer the most pleasing sites, sounds, and smells, and cause the least distraction to His Holiness, the monks and our fellow practitioners. To achieve this, please keep your belongings in the shrine room to a minimum and neatly contained. Also, please do not eat in the shrine room during teachings or engage in any other activity that might distract those who are practicing. This includes beating drums, bells, cymbals, or horns during periods other than when called for at specific practice sessions. Please do not touch any of the ritual items, including musical instruments, used by monks except with their express permission. Always try to keep all ordinary conversation to an absolute minimum.

Please do not smoke in the vicinity of any practice areas. Confine smoking to the designated areas. Also, there may be practitioners who have taken vows to refrain from smoking, so smoking near them may make keeping their vows more difficult.

Please arrange your schedule so you can stay for the complete teaching session. If you know you must leave before the conclusion, please sit as close to an exit as possible so you can leave quietly and easily. If, for health reasons, you must get up or move around during the teachings, please sit close to the side or the back of the room so others are not disturbed. Evening teachings are known to run quite late, with the question and answer period following, so please consider sitting in the back if you know you will need to leave early to rest.

There may be seats in the shrine room reserved for Sangha, for guests, or for the people involved in work in various capacities. These seats will be clearly marked. Please do not sit in the sound recording station. Tapes will be made available as soon as practicable. Please note that sound technicians do not dupe tapes. Be sure to remove your belongings from the shrine room after empowerments to assist with the removal of rice and general cleaning.