His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche comes to KPC Maryland

His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche

His Holiness Karma Kuchen Rinpoche is coming to the Washington D.C. area tomorrow, October 12th.  His Holiness is the 5th Karma Kuchen Rinpoche, recognized by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and Penor Rinpoche and enthroned as the 12th Throneholder of the Palyul Lineage.  You can read more about this Precious Master here.

To see the schedule for his visit to Washington D.C. please click here.

To see the schedule for his world tour you can visit Palyul.org here.

The Dalai Lama Visits Washington, D.C.

Photo by Lee Pham
Photo by Lee Pham

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is coming to Washington, D.C.—our very own neighborhood! Of particular interest to Buddhists, whether aspiring or practicing, is the teaching he will give at American University on October 10, “The Heart of Change: Finding Wisdom in the Modern World.” His Holiness is renowned for his clear, direct teaching style, his humor, and his excellent command of English.

Winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, compassionate diplomat and peace maker, and leader of the Tibetan Government in Exile, he is the face of Tibet for many around the world.

And the Dalai Lama is much more than a temporal leader. Tibetan Buddhists revere him as an incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. Spiritual Head of the largest sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the Gelupa, he is honored as a spiritual authority by the other three sects as well (the Nyingma, or Ancient, School, the Kagyu, and the Sakya).

Born in 1935 and discovered two years later as the rebirth of the previous Dalai Lama, His Holiness assumed full political responsibility in 1950, after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Under increasing pressure from the Chinese, he escaped into exile in 1959, and established the Tibetan Government in Exile from his base in Dharamsala, India.

A prolific writer, the Dalai Lama is particularly notable for his interfaith dialogues. His book The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus (by H.H. the Dalai Lama, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1996) is studied by Buddhists and Christians alike. Others among his widely read works is The Art of Happiness (by H.H. the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Riverhead Books, New York, 1998) and An Open Heart (by H.H. the Dalai Lama, edited by Nicholas Vreeland, Little Brown and Company, New York, 2001).

Avidly interested in modern science since childhood, His Holiness has also engaged in dialogue with neuroscientists. This interest is reflected in Consciousness at the Crossroads: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Brain Science and Buddhism (Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, 1999) and, more recently, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality (Morgan Road Books, New York, 2005). Other books by His Holiness—too numerous to mention—are listed here.

We are honored to have his lotus feet touch the earth in our part of the world, and hope that you will engage with this mind of compassion in some form!

About Altars

What is an Altar?

In Buddhism, an Altar is a physical display and support for one’s practice. The Altar is a sacred space dedicated to images representing one’s faith, devotion, and respect.  It is also a place to make offerings of gratitude for our precious opportunity: for the Path which can lead us out of suffering, for the method which can lead us to Enlightenment.

On a deeper level, the Altar is a representation of the goal of the Path.  The images of the Buddha are reminders that it is possible to accomplish the Method and achieve Enlightenment.  Each of the Buddhas started out just as we are now, as ordinary beings with a sincere wish to seek Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.  As we view the Altar, we are reminded that this goal is attainable.

The Altar also helps us to train in mindfulness.  The Path is about waking up from our deep sleep of non-recognition.  As we view the altar with faith and devotion, we recognize what is truly extraordinary and what is merely ordinary.  Increasing our awareness helps us to cultivate our pure intention to be of benefit to all sentient beings.

How to set up an Altar

There are many types of Altars.  They can be elaborate or simple, but most important is pure motivation.  Otherwise, the benefit is minimal.

An Altar has at least two levels.  The images of the Buddha––pictures, statues, etc.––are placed on the highest level.  The lowest level is for offerings.  Traditionally, eight offerings are placed on an altar: water for drinking, water for bathing, flowers, incense, light, scent or perfume, food, and music.  They represent what one traditionally offered to guests in one’s home.  In the days before motels and inns, travelers would rely on the kindness of strangers in their homes to provide shelter and food.  This is still the case in many remote areas of Tibet.

Offering 1 – A bowl filled with water representing clean water for drinking is offered to the Buddha.  It symbolizes all auspicious, positive causes and conditions.

Offering 2 – A bowl filled with water represents clean water for bathing the Buddha’s feet.  It symbolizes purification.

Offering 3 – A bowl filled with flowers represents the beauty of the Buddha’s Enlightenment.  It symbolizes an open heart and the practice of generosity.  (The bowl can be filled with rice and topped with a silk flower. If fresh flowers are used, the bowl is filled with water.)

Offering 4 – A bowl of rice with incense placed on top symbolizes moral ethics and discipline.

Offering 5 – Light of some kind, a candle or butter lamp, is offered to the Buddha’s eyes and is symbolic of patience and a stable mind that dispels ignorance.

Offering 6 – A bowl of scented water symbolizes joyful, enthusiastic effort and perseverance.  (Or a bottle of fragrance can be placed on top of a bowl of rice.)

Offering 7 – A bowl filled with rice with delicious food on top represents the precious nectar of the Path that leads to Enlightenment.

Offering 8 – A bowl filled with rice and topped with a representation of music (such as a conch shell, cymbals, or bells) is offered to the Buddha’s ears and symbolizes the nature of Wisdom.

Please Note: One can simply offer a light and seven bowls of water in place of the above offerings.

How to Open and Close an Altar

An altar is opened and closed in a specific way.  One opens the altar by pouring water into the bowls in a steady, even way, beginning at the far left and moving to the right.  The bowls should be lined up very straight and evenly spaced, about the width of a grain of rice apart.

When the Altar is closed, it is done in reverse:  the water bowls are emptied starting from the right.  The bowls are dried and turned over, as one meditates on impermanence.  Then the merit is dedicated to all sentient beings.

The bowls that contain substances may be left untouched.  But make sure the offerings remain fresh.  For example, if offering fruit, remove it when it shows the first sign of deterioration.

The offering water may be disposed of outside in a clean place, or it may be used to water a plant.  The food offerings may be eaten after they are removed from the Altar.  Since this is blessed food, it should be treated with mindfulness and respect.

Offering Verses

One may recite offering verses when an Altar is opened.  Jetsunma has suggested that RAM YAM KAM may be used when the offering is made, followed by OM AH HUNG.  RAM YAM KAM represents the ordinary elements, and OM AH HUNG represents the transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary.

How to Maintain an Altar

The inner posture of maintaining an Altar is the same as if one were caring directly for the Buddha or one’s Root Guru. Treat the Altar with great respect and love, for it represents the precious vehicle by which it is possible to end suffering and achieve the awakened state of Enlightenment.  Keep the Altar and everything on it clean, orderly, and fresh.

Miscellaneous Information Regarding Offerings

We make offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas not because they need them, but for our own benefit, to accumulate merit and wisdom. Offerings are a simple, beautiful way to do what will eventually lead to our awakening.

Traditionally, one does not offer anything sour such as lemons or limes on the Altar, or any of the foods considered “dark,” such as garlic.

If a mala is offered on the Altar, it is usually placed on the foot of the Deity or at the base of the statue. Once a mala has been offered, it is no longer appropriate for personal use.

How to use a Mala



About Malas

The meaning of the Sanskrit word “Mala” is “garland.”  The word for Mala in Tibetan is Akshamala.  For Buddhist practitioners a mala is considered an essential tool.  Below is a brief explanation about Malas, their purpose, meaning, and use.

What is a Mala?

From a practical and outer point of view, a mala can simply be understood as a method for counting Mantra recitation.  There are typically 108 beads on a Mala string.  Traditionally, when counting mantras, only 100 of the 108 are recorded in the accumulation.  The extra 8 are not counted because of errors that may have occurred during the recitation.  However, a Mala can be a great deal more than just a counting device.

Symbology of a Mala

On a deeper level, the Mala represents the Form and Speech of the Deity.  It can be viewed as the Root Deity and the entire assembly or mandala of that Deity.  For example, if you are doing a Chenrezig practice, the large bead on the Mala represents Chenrezig and the other beads represent the entourage of the Deity.  In this view, the Mala is a support for one’s practice and can become an object of refuge for the practitioner.

Before using a Mala, it is essential to ask a Lama to bless it.  After that, it must be treated with reverence and not touched by other people or animals.

How to Use a Mala

Traditionally one holds the mala in one’s left hand.  With each recitation a bead is pulled forward. Symbolically, this represents the “Vajra Hook” which brings forth blessings and virtue.  The basic instruction is to use the thumb to move the bead forward.

While reciting mantra, it is auspicious to hold the mala to one’s heart.  This is symbolic of “protecting one’s heart” with meritorious and virtuous activity.

The large bead on the Mala is called the Guru Bead or Mother Bead. One never crosses over this bead, just as one would never step over something precious and rare.  Out of respect and gratitude, one reverses direction after 108 recitations.

Types of Malas

A variety of materials may be used to make a mala:  wood or metal beads, seeds, raksha beads (the dried fruit of the raksha tree), as well as precious gemstones or jewels.

Guru Rinpoche gave specific instructions on various types of malas and their use.  For example, he said that a mala made of iron or steel multiplies the virtue of accumulating mantra recitations in a general way. With a copper mala, the virtue increases four times.  A Raksha mala increases it 20 million times.  A pearl or ruby mala increases it 100 million times.  The virtue is multiplied by 100,000 if one uses a silver mala.  The potential benefit from using a Bodhi seed mala is limitless for any form of practice.

Mantra Recitation

To understand the meaning and purpose of Malas, one should also understand Mantra recitation.  The Sanskrit word “Mantra” literally means “protection of the mind.”  For each practice that is dedicated to a Meditational Deity, there is a mantra specific to that Deity.  A Mantra is a collection of precious seed syllables representing the condensed essence of all the pure qualities and attributes of a Deity.  Reciting a Mantra in this profound, virtuous way helps our own pure qualities to come forth.  These qualities are ultimately non-dual with the Deity’s.  For example, Chenrezig’s mantra is “Om Mani Padme Hung.”  If a practitioner recites this mantra with a pure heart and proper motivation, seeking to be of benefit to sentient beings, with faith, devotion, and proper understanding of the method, then only benefit will arise in the mind.  One’s natural compassionate nature will be cultivated and nurtured.  Over time, transformation of one’s negative qualities will be replaced by virtuous, pure qualities that are inherent within us all.  This method of recitation helps us to awaken to our true nature.


Jetsunma's Stupa
Jetsunma's Stupa

“The visual impact of the stupa on the observer brings a direct experience of inherent wakefulness and dignity. Stupas continue to be built because of their ability to liberate one simply upon seeing their structure” – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

To find out more about Stupas and see other stupas in the United States, visit:




Miracle of the Butter Lamps

MiraclesThere are accounts of many miracles that took place around the event of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s parinirvana (final release from suffering of someone who has achieved complete awakening).  Here is an account of one of those miracles.

Flower Butter Lamps

The monks at Byalakuppe Monastery prepared butter lamps for the 49th day ceremonies after His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s parinirvana.  The monks poured about 1000 butter lamps.  Of those, 50 were set aside to be placed inside the Zangdokpelri. All of the butter lamps were left overnight to set.  Once set, a butterlamp has a flat surface, but when the monks returned the following morning, they foundseven that looked like lotus flowers. Here are some images taken by Paljor, an eyewitness, with his cellphone:

7 Miraculous butterlamps--butter set in the form of lotuses
7 Miraculous butterlamps--butter set in the form of lotuses

Butterlamps3 copy

Close up of miraculous butterlamp
Close up of miraculous butterlamp

New Gallery Feature Added!

We have added a new gallery feature to this site (we moved specifically so we could improve the media offerings!)

Please enjoy these images from Jetsunma’s Prayer room. Please offer us your feedback!

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Images from Jetsunma’s Prayer Room

Cyber Prayer Room

Dear Dharma Friends,
I am delighted to introduce this new site, Tibetan Buddhist Altar. It is my hope that it will offer those who are traveling, those who are home bound, those in hospital or ill a way to stay connected to the Buddhist Sangha.

One can always establish a sacred space, anywhere. In fact, one can practice meditation anywhere- inside, outside, on a bus, in a plane- everywhere.

The way to begin is to familiarize oneself with images that work as a support for one’s practice.

For example, we have all seen images of Buddha. There are many styles according to different cultures- but the image is universally recognizable. So here we are all ready familiar with an image of support for meditation. The idea is to become comfortable with and strong in visualization.

On this site we will offer enlightened images for your use and consideration. And for contemplation and prayer. Happily, as one studies, these images become more and more familiar and easier to visualize.

We will also learn to build one’s own altar. How to pack a small box altar for traveling.  How to respect and care for holy objects. And learn simple meditation.

If one wishes to recite mantra, we will learn how to string a proper mala, or set of prayer beads. So we will be taking some big first steps on the path of Holy Dharma.

We will also create sacred space by learning how to cleanse, purify, and bless one’s home.

Not everyone lives near a Buddhist Temple or knows a Buddhist Master.  But one can always do some kind of meditation practice.  We on this site are hoping to help.

We will begin with offering these precious and extroadinary images so that one can now begin to study, contemplate, and remember. Then we will build a “cyber altar”. We will show the very simple, and the very elaborate so one will have many choices and a large, inspirational library.

Please feel free to download these images, enjoy, and learn.  Learn the Buddhas, the Stupas, the enlightened Lamas- so precious to our hearts and practice.

It is so necessary to receive the blessing of a truly qualified Master to ripen the potential of one’s mind. To receive that blessing from a living Master is a treasure- and so necessary for real practice. I am fortunate to have studied with HH the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche. He has sadly recently passed- but was considered a true living Buddha. His image, and that of other highly realized Lamas will be shared for the benefit.

I will regularly offer teachings, guidance and advise.  Although this site is just now being developed we will eventually have an “ask the Lama” section. And a section where one can meet long-time practitioners and dialogue with them. Their experiences are invaluable.

Until next time, then. I very much look forward to this new avenue to learn, and to connect. May all the blessings of the Holy Dharma be yours!

In Faith and Friendship,
Ahkon Norbu Lhamo
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

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