A Matter of Placement: What to do with Holy Objects


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If you have ever had the opportunity to make tsa tsas, you will know that making a perfect tsa tsa - with no flaws or air bubbles - is not easy. Many causes and conditions are involved in creating a perfect, flawless image: air temperature, the quality of molds and materials, the skill of the maker, the type of brush used, how well you mix the materials, and (of course!) the karma of the person making them.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is said that one should never allow tsa tsas with air bubbles or flaws on the body of the Buddha to be viewed by other people. This is because viewing such an image may cause others to disparage the image itself, and may lead them to think thoughts such as "that Buddha's nose has a hole in it, how ugly!". It is alright to say that the craftsmanship of that particular image could have been better, but one should avoid creating situations where others might make negative comments about a Buddha.

Therefore, in the practice of making tsa tsas or any other holy image, one should separate the perfect images from those that have air bubbles or flaws on the Buddha's body. Placement is then determined accordingly. If one has a commitment from his or her lama to make a certain number of tsa tsas (generally no less than 100,000), placement becomes a crucial question.


Placing Perfect Images

Finding good homes - where the images will be respected and treated as a holy object, rather than as mere decoration - for perfect Buddha images is not a problem. They can be given away as gifts, offered to Dharma centers to use for fundraising, offered for a donation at appropriate venues, placed inside stupas, or put in any location where others can view them and receive the benefit. Especially good is to place them so that others can circumambulate them or make prostrations or offerings to them.

Vajrapani exterior wallOne very beautiful to do this is to create a Buddha Wall in your home or in a Dharma center. The images are then displayed in a beautiful and meaningful way, and many can benefit from viewing them. According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, "every time you see Buddha in different rooms (as holy objects) you get all this incredible benefit for the mind; all the more holy objects you have...you get that much more benefit." Therefore, Buddha Walls have the potential to give great benefit to others.

If you create a large number of perfect tsa tsas and run out of places to put them, you can place them on shelves or in a small shrine or house where people can make offerings to them. Be sure, however, to not allow highest yoga tantric deities to be displayed for public viewing, as only people with the appropriate initiation - or at the very least refuge vows - should view these. A minimum qualification should be that the viewers have sympathy and understanding for the images.


Placing Images with Flaws

Monlam placing flawed images (and clowning for the camera!)Traditionally in Tibet, tsa tsas that were not suitable for public viewing were placed in caves, in bodies of water, or in other remote areas where people would not see them but where animals and other beings could still benefit from their presence. Another common practice was to build a tsa tsa house and place all the damaged or "imperfect" images inside the house; once the house was full, it would be sealed so that others would not go inside.

Here in the West, when considering the above options for placing our tsa tsas that were not made perfectly, we come up against a couple of difficulties: firstly, there are not many caves around where people never go, and secondly, many people object to putting non-organic objects in bodies of water or in nature, seeing it as a form of littering or pollution. Furthermore, unless you own a large tract of land yourself - and therefore no one can object to placing tsa tsas there - most land in the West is either public land or owned by an individual and it is illegal to "dispose" of objects in such places.

Tsa tsas made in the west are generally made of plaster, hydrostone, gypsum or other materials which are not organic and could be considered by some as toxic to the environment. To many Buddhists, the benefit that comes from having these holy objects in a certain location far outweighs their potential environmental impact, but to other people that is not the case. Therefore, we must be respectful of cultural attitudes and place the tsa tsas appropriately within our particular environment.

tsa tsa house 1The best option, then, for placing images not suitable for public viewing is to build a tsa tsa house for them. Alternatively, they could be stored in boxes in one's garage or home, but it is better to place them in a special room or house where others can circumambulate or make offerings to them. Just because they are damaged does not mean that they should not be treated as holy objects worthy of veneration. So if you have some extra land, or if you can find some land owned by a Dharma friend or organization, you can erect a small house or shed, decorate it beautifully on the outside with perfect Buddha images, prayer flags, and so forth, and place the tsa tsas carefully inside, neatly stacked on shelves so that they do not sit on the ground. The tsa tsa house shown in this photo was built by Kendall Magnussen at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, California.

This is appropriate placement that creates positive karma not only for yourself but also offers the opportunity for others to create positive karma by circumambulating, prostrating or making offerings to the collection of images inside. Tsa tsa houses can be built anywhere that land is available - in a city center, in a garden, in your backyard, or in the woods. Be sure that the tsa tsas inside will not get damaged by water or mildew, if at all possible. And lastly, rejoice that you have created a beautiful shrine that will bless the land and benefit countless beings.

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