Guidelines for a Dharma House.
In response to numerous requests from Dharma students the world over, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche has established his vision of and guidelines for Dharma Houses, to be located wherever his students might live. The purpose of a Dharma House includes both facilitating practice among the sangha, and offering Dharma teachings to your community. As Rinpoche said: “A Dharma House should be an environment dedicated to making authentic Buddhist teachings and meditation practices easily accessible to everyone.”
A Dharma House should be a genuine, open-minded gateway to the Buddha’s path of engendering ever-increasing compassion and insight for the greater good of your local community. A Dharma House should serve as a place where novices can meet with more experienced practitioners or teachers who can guide them in their personal Dharma practice.
Each house should hold regular meetings where sangha can share with each other our understanding of the teachings and their impact on our daily lives, practice together, and organize Dharma teachings.
A Dharma House is open to whomever is interested in the Buddha’s teachings.
The Basic Activities
Meetings should be held regularly, a minimum of twice each month.
- Meditation practice will be based primarily on the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion, stillness and insight. Each meeting should include a simple group practice where participants will chant “A Treasury of Blessings.” This is a very significant Buddhist text which pays homage to Buddha Shakyamuni. Participants will then meditate together for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, or longer if they wish.
- At each meeting, there should be an opportunity to listen to the teachings of the Buddha, by whatever means is available, and contemplate their meaning. Group discussions are a helpful option. Ideally, each and every participant should return home with some fresh practical insight that they can apply in their everyday life.
- Teachings must always be based on the authentic Buddha Dharma provided by a qualified Buddhist teacher. These may take the form of an actual visiting Buddhist scholar or Tibetan Buddhist khenpo, or by means, for example, of a DVD or viewing online learning. Teachings need not be restricted to those offered by Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. Students should feel free to visit other teachers and receive their teachings.
- Whenever possible, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche will send either a Tibetan Buddhist khenpo (scholar-practitioner) or another experienced and knowledgeable teacher to visit the Dharma Houses. These instructors will guide students in the various aspects of Buddhist philosophical views. Later on, as members of the various Dharma Houses grow more familiar with meditation practices and wish to gain a greater understanding of meditation, Rinpoche will send lamas who have completed one or more traditional three-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat in order to offer their guidance.
- Those attending meetings should train in the Dharma by applying the teachings and adhering to Buddhist ethics in accordance with these rules:
- Come and go quietly
- No drinking of alcoholic beverages or use of intoxicants on the premises
- No smoking
- No engaging in idle gossip or loud meaningless chatter
- Sit in a dignified manner
- If participants have faith in the sacred objects, they can make three prostrations before taking their seat
- Participants should, at all times, maintain a respectful demeanor
How to Form a Dharma House:
A minimum of eight like-minded people – at least two of whom are my students – are needed in order to establish a Dharma House under Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche’s guidance.
Rinpoche said: “At least eight people are needed to start a Dharma House. Why? Because eight is an auspicious number. The power of these original eight ‘pillars’ will provide a stable and dynamic basis for the House.”
These original eight pillars, or Dharma House founders, will be an example for newcomers and set the tone, so they should always be friendly, harmonious and cooperative with each other. The core group should come to the Dharma House properly dressed and demonstrate respect for the shrine, keeping it clean and prostrating before it with reverence. When listening to the Dharma, sangha should do so as though they were in the actual presence of the teacher. When discussing the various aspects of the teachings, they should communicate with others in a kind, patient, lighthearted, open and helpful manner. Everything should take place with dignity.
The eight core members should share all responsibilities, such as for household expenses and following the guidelines set forth by Rinpoche. A donation box may be discreetly displayed to allow others to contribute to the upkeep, too. All donations must be used in a transparent way and be used exactly for the specified purpose, such as buying Dharma texts, DVDs or paying for the travel expenses of guest teachers. Meditation and teaching sessions should be offered free of charge.
Dharma Houses located in the same region might wish to share the travel expenses for any guest lamas or lay teachers and cooperate on a time-share basis in order to facilitate a guest teacher’s visit to each House in the area.
Each Dharma House should be conveniently located, with welcoming staff onhand, so that visitors can easily drop by and perceive the House as a home-away-from-home.
Each House should include a hall or large room dedicated strictly to Dharma activities and nothing else. No other activities, such as physical exercises or casual partaking of food or beverage should take place in that room. A Dharma House can be a large room, a hall, an apartment, an entire floor of a building or a separate house altogether that is dedicated solely to the functions described above. Of course, it should always be kept clean and tidy.
A Dharma House’s main room should have a pleasing and simple atmosphere conducive for study and practice, There should be a table or shrine to support a single representation of Shakyamuni Buddha in the form of a statue or a thangka.
As we face the Buddha statue or tangkha, on the left side there should be a bookcase with Dharma books.
To the right of the representation, there should be a screen to facilitate watching Dharma videos, recorded teachings and so forth. The screen should be used exclusively for this purpose.
How to Apply
If you are interested in founding a Dharma House, please send your application by email to Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche’s secretary at: firstname.lastname@example.org. In this email, please identify yourself and explain how you know Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche (For example, perhaps you have attended his seminars or have seen him teach on DharmaSun.org). Mention the size of your group - remember that it must include a minimum of eight people who aspire to follow the guidelines outlined above. Please include at least one photo of the facility you propose to turn into a Dharma House and include the shrine set-up. After Rinpoche has had time to consider your request, his secretary will then send you the Dharma House logo to place on the front door.
The founding group should feel free to contact Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche’s Dharma House secretary with questions, for advice or help in important decision-making and to keep in touch about the possibility of inviting guest teachers, acquiring Dharma materials, DVDs, and connecting with online teachings.
If possible, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche would like to receive a representative of the Dharma House each year. Otherwise the House should send a detailed letter outlining their current situation.
Rinpoche would like to hear from the Dharma House founders on a regular basis. Please let him know how things are going for you as a group, what kind of progress you are making in your understanding of the Dharma and how your practice is developing so that he can advise you along the way. It’s important to keep in touch!
How to Display the Dharma House Logo:
The Dharma House logo should be visible on the front door at the street entrance. It should be centered on the door at eye level.
Please contact the Dharma House secretary to discuss possible use of the logo in other contexts, such as on a website. The logo cannot be used as letterhead or on stationary.
The word “house” can be translated into languages other than English, for example into French as “Maison du Dharma” or into Portuguese as “Casa de Dharma”. Please advise the Dharma House secretary if you need to use a variation of the English term “Dharma House.”
For further advice about how to establish a Dharma House, by all means contact email@example.com.
Questions and Answers
Question: Rinpoche, why are you announcing the concept of creating Dharma Houses on the 4th day of the 6th month?
Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche: I have chosen the 4th day, Chokhor Duchen (the day the Buddha first turned the Wheel of the Dharma), because it is very auspicious, so we will be celebrating on that day. Whenever new Dharma House groups are formed, we will celebrate.
Question: Some of the people interested will be your students, Rinpoche, and some may not be. What should your existing students do? Should everyone become a member of a nearby Dharma House?
Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche:That is up to each person to decide. But among our many sangha members, anyone can start a Dharma House. It would be best if one of our close sangha could serve as the head of any particular House. Why? Because it’s good if we already have that Dharma connection.”
Question: Do all the founding members need to donate toward the upkeep of the House?
Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche: We live in samsara, and so finances are an issue. Should we be charging a fee, or is it better to offer teachings that are funded by donations? What is best? We need to discuss these aspects carefully. If somebody were to offer a hall for free, then that would be very easy and very good. Whenever there is a shortage of money, then the eight founders will need to share responsibilities, such as covering the rent, electricity and so forth. Whenever visitors come to a Dharma House to study, listen and meditate, staff can mention, “We are very happy to accept donations to cover our expenses and keep the House up and running smoothly.” Any donation needs to be transparent, to go to exactly the purpose intended – such as buying Dharma texts, DVDs, and also to share in defraying the expense of air-tickets for the guest teachers.
When there are many Dharma Houses around the world, it will be easy to invite teachers, share travel expenses and so forth. For instance, teachers could be invited once or twice a year for durations of three days or even one week. We now have many educated monks and Westerners, so it’s good to have these two types of teachers visiting the Dharma Houses.
Question: Can a Dharma House invite teachers from other Buddhist traditions, for example Zen or Theravada?
Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche: Yes, you can, but I would like to know something about these teachers and approve of them before you extend an invitation to them. Anybody can come and anybody can teach after I have given approval, but at Dharma Houses we practice strictly Tibetan Buddhism. No mixing with other traditions.
Question: Can we lease the Dharma House out to be used for other activities? Perhaps even a few times a month?
Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche: No, the Dharma House should be used for no purpose other than meditating, listening to teachings and discussing them.
Question: Is the purpose of a Dharma House also to allow many new people to come so they can connect with the Dharma?
Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche: Yes, it is an in-road to the Dharma, a gateway. Once things start to go well, more and more people will come and the Dharma Houses will flourish. Through that, people will connect to a wide range of teachers; some may go to other centers and some will come to our Dharma centers. All that is fine. It’s wide open and up to them! Remember, a Dharma House is a gateway to the Dharma!