Perhaps you have read a book or two of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s or over time you have been interested in Buddhism. Coming to your first class can feel like a daunting experience. One you have hesitated to do in the past.
At least 10 minutes prior to the start time will give you time to find a comfortable place to sit. Many people choose to sit on cushions however the most important aspect is being comfortable, not conforming. If you do choose to sit on a cushion but become uncomfortable during the teaching please change. Pain is no substitute for the teachings of dharma!
Arrival and Departure of the Teacher
It is respectful to stand up and remain standing when the teacher arrives and again when he is departing. You will observe that people will have their hands together in a prayer position and head slightly bowed, again a sign of respect to the teacher.
The teacher upon entering the ‘gompa’( teaching room) will prostrate three times to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. This may include a short prayer in Tibetan. Once the teacher is seated the students will prostrate to the teacher before taking their seat (see below on how to prostrate).
It is not necessary to do prostrations–especially when new to a teaching–simply observing is fine. It is important to come to understand why one participates in certain actions and what benefit they do or do not have.
Commencement of Teaching
All teachings commence with prayers chanted in Tibetan. Books are provided with the English transliteration of the Tibetan words and with an English translation of the meaning. The prayers have many layers of significance. They help remind us of our motivation in listening to the teachings and our daily practice. They are teachings with subtle blessings being conveyed and the prayers pay deep respect to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, known as the ‘Three Jewels’.
Often when new it is lovely to just listen to the prayers and when you feel comfortable to join in.
How to prostrate
First, stand straight with your feet slightly spread and keep your toes pointed forward. Meanwhile, put the palms together, but leave a small open space in the centre of the palms with thumbs tucked slightly inside. Situate your hands at heart-level. Then raise your hands just above your head, touching the crown of your head. Then touch your hands to your brow, your throat and back to your heart.
Secondly, bend at the waist to the floor and make your arms parallel to the ground with the centres of your palms facing the earth. Place your hands at a place in front of you that will allow you to bend forward gracefully and allow you to raise up with ease.
Finally, allow your knees to touch the floor just after your hands and head they must touch the ground in that order. As soon as your head touches the ground, raise up. Use your hands to push up from the floor quickly. Come to standing, rest with hands returned to the position at your heart. Repeat 3 times.