Gratitude Series #37 – 1st Altar Set Up

My first time setting up a traditional Tibetan Buddhist altar was not long after meeting His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche back in the year 2000 – 2001. I remembered very clearly one afternoon I received a phone call from one of Rinpoche’s assistants back then, asking if I could help with the altar set up for an upcoming teaching that Rinpoche was going to give. The teaching was to be held in one of Rinpoche’s Dharma student’s office and help was needed to clean, decorate and prepare the place. I remembered feeling so excited when I got the call to help because it was my first opportunity in experiencing how to set up an ‘exotic’ Tibetan Buddhist altar. I of course immediately said yes, it would be an honour! I had no idea how to set up a traditional Tibetan Buddhist altar and was about to have a crash course.

When I arrived at the location, a few people were already there cleaning and unpacking the items necessary. Pastor Chia, one of Rinpoche’s personal attendants was there at that time and I remembered asking him tons of questions; whether I was doing it right, why do we offer this and that, what’s the meaning of some of the things we were placing on the altar?, so on and so forth. Pastor Chia patiently guided and answered my questions, teaching me what to do, where and how to place the offering items. Pastor Chia also explained that the traditional Gelugpa altar set up usually consist of three main Buddhas; Buddha Shakyamuni on the far left (first because Shakyamuni was the Buddha that appeared before Lama Tsongkhapa), then beside Him would be Lama Tsongkhapa (our main lineage’s Buddha in the centre), followed by Green Tara (for the fulfilment of all our wishes, activities and growth.)  See picture below.

This beautiful 'bling bling' altar set up is in Tsem Ladrang's audience room Kuala Lumpur. Tsem Ladrang is the private residence and office of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche. This is one of my all time favourite Buddha altars.

This beautiful ‘bling-bling’ altar set up is in Tsem Ladrang’s audience room Kuala Lumpur. Tsem Ladrang is the private residence and office of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche. This is one of my all-time favourite Buddha altars. The reason for offering up so much ‘bling’ jewels is because offerings of such richness to the Buddhas create the causes for us to receive abundant resources, support and help needed to build a Dharma institution such as Kechara Forest Retreat, to spread the Dharma to benefit many. As the saying goes “giving is receiving”.

It later dawned on to me how ingenious my Guru was in asking me to help set up the altar that day. Rinpoche basically gave me a chance to not just collect merits, but to also learn all about setting up a Tibetan style Buddhist altar. Rinpoche is always so skilful in teaching the Dharma, even through the tasks He assigns us to do. We must realise this and take no task or assignment given by our Guru(s) lightly for they usually helps expand our knowledge, open up more Dharmic seeds from our previous lives, purify an obstacle we have yet to face, and brings out our positive imprints. As I write this post, it also made me realise that our enthusiasm in learning the Dharma should always be like the very first time we encounter the Dharma. This enthusiastic, joyous effort helps us to grow in our spiritual path as it is one of the *six perfections of a Bodhisattva’s practice.

I treasure this memory because it was my first Buddha altar set up and I was so excited that I could be a part of something so honourable – preparing for Buddha’s teaching. I must also thank Pastor Chia for always being so patient and kind in explaining things to the ‘newbies’ like me, at that time. Pastor Chia is one of Kechara’s 15 beautiful Pastors and one of Rinpoche’s senior students who have been serving Rinpoche loyally for over 17 years. Today Pastor Chia is a sangha-to-be on the path to becoming an ordained monk, continues to teach many new comers that walks through the doors of Kechara.

Thank you Rinpoche for giving me this opportunity to learn Dharma. Rinpoche is always teaching us Dharma using all sorts of creative methods to make it easier for us to understand and relate better; as Rinpoche always says knowledge is power and it stabilises the mind to understand our spiritual practice and the benefits.


Note: * six perfections also known as six paramitas

– Enlightened qualities that help us to progress in our spiritual practice and eventually attain liberation from suffering: Generosity, Patience, Joyous Effort, Ethics, Meditative Concentration and Wisdom.


Recommended Links:

1) Support the Kechara Pastors

2) Floating Market: Dharma sharing on offerings

3) How to set up altar, make offerings, prostrate to the Buddha, meditate etc.

4) Kechara Forest Retreat

 5) My 46th Year

6) Pastors




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