The physical environment makes an impact us. You look forward to being home after a long day’s work, maybe the same spot on the couch or in bed. You walk into certain places and you immediately feel a sense of peace or agitation.
Yeah, you can practice meditation in the middle of a mass protest, a sports outing, or a rock concert, but that’s just not where you’d want to create a sanctuary on a regular basis. Although the Shurangama sanctuary instructions provided below, the easier way, allows you to create a short-term or long-term sanctuary energetically anywhere, I would recommend you take advantage of creating a physical space too to support the consistent build up of energy. We’re after a sanctuary that is more than something in the mind alone, and one that we can come home to.
I. The Hard Way
To set up a sanctuary, follow these steps:
- Gather symbolic items. Find excrement of the powerful white bulls in the Himalayas. Mix it with Chandana incense for laying into the ground of the sanctuary. These bulls drink only the clear water of this mountain and eat only the rich, fragrant grass of this mountain. The Himalayas is one of the tallest mountain ranges in the world, representing the loftiest of pure faith. The powerful white bull represents great roots. Fragrant grass and clear water symbolize wonderful goodness and pure wisdom. The bulls’ waste patches any gap. Superior Chandana incense is the best among the ten types of incense, taking the symbolic crown among the ten practices of enlightening beings (generosity, discipline, patience, vigor, focus, wisdom, expedience, vows, power, and knowledge) and their myriad associated conduct.
Feces from bulls not of the Himalayas will be too malodorous to smear over the ground. In that case, you can collect the yellowish soil five feet below the top soil over the plains. The plains, being flat, represents average faith. Top soil is analogous to impurity. Five is the median among the 10 digits, yellow is the center of the color wheel; hence they symbolize a medium level of pure faith. Ground this combination of yellow earth with all ten types of incense into a powder for flooring the sanctuary.
- Define the dimensions of the altar. The altar can be an octagonal shape on flat ground. An altar represents quiescence and straightforwardness. An octagon metaphorically embodies the eight things good and the diameter of 16 Chinese units of measure (5.33 meters) includes the eight things evil too. The center of the altar houses a lotus made of gold, silver, copper, or wood. Place an alms bowl filled with autumn dew and various flower petals. Lotus at the center signifies the wonderful activities of the Middle Way. The petals in the water and the lotus carving are all flowers, representing the shared source of purity and impurity. The material of the lotus symbolizes perseverance in gold and silver, justness in copper because it can identify with another and meld to become one with, humaneness in wood because its upper overhangs protect those below. These representative virtues all meet in the Middle Way, hence wonderful activities emanate. Whatever the alms bowl fills is enough. Mid-Autumn dew is nutrient analogous to blessings. The petals in the water are like acts of generosity according to your means.
Add too, a round mirror to each of the eight sides around the bowl. A round mirror is a metaphor for the greatly rounded wisdom like a mirror. Wisdom and action resonate as they surround the bowl of flowers in measured length and width.
- Circle the mirrors with 16 repeating sets of a lotus and an incense burner. The lotuses are wonderful conduct, the incense wonderful virtues. Beyond the mirrors denotes a location for expedients outside of traditional wisdom; consequently as conduct and virtues permeate others, the other is transformed so that the boundary between the proper and the improper is forgotten.
- Boil the water now without letting any sign of a fire show, symbolizing the hidden use of virtues and the anonymity in enlightening contemplation that can resonate with a quiescent sanctuary.
- Collect 16 jars of milk from white cows. Grill the milk into 16 pancakes using sugar, flour, oatmeal, herbs, honied ginger, cream, and pure honey. Offer these to the Buddhas and great enlightening beings by placing them around the perimeter of the flowers to demonstrate the joy from integrating the provisional teaching of gathering in the deviant.
- At the midday meal, the one that Buddhas enjoy, get half a liter of honey and 300 ml. of cream. Set up a small burner in front of the altar. Douse the coals of the burner with Turuṣka incense likened to teachings about enlightenment and fragrant water so the flame of meaningfulness roars. Toss the cream and honey into the burner until the fire goes out, symbolizing integration and perseverance until habits die out. The Buddhas and enlightening beings are then ready to enjoy this offering.
- On each of the four side to the sanctuary, hang floral banners.
- On each of the four interior walls of the sanctuary, display images of Buddhas and enlightening beings. Vairocana Buddha’s image can be in the center of the sanctuary, Akshobhya Buddha in the East, Amitabha in the West, also historical Buddha Shakyamuni and future Buddha Maitreya. Enlightening beings such as Avalokiteshvara and Vajra warriors who protect flank the Buddhas. Next to the doors, add images of Lord Shakra, Brahama Kings, Ucchuṣma, various Varja warriors, the Four Kings of Heavens, vinayakas, and yakshas. Omit one of these and the sanctuary cannot happen.
- Hang eight mirrors so they reflect the mirror on the altar. The mirror on the altar relies on its combined material foundation, hence represents a practitioner’s wisdom. This mirror reflects its surroundings and cannot make itself appear in the mirror. The mirrors hung do not rely on any construction below, hence represents the wisdom of Buddhas. These mirrors are like the Buddhas’ pervasive teachings and the freedom to reflect ad infinitum.
- For one week, bow to the arhats, enlightening beings, and Buddhas throughout the ten directions. Recite the mantra 12 hours a day at the pace of 108 times every two hours.
- For the second week, focus on setting goals as an enlightening being such as those taught in the precepts.
- For the third week, concentrate on the Buddha’s mantra 24 hours a day.
- When the Buddhas everywhere appear simultaneously in a light reflected by a mirror to pat you on the head, the sanctuary is completed. The sanctuary is undone when any of the ten monks who transmit the precepts or others is impure.
- In the following 100 days, those with the greatest potential for enlightenment may meditate until they reach sagehood. Even if they do not become sages within this period of time, they would know that they will become Buddhas eventually
II. The Easy Way
Practice the Shurangama Mantra. Wherever this mantra is recited, memorized, written, analyzed, shared, read, carried, or located, therein is a sanctuary with these benefits. That’s all!