Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche, the current holder of the Kadampa lineage and founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. “Geshe” means spiritual friend, “Kelsang” means good fortune, and “Gyatso” means ocean. Here he is depicted in the aspect of Je Tsongkhapa, showing his connection with Buddha Amitayus and Buddha Heruka.
Je Tsongkhapa, often refered to as the “Second Conqueror” Je Tsongkhapa was a great Tibetan Buddhist Master (AD 1357-1419), who spread a very pure Buddhadharma showing how to combine the practices of Sutra and Tantra. He was an emanation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, as indicated by the Wisdom Sword to his left and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra to his right. His tradition later became known as the new Kadampa, Gelug, or Ganden Tradition. He is often depicted with his two spiritual sons—Gyaltsabje on his right and Khedrubje on his left.
4-armed Avalokiteshvara, embodies the universal compassion of all Buddhas. His first two hands pressed together at his heart symbolize respect for his Spiritual Guide, and hold a jewel symbolizing his own enlightenment. His second left hand holds a white lotus flower, symbolizing his complete purity of body, speech and mind; and his second right hand holds a crystal mala, symbolizing that he can free all living beings from samsara.
Buddha Shakyamuni is the fourth of one thousand founding Buddhas who will appear in this world during this Fortunate Eon, and the founder of Buddhism in this world. He is the principal object of refuge for all Buddhists. He is holding a begging bowl filled with three nectars indicating that he has conquered the "demons" of uncontrolled death, a contaminated body and mind, and delusions, and is touching the ground indicating his power to subdue all negative forces.
Arya Tara, the Great Liberator from all suffering, sickness and misfortune. Tara promised Atisha, the Founder of the Kadampa Tradition, that those who practice Kadam Lamrim - the stages of the path to enlightenment - would receive her special care, protection and blessings throughout their life, and in life after life.
Vajrapani, the Buddha of spiritual power. He appears in a wrathful aspect, displaying his power to overcome all outer, inner, and secret obstacles to spiritual practice.
Prajnaparamita, the female manifestation of Buddha’s perfection of wisdom. Her four arms indicate that she is the synthesis of all Buddhas of the four directions. She holds a vajra and a scripture of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Her remaining two hands are in the mudra of meditative equipoise. Together her hands teach us that through training in meditation on the perfection of wisdom we can accomplish the higher perfection of wisdom, the union of great bliss and emptiness, through which we can attain enlightenment very quickly.
Dorje Shugden, a Dharma Protector is a Buddha appearing in a protecting aspect, whose main functions are to avert inner and outer obstacles that prevent practitioners from gaining spiritual realizations, and to arrange all the necessary conditions for their spiritual development. The Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden is an emanation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, who always helps, guides, and protects sincere practitioners by granting blessings, increasing their wisdom, and fulfilling their virtuous wishes.
Manjushri, the Wisdom Buddha. His right hand holds a wisdom sword symbolizing his wisdom cuts through ignorance. His left, the stem of an upala flower that supports the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, indicating that by relying on Manjushri we can develop the wisdom eye understanding the entire meaning of Buddha’s Perfection of Wisdom Sutras.
Chakrasambara, an enlightened Deity of Highest Yoga Tantra who is the manifestation of the compassion of all Buddhas. He is also the embodiment of the union of the very subtle blissful mind and emptiness, the ultimate nature of all things—the way things actually exist, symbolized by his embracing Vajravarahi. The various aspects of his body reveal the basis we need to abandon, the spiritual path that we need to practice, and the result that we need to accomplish.
Vajrayogini, a female enlightened Deity of Highest Yoga Tantra. She is standing on worldly deities demonstrating that she has destroyed attachment, hatred and ignorance. Her body is in the nature of the perfection of wisdom of all the Buddhas, and her five adornments are the other five perfections of all the Buddhas.
Vajradhara, the founder of Vajrayana Buddhism, or Tantra, and the source of all the Tantric teachings. He is the same mental continuum as Buddha Shakyamuni but displays a different aspect. Buddha Shakyamuni appears in the aspect of an Emanation Body, and Buddha Vajradhara appears in the aspect of an Enjoyment Body.
Thousand Arms Avalokiteshvara, the Compassion Buddha, the embodiment of the universal compassion of all enlightened beings. By relying on Avalokiteshvara we naturally increase our own compassion. In this aspect Avalokiteshvara has eleven faces—the ten faces of his emanations of the ten directions and the face of his root Guru Buddha Amitabha—indicating that he benefits living beings through his countless emanations. His thousand arms indicate that he is the synthesis of the thousand Buddhas of this Fortunate Eon, and the eye in the palm of each hand indicate that he watches over and cares for infinite living beings.
Maitreya, the Buddha of loving-kindness. His hands are in the gesture of teaching Dharma, holding the stems of two lotuses symbolizing his omniscient wisdom. The lotus on his right supports the Wheel of Dharma and the vase on his left is filled with life-giving nectars. On his crown is a stupa symbolizing his Spiritual Guide, Buddha Shakyamuni.
Medicine Buddha, the Healing Buddha. His left hand holds a bowl filled with medicinal nectar and his right hand holds a medicinal plant.
White Tara, the female enlightened being whose function is to bestow long life, wisdom, and good fortune who can protect us from untimely death, and ultimately guide us to the deathless state of Buddhahood.
Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life, Wisdom, and Merit. Amitayus has a red-colored body and sits with his two hands in the gesture of meditative equipoise, holding a vase filled with nectar of immortality. Amitayus is the Enjoyment Body aspect of Buddha Amitabha. He is seated on a throne supported by peacocks indicating his connection with Buddha Amitabha.
Vajrasattva, the Buddha of Purification, the manifestation of the minds of all the Buddhas, appearing specifically to purify the negativities of living beings. He is the same nature as Buddha Vajradhara, differing only in aspect.
The Precious Umbrella symbolizes the umbrella of the Buddhist community and teaches us that to make progress on the Buddhist path to enlightenment we should first come under the great umbrella of Buddhism by going for refuge to the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
The Precious Fish symbolize peace and harmony, indicating that having come under the umbrella of Buddhism we should always maintain harmony and joy.
The Precious Vase symbolizes wealth and encourages us to take the precious jewels of wisdom and compassion from the treasure vase of Kadam Dharma.
The Precious Lotus symbolizes purity, encouraging us to enjoy the purity of our mind and actions.
The Precious Conch shell symbolizes the Dharma Jewel, encouraging us to listen to precious Dharma teachings and contemplate and meditate on their meaning.
The Precious Indestructible Knot symbolizes Buddha’s realization of omniscient wisdom and encourages us to apply great effort to attain enlightenment.
The Precious Victory Banner symbolizes Buddha’s abandonment of delusions and mistaken appearance and encourages us to be victorious over the enemy of our delusions.
The Precious Dharma Wheel encourages us to benefit others by turning the Wheel of Dharma, that is, by giving Dharma teachings. This is our final goal.
Buddha taught for fifty years, and it is said that he gave 84,000 spiritual teachings ranging from the simplest advice to children to deep philoshophical enquiry into the nature of reality, to the most advanced most advanced techniques of meditation. Most of these teachings were translated into Tibetan, but even if we could read them they are so vast and profound that it is very unlikely we would understand them properly. For this reason Geshe Kelsang has provided us with a comprehensive presentation of the essential meaning of all Buddha’s teachings in a form that we in the modern world can understand and put into practice. The books on our shrine are a selection of Geshe Kelsang’s works.
A stupa is a representation of Buddha’s mind. In Buddhist countries in Asia you can find many large stupas which often house sacred relics.
Traditionally five food offerings are made to the Dharma Protector, Dorje Shugden, each day: alcohol, tea, cakes, milk and curd. We also offer the Serkyum, which means “golden nectar”. This is usually in the form of tea and is the taller offering to the far left.
A torma offering is a special offering of cake made in order to gain spiritual attainments. We can offer normal cakes, or if we want them to last longer we can make special cakes in symbolic forms. The tormas on the shrine at KMC NYC are typically made of marzipan.
Additional gifts are prepared and offered on the shrine each month as a request to the Buddhas to bless our minds.
In general, we make offerings to Buddha not because Buddha needs something from us but because of the opening and enriching effect offering has on our heart. Most Buddhists offer at least seven bowls of water every day. Whilst physically pouring the water with great care and respect, mentally we imagine we offer much more than water. When we fill the first bowl we imagine we are offering nectar for drinking to all the Buddhas. With the second we offer water to wash their feet; with the third, flowers; with the fourth, incense; with the fifth countless forms of light such as candles, jewels, stars, the sun and moon; with the sixth we annoint their body with perfume; and with the seventh we offer a great banquet of food and drink. During our prayers and offering ceremonies we make an eighth offering – music – but this is not normally represented as a water offering.