Dharmavajra Centre Shrine

What is a Buddhist Shrine?

A shrine provides a physical focus for our devotion to Buddha and his teachings. A Buddhist shrine always includes an image of Buddha, which represents Buddha’s body; a Dharma text, which represents Buddha’s speech; and a Stupa, which represents Buddha’s mind.

What are Buddhist Deities and why do we have images?

In the Diamond Cutter Sutra Buddha said “Those who see me as form do not really see me”. This means that in reality Buddha is beyond all form. The real nature of Buddha is omniscient awareness fused with the ultimate nature of all phenomena. However, to connect with living beings this formless awareness manifests in many forms, such as the Deities that are represented on the shrine. We should understand that these Deities are not like different people; rather they are all aspects of omniscient awareness appearing in heavenly forms. Thus Enlightened Compassion appears as Avalokiteshvara and Enlightened Wisdom appears as Manjushri, but both are simply aspects of the Enlightenened mind.

When we pray and meditate we often visualize these Buddhist Deities in our mind’s eye and really come to feel their presence. This helps us come closer to the enlightened qualities they represent. For example, when we visualize Avalokiteshvara, pray to him and recite his mantra, we naturally find ourself becoming more compassionate. Focusing on Avalokiteshvara helps us tune into the energy of universal compassion and stimulates the growth of the seeds of compassion that lie within our own heart.

In Buddhism we do not pray mainly to ask Buddha favours. The principal purpose of Buddhist devotional practice is to gradually become Buddhas ourselves. Every living being has Buddha nature or Buddha seed – the potential to become fully enlightened. By nuturing this potential and removing all the mental faults and limitations that obstruct it, finally we can become a fully enlightened Buddha ourselves. We can picture the real nature of our mind as like the sky. At the moment it is overcast with the thick clouds of delusions and mental darkness, but through sincere spiritual practice we can gradually remove all obstructions until finally our mind becomes like a cloudless sky, infinitely clear, radiant with love and compassion for all living beings. Such a person is called a Buddha, a Fully Awakened One.


Just as the enlightened mind can manifest as form, so can it manifest as sound. Every Deity has their own mantra, which is an expression of the essential vibration of the inner quality the Deity embodies. When we recite this mantra we tune into the Deity and recieve their inspiring power.


Buddha Shakyamuni


















Medecine Buddha


Dorje Shugden




Je Tsonkhapa and his two sons


Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche


Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka


Mahasiddha Dharmavajra


Dharma Books


Tibetan Texts






Five Offerings to Dorje Shugden




Water Bowls


Often known as the historical Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni lived in the sixth century BC and showed the manner of attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya in India. As he is the founder to Buddhism and the source of all Buddhist teachings, an image of Buddha Shakyamuni is found in the centre of every Buddhist shrine. In our tradition we begin every meditation and teaching with a prayer to Buddha Shakyamuni called Liberating Prayer which we chant whilst visualizing Buddha in front of us.(recording – Liberting Prayer) Here is an explanation of the visualization taken from the book, The Bodhisattva Vow:
“In the space in front of us we visualize Buddha Shakyamuni seated on a jewelled throne supported by eight white elephants, which symbolize the power of purification. He sits in the vajra posture on cushions of a lotus, a moon and a sun. The lotus symbolizes renunciation, the moon symbolizes bodhichitta, and the sun symbolizes wisdom directly realizing emptiness.

Buddha wears the saffron robes of a fully ordained monk. Serene and majestic, his bearing is that of one who has passed beyond worldy concerns. Gracing his crown is an ushnisha (crown protusion), demonstrating that he has always regarded his Spiritual Guide as supreme. His left hand rests in his lap in the gesture of meditative equipoise and holds a begging bowl filled with nectar, which reveals his transcendence of death, delusions and the torment of an impure body and mind. The middle finger of his right hand touches the ground, calling the earth to witness his victory over the Devaputra demons. He smiles gently, his clear eyes gazing at us with the love of a father for his dearest child. He is fearless like the king of the lions, and his radiance dispels the fears of all who behold him.
His golden body is made of light and is resplendent with the thirty two signs and eighty indications of a fully enlightened being. Like a universal sun, his brilliance pierces the clouds of ignorance obscuring the minds of living beings. His deep and melodious voice reverbarates throughout infinite worlds, ripening seeds of virtue and revealing liberating paths. His purified mind abides eternally in the tranquil ocean of reality, seeing all things as clearly as a jewel held in the hand, and suffused with an all-embracing compassion. He is the ultimate refuge of all living beings.”

Buddha Shakyamuni’s mantra is OM MUNI MUNI MAHA MUNIYE SOHA


Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of the compassion of the enlightened mind.  Compassion is the very heart of Buddhism. Buddha began his search for enlightenment because he could not bear the suffering of living beings and wanted to find a way to finally free us all. It is impossible to atain enlightenment if our wish is only to find our own inner peace; the only motivation with the power to take us to full enlightenment is universal compassion, the heartfelt wish to free all living beings from all suffering. Meditating on Avalokiteshvara inspires such compassion. Whereas ordinary compassion may sometimes feel depressing because we cannot see a solution, Avalokiteshvara inspires a wise compassion that feels others pain but clearly sees the way to release them from it. Avalokiteshvara is depicted with four arms. The first two hold a jewel at his heart, symbolizing the precious jewel of enlightenment. His second right hand holds a crystal rosary, indicating his ability to release all living beings from samsara, the circle of uncontrolled rebirth; and his second left hand holds a white lotus flower, symbolizing the purity of his body, speech and mind.

Avalokiteshvara’s mantra is OM MANI PEME HUM


The mythical story of  Tara’s origin reveals her nature. After spending many long eons librating living beings from samsara, the cycle of suffering and uncontrolled rebirth, Avalokitesvara looked down upon the world and saw that countless beings still remained trapped in pain created by their own minds. His heart bursting with unbearable compassion, he began to cry, and from his tears arose Tara, who said, “Don’t cry Avalokiteshvara, I will help you free all beings”. Tara’s is a very swift, practical compassion, like that of a mother who immediately helps her children whenever they are in need or danger. If we rely on Tara we will find ourselves becoming like her – loving, wise, resourceful, with the ability to protect and nurture others both in physical and spirtual ways.
Tara sits with her right leg extended, symbolizing that she is just about to get up to help living beings. Her right hand is in the gesture of offering protection and her left in the gesture of refuge in the Three Jewels.

Left side of shrine


Amitayus is the Buddha of infinite life, wisdom and merit or good fortune. To complete our spiritual path it important to have a long life; to find everything we need to enjoy our life we need merit, the positive potential created by virtuous actions; and to take full advantage of our human life we need wisdom. Relying upon Buddha Amitayus helps us achieve all of these. Amitayus is a rich, red colour ike that of a ruby. His hands are in the gesture of meditative equipoise and hold a precious vase brimming with the nectar of immortality, and the mouth of the vase is adorned with a wishfulfilling tree that grants whatever is wished for.

Amitayus’s mantra is OM AMARANI ZEWENTEYE SOHA


Prajnaparamita is a Sanskrit term meaning “perfection of wisdom”. The perfection of wisdom is a wisdom that directly sees emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality, and is suffused with universal compassion for all living beings. Emptiness is a very important concept in Buddhism but quite difficult to understand. Very roughly, because everything that exists depends upon many other things, including the mind that percieves it, things are empty of an independent reality that can be grasped hold of. When we look deeply into any thing, instead of finding the thing we are looking for it disappears into an infinite web of interelationships.(For a more detailed explanation you can read the chapter on ultimate bodhichitta in Modern Buddhism.)
The female Deity Prajnaparamita is the manifestation of the Buddha’s wisdom inseparably mixed with emptiness. She has a body of golden light with one face and four arms. Her first right hand holds a vajra and her first left a text of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Her remaining two hands are in the gesture of meditative equipoise.



Vajrayogini is another manifestation of the Perfection of Wisdom, and is one of the principal Tantric Deities of our tradition. She has a red coloured body and extremely attractive, as if to lure us into the blissful depths of our mind and reality. She stands upon two figures, one representing hatred and the other attachment. Her left hand holds a skullcap filled with nectar of great bliss from which she is drinking, and her right hands holds a curved knife that cuts through our confusion.


Vajrasattva is the Buddha of purification. In this life and in previous lives we have created innumerable negative actions, or negative karma, which have placed in our mind the potential to experience immense suffering in the future. However, it is possible to purify all this negative karma before it ripens as suffering by engaging in purification practices such as meditating on Buddha Vajrasattva and reciting his mantra. Vajrasattva is white in colour to symbolize purity. In his right hand he holds a vajra, symbolizing indestructible great bliss, and in his left he holds a bell, which symbolizes emptiness, the inconcievable ultimate nature of reality.



Manjushri is the wisdom of all the Buddhas. Wisdom is not the same as ordinary intelligence. Ordinary intelligence can in the service of ego and used to manipulate others for our own selfish purposes, but wisdom cuts through the very root of ego. This is symbolized by Manjushri holding a sword that slices through our ignorance. In his other hand Manjushri holds a flower upon which sits a text of Buddhist philosophy. Buddha encouraged the use of logical analysis in order to dispel our confusion and in particular to understand how our mind creates our reality.

Manjushri’s mantra is OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI


Vajrapani is the manifestation of Buddha’s spiritual power. It is important to understand this correctly. Spiritual power is not power over other people; rather it empowers what is best in every person and frees them from all obstacles to realizing their highest potential. Sometimes we have good intentions and even know what to do, but we simply do not have the inner strength to do what wish. It is not easy to change deep habits of mind, and in such a materialistic society we often need to swim against the current in order to progress spritually. Vajrapani gives us the inner power to grow. His wrathful aspect symbolizes the power to forcibly overcome all the inner obstacles that prevent us from realizing our true potential and also to help others do the same. In his right hand he holds aloft a Vajra, a symbol of the indestructible joy that is our true nature. His left hand is in the the threatening mudra (gesture), keeping demonic interferences away.

Vajrapani’s mantra is OM AH VAJRAPANI HUM HUM PHAT


Medicine Buddha is the Buddha of healing. By relying upon Medicine Buddha we can be healed of both mental and physical diseases which ordinary doctors find difficult to cure. We can also help to heal others. Medicine Buddha has a blue coloured body and holds a jeweled bowl filled with healing nectar and a medicinal plant.



Dorje Shugden is the Dharma Protector of our tradition. The function of a Dharma Protector is to protect spiritual practitioners and all living beings from inner and outer obstacles, and to arrange all the necessary conditions for our spirtual practice. Dorje Shugden is an emanation of Manjushri, the Wisdom Buddha, and thus functions in particular to bless our minds with sharp, clear and quick wisdom. Like Manjushri he holds a wisdom sword in his right hand, and in his left hand he holds a heart of compassion. He rides a fierce snow lion, symbolizing fearlessness. He has a wrathful expression to subdue interfering spirits.


Maitreya is the Buddha of loving kindness. Many of the most important teachings we practice were revealed by Maitrreya to the ancient Indian meditator Asanga. It is said that when the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni finally disappear from this world, Maitreya will appear as the next World Teacher.

Maitreya’s mantra is: OM MOHI MOHI MAHA MOHI SOHA


Je Tsongkhapa lived in Tibet from AD 1357 – 1419. Widely regared as the emanation of Manjushri, Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani combined, he is the greatest spiritual Teacher to have appeared in Tibet. At a time when there was great spiritual confusion and degeneration, Je Tsongkapa restored the purity of Buddhism by emphasizing the necessity of pure moral discipline and showing how there was no contradiction between Buddha’s Sutra and Tantra teachings. He emphazied both study and deep meditation, which is why he is sitting in the meditation posture with his hands in the mudra of teaching.
Next to him are his two principal disciples. On his right is Khedrubje, noted for his incisive wisdom, and on his left is Gyelstabje, famous for his great compassion and deep meditative experience.


Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. He was born in Tibet and came to the UK in 1977. Since then he has given extensive teachings and written twenty three books that transmit perfectly the ancient wisdom of Buddhism to our modern world. He has also founded over 1200 Kadampa centres and meditation groups throughout the world. Geshe-la, as he is affectionately known by his students, is now over eighty years old and no longer gives public teachings. He is the source of all our instructions and practices of Buddhism, and so to remember his kindness we have a small stutue of him on our shrine.


This is the large picture on the wall in the centre above the large statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. For Kadampa Buddhists Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka is one of the most important Deities for he is the embodiment of the essence of our tradition and his form shows how we should practice. “Guru” refers to our own Spiritual Guide. We visualize him in the aspect of Je Tsongkhapa, or “Sumati Kirti” as he is is known in Sanskrit. In Je Tsongkhapa’s heart is Buddha Shakyamuni; and in his heart is Heruka, the wrathful Tantric aspect of Avalokiteshvara. Visualizing Je Tsongkhapa reminds us that our external behaviour should be like his was – honest, pure and humble.  Visualizing Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart tells us that our heart should be filled with love and compassion for all living beings – just as is Buddha’s heart. In the very centre of Buddha Shakyamuni’s heart we visualize the Tantric Deity Heruka to show that the very essence of our tradition and our own spiritual practice is Highest Yoga Tantra, though which full enlightenment can be attained within one lifetime.


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.


In the cabinets either side of the shrine are a number of traditional Tibetan Texts, which are loose leaf, printed in int Tibetan script and wrapped in brocade. The texts are the collected works of Je Tsongkhapa and his two spiritual sons, Khedrubje ad Gyelstabje.


A stupa is a represenation of Buddha’s mind. In Buddhist countries in Asia you can find many large Stupas which often house sacred relics.


Tormas are offering cakes. We can offer normal cakes or if we want them to last longer we can make special cakes in symbolic forms. On our shrine they are made out of marzipan but in Tibet they were often made out of butter.


Traditionally five food offerings are made to the Dharma Protector: Alcohol, tea, cakes, milk and curd. These can either be offered freshly every day, or in dry form and changed every week.


Serkyem means “golden nectar” and is another offering we make every day to Dorje Shugden. Any golden coloured drink can be used.

(The offering to te left in front of all the offerings)


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.