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Sangha Spotlight – Irene

Irene spoke to Adam about her role with the Shrine kula

Irene first attended the Ipswich Buddhist Centre with her partner Viśvabandhu (ex Nick) in 2014. This was following a trip to Nepal in 2012, where they were inspired by the stillness and contentment they encountered from the Buddhists they met in the mountains and came back yearning for some more simplicity in their lives. Irene has been a mainstay at the centre ever since and is currently actively involved with the shrine kula, the community action kula and leading puja nights on the last Friday of the month. She is training for ordination, asking in 2018, following a pilgrimage that year, which moved her to want to take her practice further. She is now the kula convener for the shrine kula, and we wanted to find out more about her and all the incredible work the shrine kula does at the centre:

What does the shrine kula do?

The shrine kula cares for the shrine at the centre, revitalising it every two weeks and for special events. We currently have a team of six, including Sue Double, Rachel Hawkes, Mary-Jane Budd, Andy Madel, Di Johnston and myself, who work on a two-week rota to create a new shrine each fortnight. Shrine building is usually a solitary activity, but we do try and collaborate for festival days and ceremonies.

What process is involved in creating a shrine?

The first part of the process is disassembling the previous shrine, which should be done in a reverential way and can be a good practice of letting go. When rebuilding the shrine, the shrine always needs flowers, incense, candles, a photo of Sangharakshita, seven offering bowls filled with water, and anything else you add is extra. Building a shrine is a personal thing, though. As long as you have those minimum requirements, everything else comes from the heart. If I am leading a puja at the centre on a Friday, I won’t necessarily know until that week who I am devoting the puja to. I will then put something more personal and some images related to the Buddha or Bodhisattva around the shrine to enhance what is already there.

What inspired you to join the shrine kula?

Soon after coming to the centre, I always wondered who created the shrines, thinking it would be great to be a part of and create something devotional. After a Thursday evening class, Sue Hagley, who was leading the shrine kula at the time, said they were looking for more people for the team, and I said I would love to join. I wanted to be part of the team who create a shrine where we as a Sangha can show devotion to the Buddha.

What is a personal favourite shrine you can remember at the centre?

There have been lots, but my favourite shrines are ones where you bring nature in; so there is an extension of the outside to inside. Any greenery or flowers which have been brought in from team member’s gardens are some of the shrines that stand out for me. With the shrine for Nick and Jamie’s (now Viśvabandhu and Kamalasīha’s) farewell ceremony before their ordination retreat, we used anything that was in season and naturally blooming such as hawthorn blossom. The shrine really represented them both, because they both love the woods and the outdoors so we brought the outdoors in.

What is a memorable shrine you have discovered on retreat?

There was one last year on an ethics retreat at Tiratanaloka; it was a Green Tara shrine with a standing Green Tara figure. It was absolutely beautiful, and again, they created a forest around her; she was nestled beautifully within the green of nature. The flowers in the gardens of Tiratnaloka were brought in to enhance the natural beauty of that shrine.

What is your shrine at home like?

We have two main shrines. We have a lot of Trish’s paintings on the shrines and items that are personal to us. We don’t rebuild the shrines regularly like at the centre, but we often replenish them with flowers, candles and incense and items which are of significance to us. We also place the names of anyone we know who is going through a particularly tough time or who have passed away on the shrine – so with each meditation we can bring these beings to mind…sending Metta…

Which bodhisattva figures do you connect with?

Definitely Green Tara. I try to connect with every Buddha and Bodhisattva, especially when leading a puja and devoting an evening to them. I do connect with some more than others. Green Tara has always spoken to me. Padmasambhava has come to me too. It feels like he is here pushing me forwards while Green Tara holds me. Vairocana and Vajrasattva are also inspirational Buddhas to me. Amoghasiddi, too, as Viśvabandhu is connected to him. Green Tara is Amoghasiddhi’s consort, so we have a shrine at home that is half Amoghasiddhi and half Green Tara.

Can you recommend any books or guidance on building shrines?

There is a good explanation of what is needed behind the shrine, and the Shrine Keepers Manual (see P17), written by Padmavajra, offers helpful guidelines on ritualistic aspects of shrine building.

Are there any more profound life lessons you have learnt from shrine building?

Disassembling the shrine has been a good practice. It’s also a letting go on behalf of the Sangha as they see the creation dissolve and a new one appear. So, it’s a letting go every two weeks for the Sangha too.

Why do you think having a shrine for meditation and ritual is important?

It reminds me why I am meditating, to work towards connecting with the higher states of consciousness which is where you can reach enlightenment. The Buddha Rupa is a symbol of that on the shrine, so for me meditating in front of a shrine reminds me why I am doing it.