What it all boils down to is to behave in a respectful way.
Of course, each and everyone of us has a different opinions on the subject – what is respectful to one person may be completely disrespectful for another. In the end, it is really a matter of coming from your heart. The lama looks to your intention, and sees if your respect is naturally from the heart, or perhaps instead some rules you begrudgingly obey. There is no need to be neurotic or panic about such things, simply do your best and relax respectfully.
Nevertheless, considering all of this, we put together some guidelines to make it easier to feel comfortable for everyone to be with lamas, or in a sacred place such as the center, monastery or shrine room; to relax and get the most out of the encounter.
The lama is able and willing to give us the means to liberate ourselves from the grip of samsara. The monastery, the center and the shrine room are designed to learn to connect with our Buddha nature, our true essence in a most protective environment. It is the place where lots of spiritual practice is being done, prayers are conducted and teachings are being held.
- We refrain from ever showing the soles our feet towards the direction of the shrine or the lama. We do not completely lie down, but instead sit attentively and politely in whatever way is appropriate for us. Don't show the lama your back and cover your mouth with your hand in a respectful way when you talk to the lama.
- We don't sit in the shrine room with short pants or skirts, or with sunglasses or hats, or revealing garments, even during summer. If we wear such light clothing outside, it is wise to bring a shawl covering whilst sitting. Needless to say clothing with rude or silly messages written on them are also not appropriate. In brief, we simply dress respectfully.
- Be mindful that very strong perfumes and aftershaves, gaudy coloured clothing and noisy jewellery are best to avoid as they may be distracting to others (during meditation practice).
- Conversation inside the shrine room should be kept to the minimum, it is a place for practice and not a social spot.
- Dharma books and texts should not lay on the floor or be placed in a low area where they could be stepped upon or over. One should also not place ordinary items upon these holy materials, such as your car keys, coffee cups and the like. Carry such items respectfully and pass them to others respectfully with both of your hands, not with just one hand.
- When a lama enters the room, we stand up to greet them, and offer them a seat. We sit down once they have sat down.
- We carefully look after what the lama might need. This sometimes requires some keen observation because they never say what they might need. This is an important form of spiritual practice. It is up to us to be alert to the lamas’ needs. That is why it is best to confer with the attendant or assistant of the lama to make sure the teacher is receiving the right diet, has any necessary medication, has enough rest, is not being overworked by the requests of a center, students, etc.