Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

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Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby nirmal » Wed Dec 22, 2010 10:12 am

Statues are cleaned yearly before the new lunar year.Some statues cant even be touched let alone cleaned as they are covered with gold dust.Some are filled with offerings and thus can only be wiped clean.Those empty can be given a bath or wiped clean on a yearly basis.I have also read about statues losing their holy light upon being cleaned of the soot from incense sticks over the years.Should statues be cleaned yearly or be left alone?
Consecrated statues need extra care before being cleaned.We have first to invite the holy being occupying the statue to move into our heart.After being wiped,we use our mental visualization to invite the holy being to move from our heart into the statue.
Water mixed with flowers is used to clean,wipe or bathe the statues.What other steps have to be taken before, during and after the statues are cleaned? Methods may vary depending on the instructions of one's guru and the type of practice.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby narraboth » Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:34 pm

nirmal wrote:Statues are cleaned yearly before the new lunar year.Some statues cant even be touched let alone cleaned as they are covered with gold dust.Some are filled with offerings and thus can only be wiped clean.Those empty can be given a bath or wiped clean on a yearly basis.I have also read about statues losing their holy light upon being cleaned of the soot from incense sticks over the years.Should statues be cleaned yearly or be left alone?
Consecrated statues need extra care before being cleaned.We have first to invite the holy being occupying the statue to move into our heart.After being wiped,we use our mental visualization to invite the holy being to move from our heart into the statue.
Water mixed with flowers is used to clean,wipe or bathe the statues.What other steps have to be taken before, during and after the statues are cleaned? Methods may vary depending on the instructions of one's guru and the type of practice.


Again, base on Tibetan Buddhism:

If one is not qualified to do consecration, one is not qualified to 'invite the wisdom diety to move' from the statue to anyelse where. The method you mentioned is usually used by a very good practitioner. And it's not recommanded to ask it to leave unless it's necessary (such as when you need to fix the statue or there is something terribly wrong about filling and you need to fill it again). Because basically you will need another consecration after. If you already feel your statue is very blessful, better not to ask the wisdom diety to leave even just for a while.

General cleaning and wiping is OK for consecrated statue; bathing is not for any filled statue, consecrated or not, obviously because the filling will get wet. The sealing of the statue might not be water-proof. Otherwise even bathing is fine.
Out of respect, we don't touch the statue with bare hands, at least not the face of statue.
I have heard that if a statue is really consecrated, the face of it never gets much dust.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby nirmal » Wed Dec 22, 2010 4:59 pm

Is there any truth about statues losing their holy light upon being cleaned of the soot from incense sticks over the years? I read two such stories where the holy light shoots through the roof of the house into the sky and when the statue is cleaned, the light disappears.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby narraboth » Thu Dec 23, 2010 1:34 am

I don't know to be honest. I can't see wisdom diety.
It might sound a bit strange for non-Tibetan Buddhist, saying wisdom diety is like a spirit which can come or leave or stay.
Theoritically everything is not out of our mind.

But let's think this way:
If an object like a statue, can be transformed into a blessful holy object, which can bless believer and NON BELIEVER.... Maybe it's true that buddhas' blessing can be a special form to appear or leave.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby plwk » Thu Dec 23, 2010 2:09 am

Is there any truth about statues losing their holy light upon being cleaned of the soot from incense sticks over the years? I read two such stories where the holy light shoots through the roof of the house into the sky and when the statue is cleaned, the light disappears.

This sounds more like a religious Taoist/folk Chinese lore than anything 'Buddhist'...some of my religious Taoist relatives & friends used to tell me of such stuff and that's why they restrict the cleaning to only once a year and that too on a special chosen day with much taboo surrounding it...and the other old belief that the more soot & smoke traces on the statue the better as an indicator of piety and strength of the deity's power resulting in very blackened and filthy statues and yet contradict themselves when the reverse is practiced for the Land Deity's altar (for the well-informed), where the cleaner it is, the more wealth and protection one acquires.
As I have known and seen, in most modern Taoist temples, they no longer subscribe to such thinking anymore and surprisingly keep their altars and statues very clean...
I have never heard any of my Tibetan Buddhist friends subscribing to such beliefs...thus far..
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby nirmal » Thu Dec 23, 2010 5:08 am

narraboth wrote:I don't know to be honest. I can't see wisdom diety.
It might sound a bit strange for non-Tibetan Buddhist, saying wisdom diety is like a spirit which can come or leave or stay.
Theoritically everything is not out of our mind.

But let's think this way:
If an object like a statue, can be transformed into a blessful holy object, which can bless believer and NON BELIEVER.... Maybe it's true that buddhas' blessing can be a special form to appear or leave.


Thanks Narraboth,
It's just that I read two stories in a Buddhist book a few years ago.I clean my statues whenever I see that they are dusty but then the thorough cleaning of my altar is done just before the Chinese New Year, as on the first day of the new year, is the birthday of Maitreya Buddha to whom I'm closely linked.
Then there is another true story of a Tibetan woman whose house was covered with holy light so much so that a Rinpoche went to visit her. He asked her about the mantra that she was chanting and she told him.He found that one word of the mantra was wrong and corrected her.She then started chanting the corrected mantra and on the way back, when the the Rinpoche looked at her house, he could not see any holy light.He went back to the house and asked her to carry on chanting the mantra with the one word wrong in it. She did and the holy light appeared again.This is a very popular story among Tibetans and Buddhist.
She had been chanting faithfully and compassionately and as a result the holy light appeared even with one word wrong in the mantra. What is the whole point of diligently chanting countless numbers of a mantra or trying to recite a mantra 100,000 a day when the mind is thinking of all the other things.The purpose is defeated.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby Blue Garuda » Thu Dec 23, 2010 12:34 pm

I have been told that the gold paint used for statue faces is water-based and so must not get wet. Apparently this can cause problems when shipping them, if the face gets damp the packaging can stick to the face - so cotton wool sticks to the face and creates a statue of Santa Clause. :)

After cleaning, statues can be protected. I have found a trick which works well on silver, bronze etc.

If you spray the item lightly but thoroughly with hair spray ('firm hold' lacquer) it is protected by an invisible film and does not tarnish. It's a tip I received from a jeweller.

I've used it on a silver pendant which used to tarnish a lot and now stays bright and clean, and on shrine items.

Of course, it's best not to spray painted surfaces such as the face.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby nirmal » Thu Dec 23, 2010 3:54 pm

plwk wrote:
Is there any truth about statues losing their holy light upon being cleaned of the soot from incense sticks over the years? I read two such stories where the holy light shoots through the roof of the house into the sky and when the statue is cleaned, the light disappears.

This sounds more like a religious Taoist/folk Chinese lore than anything 'Buddhist'...some of my religious Taoist relatives & friends used to tell me of such stuff and that's why they restrict the cleaning to only once a year and that too on a special chosen day with much taboo surrounding it...and the other old belief that the more soot & smoke traces on the statue the better as an indicator of piety and strength of the deity's power resulting in very blackened and filthy statues and yet contradict themselves when the reverse is practiced for the Land Deity's altar (for the well-informed), where the cleaner it is, the more wealth and protection one acquires.
As I have known and seen, in most modern Taoist temples, they no longer subscribe to such thinking anymore and surprisingly keep their altars and statues very clean...
I have never heard any of my Tibetan Buddhist friends subscribing to such beliefs...thus far..


Hi Plwk,
It's Taoist all right but the case of the Tibetan lady was a Buddhist one.Having no attachments, we could clean it on any day,couldn't we? I'm still looking for the Tibetan way or basically the right way that it should done.Any links?
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby plwk » Thu Dec 23, 2010 5:41 pm

I'm still looking for the Tibetan way or basically the right way that it should done.Any links?

I doubt that there is one standard way and believe that different places have different methods, so what I am sharing below is what have been taught to me at one Gelugpa gompa that I have volunteering on a weekly basis to assist in gompa cleaning and tidying up:

a. 3 Prostrations to the Triple Gem (optional offering of incense/candles)

b. Respectful & attentive attitude/mindfulness when cleaning.

c. Optionally, one can recite prayers/mantras silently if one wishes when one does the cleaning and avoid unnecessary chatter. So far, what I recite silently when I am there is the Lama Tsongkhapa's Migtsegma or others.

d. For cleaning of altars and statues, there's segregation of wiping cloth/brush/duster used for different purposes for altars, statues, ritual items, offering bowls and etc.
i. For wet wiping, the cloth is made wet and then squeeze dry for a dry wipe effect
ii. For dry wiping, its either dusting with a special static duster or a dry/fine cloth
As for statues and Dharma implements, it depends on the type of it.
Those pasted with gold leaf or painted with gold/special paint, especially the face and hands or even chest areas are given light dusting whilst the other areas that are less precarious can be wiped with a well squeezed wet cloth and then with a dry one or just continue the dusting on other areas as well. Since the big thangkas are wrapped in clear plastic, its just wiping the plastic cover and the bottom handle.
So far, no bathing is needed or done.
For the big statues that are 7ft and 10ft, a 'cherry picker' (a special machine to elevate one to the top and height of the statue) is used and the similar processes are used for high cleaning.

f. At the end of cleaning, transference of merits or dedication prayers are recited.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby nirmal » Thu Dec 23, 2010 6:50 pm

plwk wrote:
I'm still looking for the Tibetan way or basically the right way that it should done.Any links?

I doubt that there is one standard way and believe that different places have different methods, so what I am sharing below is what have been taught to me at one Gelugpa gompa that I have volunteering on a weekly basis to assist in gompa cleaning and tidying up:

a. 3 Prostrations to the Triple Gem (optional offering of incense/candles)

b. Respectful & attentive attitude/mindfulness when cleaning.

c. Optionally, one can recite prayers/mantras silently if one wishes when one does the cleaning and avoid unnecessary chatter. So far, what I recite silently when I am there is the Lama Tsongkhapa's Migtsegma or others.

d. For cleaning of altars and statues, there's segregation of wiping cloth/brush/duster used for different purposes for altars, statues, ritual items, offering bowls and etc.
i. For wet wiping, the cloth is made wet and then squeeze dry for a dry wipe effect
ii. For dry wiping, its either dusting with a special static duster or a dry/fine cloth
As for statues and Dharma implements, it depends on the type of it.
Those pasted with gold leaf or painted with gold/special paint, especially the face and hands or even chest areas are given light dusting whilst the other areas that are less precarious can be wiped with a well squeezed wet cloth and then with a dry one or just continue the dusting on other areas as well. Since the big thangkas are wrapped in clear plastic, its just wiping the plastic cover and the bottom handle.
So far, no bathing is needed or done.
For the big statues that are 7ft and 10ft, a 'cherry picker' (a special machine to elevate one to the top and height of the statue) is used and the similar processes are used for high cleaning.

f. At the end of cleaning, transference of merits or dedication prayers are recited.


Thank you Plwk,
So far so good and it is a relief that I have been doing the right thing.There is only one thing left that is still bothering me a bit.Do the statues need to be consecrated again after they have been cleaned or moved around during the cleaning process?
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby plwk » Fri Dec 24, 2010 1:07 am

Do the statues need to be consecrated again after they have been cleaned or moved around during the cleaning process?

According to what I learned from them, no.

Why? Because that process of 'consecration' is already fulfilled when the statues are filled & sealed with mantra rolls, precious items and prescribed prayers. Normally, that is done by monastics but lay people are also allowed to do it as long as they meet the same specs and I have on 2 occasions watched a skilled Nepalese Buddhist arts craft master doing it the Gelugpa way as well as one experienced lay Buddhist bookstore owner who is a Kagyupa doing it.

The only time a formal ceremony is performed as per what I have experienced there is when a consecrated statue is to be shifted to a new shrine hall or location where out of respect and symbolical welcome given the Buddha / Bodhisattva to the new area, where after cleaning the statue, everyone does 3 prostrations to the Triple Gem, the statue carried by someone (if its a small one, it's carried on a tray placed on a khata or brocade for it to look elegant or a medium/big one on a palaquin) and with someone holding incense and khata leading at the front, the entourage goes to the new location in a dignified manner whilst chanting/singing mantras where upon reaching the new place, the statue is solemnly placed and once again, 3 prostrations are made and various offerings are brought to be offered ending with dedication prayers.

Again, that worry is probably based on what I shared earlier, stemming from other religious beliefs.
One example is my own childhood friend's mom who had a Taoist priest perform a rite of blessing on a glass framed image of Guan Yin where he dotted the picture at certain points of the image with ritual red ink and she, being a woman of great attention to details of cleanliness, wiped off all the dots on the glass frame to restore its beauty and was later reprimanded by the same priest who was later consulted by one of her relatives who had related her act to him.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby narraboth » Fri Dec 24, 2010 4:38 am

there are two kinds of saying, all from Tibetan buddhists.
first one is, once the statue is consecrated, there's no such a thing to remove the wisdom diety.
You can't 'de-consecrate' a holy object, you can only increase it with more consecration, like the guy said above.

However, there is a practical manual about making statue, in which mentions the ritual to 'move wisdom diety to another place'. That's not for cleaning, it's for fixing, such as when you need to use hammer to heat somewhere on a statue or temperally take the arm of a statue off etc. In these cases, you have to remove the wisdom diety to other places such as, in the ritual says, a mirror. Otherwise it would be like cutting off the arm of buddha.

I don't know which one is real, as I said, i can't see wisdom diety; I don't know if it would be influence by this kind of 'invasive treatment'. Probably someone can ask a very high lama?
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby nirmal » Fri Dec 24, 2010 4:43 pm

plwk wrote:
Do the statues need to be consecrated again after they have been cleaned or moved around during the cleaning process?

According to what I learned from them, no.

Why? Because that process of 'consecration' is already fulfilled when the statues are filled & sealed with mantra rolls, precious items and prescribed prayers. Normally, that is done by monastics but lay people are also allowed to do it as long as they meet the same specs and I have on 2 occasions watched a skilled Nepalese Buddhist arts craft master doing it the Gelugpa way as well as one experienced lay Buddhist bookstore owner who is a Kagyupa doing it.

The only time a formal ceremony is performed as per what I have experienced there is when a consecrated statue is to be shifted to a new shrine hall or location where out of respect and symbolical welcome given the Buddha / Bodhisattva to the new area, where after cleaning the statue, everyone does 3 prostrations to the Triple Gem, the statue carried by someone (if its a small one, it's carried on a tray placed on a khata or brocade for it to look elegant or a medium/big one on a palaquin) and with someone holding incense and khata leading at the front, the entourage goes to the new location in a dignified manner whilst chanting/singing mantras where upon reaching the new place, the statue is solemnly placed and once again, 3 prostrations are made and various offerings are brought to be offered ending with dedication prayers.

Again, that worry is probably based on what I shared earlier, stemming from other religious beliefs.
One example is my own childhood friend's mom who had a Taoist priest perform a rite of blessing on a glass framed image of Guan Yin where he dotted the picture at certain points of the image with ritual red ink and she, being a woman of great attention to details of cleanliness, wiped off all the dots on the glass frame to restore its beauty and was later reprimanded by the same priest who was later consulted by one of her relatives who had related her act to him.


Good to hear that Plwk.The problem with me is that I never ask my Vajraguru about the common things that I do.Then when questions arise in my mind,I start thinking,"Aiya, have I been doing the right thing?" The cleaning of statues in my Meditation Centre is done by a few regular members.
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Re: Washing,bathing and cleaning statues

Postby nirmal » Fri Dec 24, 2010 4:57 pm

narraboth wrote:there are two kinds of saying, all from Tibetan buddhists.
first one is, once the statue is consecrated, there's no such a thing to remove the wisdom diety.
You can't 'de-consecrate' a holy object, you can only increase it with more consecration, like the guy said above.

However, there is a practical manual about making statue, in which mentions the ritual to 'move wisdom diety to another place'. That's not for cleaning, it's for fixing, such as when you need to use hammer to heat somewhere on a statue or temperally take the arm of a statue off etc. In these cases, you have to remove the wisdom diety to other places such as, in the ritual says, a mirror. Otherwise it would be like cutting off the arm of buddha.

I don't know which one is real, as I said, i can't see wisdom diety; I don't know if it would be influence by this kind of 'invasive treatment'. Probably someone can ask a very high lama?


Thanks Narraboth,
It would surely be not right to leave the wisdom deity in a statue when doing some serious work on it.I willl ask my Vajraguru everything that has to be done when cleaning or working on statues and I'll share it here with you and the others probably sometime in early February.
Thank you for sharing Narraboth
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