My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
Someone at a Buddhist university asked me this question about recycling a long time ago. They did exams on Buddhist philosophy and then they had a lot of paper to burn, so they asked me what to do. I think other people may have said burning the paper was kind of wasteful or not good.
The student asked if they could recycle the paper instead, but I said it’s Dharma, so you have to respect it. You can’t throw it in the garbage or use it to make other materials, such as toilet paper or something that is used on the floor and so forth. It’s a holy object, so if it is used to make other material it is not respected. It is disrespectful, but not many Westerners know this.
When you become a Buddhist, this is one of the beginning subjects in refuge. Knowing that the Dharma words are holy objects and that you have to respect them accordingly is also in the refuge vows. It seems people don’t know this. By not respecting the texts it causes pollution in your mind and it degenerates your mind. It has a great effect and it creates a lot of heavy negative karma. Therefore you can’t use holy objects to make plates or for toilet paper and so forth. That is disrespectful.
If you don’t know how a recycled object will eventually be used, then burning seems best. There’s no other choice.
Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, the head Nyingma lama, said burning Dharma is avoiding Dharma. It’s like destroying all the temples, statues and holy objects in the world. The Lamrim Chenmo says burning Dharma is also avoiding holy Dharma, so it is like destroying all the holy objects in the world. I’ve forgotten the exact words, but I think maybe it is even heavier than what Dudjom Rinpoche said.
However, this is if you do it with the mind that is related to avoiding holy Dharma. If you have a Dharma text, but you are getting rid of it—you are giving it up, you are not having respect and you are throwing it in the fire—then that is avoiding holy Dharma, because these are the Buddha’s teachings.
In Solu Khumbu any Dharma texts with missing or torn pages are kept in caves or in small square stupas that have been built there. We put all the texts with torn or missing pages, and also old prayer flags, inside a cave or stupa, so nobody has to walk over them. Also, no rain comes there, so the texts aren’t destroyed and they are highly respected. Of course, in Solu Khumbu there are not as many Dharma texts and not as many people. Anyway, we don’t burn them there; we do this instead.
In the West if there is no other way to keep the holy objects, then what you can do when you burn them is think that all the letters are absorbed into AH, and AH is absorbed into your heart. Then there are no letters, so it is empty paper. Then you burn the paper while reciting the Heart Sutra and thinking of emptiness.
Plastic things produce a bad smell and it’s kind of unhealthy [to burn them,] therefore if they go into recycling it’s better, as long as the items don’t have holy objects on them. This is just talking in general about plastic. As I mentioned to Yangsi Rinpoche, you still have to respect everything that has Dharma on it. Whether it’s paper or plastic, you have to respect it. That’s what I told him. He did mention recycling, as I think others might have mentioned that to him. But it was a long time ago and I don’t know what he did.
Sometimes if there are many trees around, then you can put the items high in trees in respectful ways, or in tsa tsa houses or caves and so forth.
When making offerings to Sangha in pujas, generally people offer first to the monks and then to the nuns. Actually this is probably more a Tibetan custom, as in Tibet even the lay people do this. The women also do this; they always offer to the men first.
From my side, how I think is that you could offer to each monk and nun at the same time. So you could have two people making offerings to monks and nuns at the same time, down the two rows.
Probably you have not heard, but I am not sure. Anyway, when you are making offerings, whether to lay people or Sangha, if they have received teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and if they have the same guru as you—such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama or the center geshe—think that every one of the students is the pores of your guru. If you think that as you make offerings, then you collect unbelievable merit.
You collect more merit than having made offerings to numberless buddhas, Dharma and Sangha and numberless statues, stupas and scriptures in the ten directions. You collect much more merit by thinking that they are the guru’s pores and then making the offering, even to lay people. Even giving a glass of water, a piece of fruit, a biscuit or one nut to a lay person who is a disciple of His Holiness or the center geshe, who is also your guru. By thinking that this person is the guru’s pore and then offering one biscuit or one piece of candy, you collect much more merit than having made offerings to numberless buddhas, Dharma, Sangha and numberless statues, stupas and scriptures in the ten directions.
This is not just in a puja. This refers to any time.
That’s why I say at the centers, don’t think that to collect merit you always have to offer to the monasteries. You can collect so much merit at the center, right there, by offering to the students who have the same guru as you. However many students there are, you can make offerings to them, and you will collect the same merit as having offered to numberless buddhas, Dharma, Sangha, statues, stupas and scriptures. There are so many students.
I hope you find something useful from my talk. Thank you very much for your service. Please live your life with bodhicitta in every action that you do. That is the best life.
With much love and prayers ...