"We think happiness is what we get when attachment gets what it wants. Buddha says happiness is what we get when we give up attachment."

Ven. Robina

Lama Yeshe

Lama Zopa Rinpoche


Wealth Deity Statue Consecration


On January 18, 2013 three statues of wealth deities: a one-foot Dzambhala, three-foot Ganapati, and five-foot Nam-tu-se, instructed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to be built for the success of Sherab Plaza, were consecrated by Geshe Ngawang Dakpa in a day-long puja at FPMT’s Land of Medicine Buddha, in Santa Cruz, California.

Sherab Plaza is dedicated to the work of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Ven. Robina's guru. The idea is to use commercial activity to wholly fund non-profit Dharma centers, relieving them of the need to fundraise, and allowing them to offer the Dharma for free. Sherab Plaza will include businesses: stores, a spa, condiniums for sale and rent, etc., and various Buddhist non-profits, all together in an urban six-acre complex, first in San Francisco and then in cities around the world. Sherab Plaza will also include a monastery for 100 monks and nuns, giving them a home; a Buddhist university; an acre of gardens; and housing for the homeless (off site).

"I request all of you to pray deeply for the success of everything that Ven. Robina wishes to do in the future to help all sentient beings," said Geshe Dakpa, the resident teacher at San Francisco FPMT center Tse Chen Ling. Geshe-la also blessed Sherab Plaza's two sets of wealth vases (vases filled with rare and precious substances, Dharma materials, relics and other offerings to the Buddhas) in 2006 and 2007, and Guru Rinpoche statues, in 2007.

Three statues, all wealth deities, advised to be built for the success of Sherab Plaza by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Ven. Robina's guru, were consecrated at FPMT's Land of Medicine Buddha in January 2013. From left: a three-foot Ganapati, five-foot Nam-tu-se, and one-foot Dzambhala (just below Nam-tu-se's left foot). People all over the world offered treasured items to be put in the three statues, including diamonds, gold, sapphires, rare jewels and family heirlooms; people in prison offered drawings of precious items and holy objects.

A chalk drawing of a mandala offered by Henry Haro of Pelican Bay State Prison in California was placed in Sherab Plaza's Nam-tu-se statue. 

Geshe Dakpa began with a teaching on the need for resources to sustain Dharma communities, and explained the psychological qualities of the three deities and the symbolism of various aspects of each statue. Geshe-la also requested participants to pray for the success of the project.

“The flourishing of the Buddhadharma, which means the flourishing of the Buddhadharma within people’s minds, mostly depends on the community of sangha, and also the Buddhist practitioners, gathering together to practice,” Geshe-la said. “And to run those communities, those sangha communities, we need resources.”

Some 30 people participated throughout the day of pujas.

FPMT lama Geshe Ngawang Dakpa (center, above) led students in a day of practices to consecrate the three Sherab Plaza statues. Students packed into Land of Medicine Buddha's small gompa for the first session (below).

Lama Zopa Rinpoche advised Ven. Robina to make the statues in 2007, and she commissioned English artist Peter Griffin to make them. "Peter is amazing," Ven. Robina said. "He studied art in London and after meeting Rinpoche began working for him, and guided by Rinpoche as well, who himself is an artist. Peter's work is extraordinary: not just the fine detail – his original molds all carved by hand, some of them so small – but the heart, the feeling of the deities."

A kind donor, Ven. Jangchup Phegey, sponsored the making of the statues, and Peter worked on them at his studio in Dorset throughout 2007 and 2008. 

"I think [the purpose of Tibetan art is] a very profound tool to change the mind," Peter told Ven. Robina in 1996 for an interview for the March 1997 Mandala. "Visual imagery is a very immediate and profound way to convey a whole pantheon of conscious and subconscious information. It works on so many different levels. As well as having an immediate impact upon the mind, through the power of the holy beings there are many layers of experience conveyed to us through the visual form. The holy image does nothing other than convey the Buddha’s holy mind; it conveys to us, in two-dimensional form, or three in the case of a statue, the qualities of love and compassion, and as such it is unbelievably inspiring for us. It triggers within us that potential."

Ven. Robina commissioned English artist Peter Griffin to make the three wealth deity statues. "Peter is amazing," Ven. Robina said. "He studied art in London and after meeting Lama Zopa Rinpoche began working for him, and guided by Rinpoche as well, who himself is an artist." Here is Peter with the Nam-Tu-Se at his Griffin Studios in Dorset, England, in 2008. Photo Griffin Studios.

Offerings to Sherab Plaza from friends in prison: clockwise from left: a photograph of a Shakyamuni Buddha statue offered by Terrell McGraw of E.C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Michigan. "This photo was given to me by Ven. Thubten Chodron at a time when I was experiencing a lot of negative karma," said Terrell. "I have since gained insight into that negative karma and now wish to pass this photo on to a meritorious cause;" an ink drawing of a pendant by Lorin Dowdy of California State Prison Corcoran; a silver coin offered by Apple Saeteurn of California State Prison Sacramento; and a painting of a lapis lazuli mala from Ryan Krauz of Great Meadow Correctional Facility in New York. "I am very happy to help Ven. Robina with her vision," Ryan said.

Peter sculpted all three statues, as well as painting the smaller one-foot Dzhambala. In 2009 the statues were shipped to California where resident artist at LMB, Gelek Sherpa, painted the Ganapati and Nam-tu-se in 2009 and 2011, and where director Denice Macy offered the statues a home.

The nuns of Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery, the sister nunnery of Kopan Monastery, the monastery of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, outside Kathmandu, rolled the 100 kilograms (about 220 pounds) of mantras and made the 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds) of incense needed to fill the two big statues. And people around the world offered various precious items to be put in them, including diamonds, gold, sapphires, rare jewels and family heirlooms. People in prison offered drawings of precious items and holy objects. "I pray that the consecration ceremony for the statues is beautiful, and that Ven. Robina continue being a true guide for all," said Rob Snyder of Lunenburg Correctional Center in Virgina, who offered a sketch of a Kruggerrand.

Once a Buddhist statue is filled and consecrated, it becomes the actual living Buddha, a holy object – until that it is just art, no matter how accurate or beautiful the piece. During the consecration ceremony, prayers and requests to the holy beings are made and the lama doing the blessing invites the enlightened mind of the buddhas to bless and reside within the statue – the statue then becomes one with Buddha's mind, and a powerful object of devotion for sentient beings. The lamas say creating holy objects can help remove obstacles and create causes for the success of Dharma projects.

Sherab Plaza's one-foot Dzambhala made and painted by Peter Griffin, who studied Tibetan art under Lama Zopa Rinpoche's instruction. Photo Peter Griffin.

Gelek Sherpa painting Sherab Plaza's Nam-tu-se in 2011 at Land of Medicine Buddha in California. Gelek painted the Ganapati and Nam-tu-se at LMB in 2009 and 2011. Photo Gelek Sherpa.

Many people helped with the offerings and organizing of the consecration. Here Ven. Jampa Thinley (left), Geshe Dakpa's attendant, and Ven. Samten (right), resident monk at Land of Medicine Buddha, prepare the tormas, one of the traditional puja offerings.

More offerings to Sherab Plaza from friends in prison: clockwise from top-left: a pencil drawing of a Krugerrand offered by Rob Snyder of Lunenburg Correctional Center in Virgina. "I pray that the consecration ceremony for the statues is beautiful, and that Ven. Robina continue being a true guide for all," Rob said; a colored pencil drawing of sapphires and emeralds offered by Thich An Thanh of Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona; and an offering of gold from AJ Esquer of Kern Valley State Prison in California.

A hand-made necklace by Jay Leaves in Hand of Salinas Valley State Prison in California offered to Sherab Plaza: "To My Good Brothers and Sisters in a Good Way," Jay said.

Participants in the day of prayers and practices included students from Ven. Robina’s week-long retreat at LMB; center director Denice, who was up at dawn with Gelek to rent a forklift so Ganapati and Nam-tu-se could be placed on the altar Gelek had built; Gelek; LMB monk Ven. Samten who worked late into the night Thursday making the tormas for the puja, as instructed by Geshe Dakpa, as well as assisting Gelek to fill the statues; Gelek; Ven. Jampa Thinley, Geshe-la’s attendant, who helped prepare the tormas and translated Geshe-la’s instructions and teachings; LMB nun Ven. Yangchen who helped volunteers with the extensive offerings; Ven. Kunsang who photographed the afternoon session; FPMT monastics Ven. Thubten Pemo and Ven. Jimi Magner; Cody Mattson, who helped clean and set up the gompa and ran errands; and a group of former Liberation Prison Project and Tse Chen Ling staff, who all worked together with Ven. Robina in San Francisco on projects supporting Sherab Plaza and Ven. Robina's Bodhichitta Trust over the years: Ven. Katy Cole, Ven. Gyalten Palmo, Alison Harr, Michelle Stewart and Kate Macdonald. 

“I see Sherab Plaza as Ven. Robina’s ultimate offering to her lamas, her greatest offering in this life to Lama Zopa Rinpoche,” said Michelle, one of the original Sherab Plaza trustees. “So we tried to make the offerings as beautiful and elaborate and bountiful as possible: as many bouquets of flowers as possible; lots of beautiful cakes and fruit; beautiful auspicious colors.”

A closer look at the one-foot Dzambhala during the consecration ceremony. "This [Dzambhala] is a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, who chases away poverty," explained Geshe Dakpa.

The three-foot Sherab Plaza Ganapati statue. "Ganapati has different aspects and this one has 12 arms, two feet and one face," Geshe-la said. "The 12 arms symbolize the 12 pure dependent-arisings. Below his feet is a rat because rats are really skillful in earning, collecting and saving. It’s not that he is bullying rat by standing on it! [Ganapati] is also a significant deity of wealth."

At the end of the consecration Michelle read a message on behalf of Ven. Robina (who had to leave early for her next teaching engagement), thanking all the people who contributed their efforts and energy to Sherab Plaza over the years. "May Sherab Plaza manifest one day, this life of the next," she said. "So that it might benefit the work of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, helping countless sentient beings."

A close-up of Sherab Plaza's Nam-tu-se. "Nam-tu-se committed in front of the Buddha to protect the Buddhadharma," Geshe-la said. "That is why if we make offerings and praise to Nam-tu-se we are able to get resources and all the accommodations to uphold the sangha community, and the practitioner community, in general."

“Thank you for this opportunity to do something for Ven. Robina,” said Raven Jones of Idaho Maximum Security Institution, who offered crayon drawings of Medicine Buddha (above) and precious jewels (below). “Please let me know how it goes. I hope Sherab Plaza can be actualized!!!!!!”

Precious item donors:

Ven. Aileen Barry, Dharamsala, India
Ven. Katy Cole, Aptos, CA, USA
Ven. Gyalten Palmo, San Francisco, CA, USA
Ven. Gyalten Samten, New Delhi, India
Ven. Tenzin Tekchok, Israel
Vikrant Bhasin, Boston, MA, USA
Sarah Brooks,
Raleigh, NC, USA
John Castelloe, Raleigh, NC, USA
Lorin Dowdy, California State Prison, Corcoran, USA
AJ Esquer, Kern Valley State Prison, CA, USA
Effie Fletcher, San Francisco, CA, USA
Claire Forsyth,
Betty Gleason,
Alameda, CA, USA
Alison Harr,
San Francisco, CA, USA
Henry Haro,
Pelican Bay State Prison, CA, USA
James Hinds, Vancouver, Canada
Raven Jones,
Idaho Maximum Security Prison, USA
Jack Sonanbaum & Judith Hunt, Marin, CA, USA
Ryan Krausz, Great Meadow Correctional Facility, NY, USA
Jay Leaves In Hand,
Salinas Valley State Prison, CA, USA
Kate Macdonald, Portland, OR, USA
Terrell McCraw,
E.C. Brooks Correctional Facility, MI, USA
Fran McDermott, Missoula, MT, USA
Martin McDonald, Glasgow, Scotland
Diane Morrow,
Raleigh, NC, USA
Apple Saeturn, California State Prison Sacramento, USA
Rob Snyder, Lunenburg Correctional Center, VA, USA
Mer and Troy Stafford,
Pownal, ME, USA
Michelle Stewart,
Alameda, CA, USA
Rolland Swing, Seattle, WA, USA
Thich An Thanh,
Eloy Detention Center, AZ, USA

Arts for Enlightenment an interview with artists Peter and Denise Griffin about the making of holy objects in Mandala Magazine