Holding an Animal Blessing Event
Rinpoche encourages Dharma centres to hold animal blessing events as many people who don’t normally come to a centre to attend teachings have pets and would attend, thereby exposing them, and their animals, to the Dharma. A blessing event can be combined with an animal liberation (ie, liberating animals rescued from death such as those consumed for food like chickens, fish, crabs, worms used for fishing etc). People can also bring insects from their homes, such as cockroaches and worms (make sure they go back from where they came from, especially ants who will not survive outside their own colony). Rinpoche advises:
“The animal blessing can be in a park where mantras are recited and they are circumambulated around holy objects on a table, the animals and the people hear the mantras, circumambulate the holy objects, also water can be blessed and given to the animals. The pets and the people get so much benefit from these events. The animal blessing can be in public places and children can come and people who are interested, who don’t come to the center much. There needs to be one table that is piled high with holy objects, specifically stupas with the 4 Dharmakaya relic mantras, mantras can be chanted, water blessed and then sprinkled over the animals."
Rinpoche recommends advertising widely. Put the message out through normal channels such as email networks, noticeboards etc but also places associated with animals, such as veterinary clinics. Invite local animal welfare and rescue groups as they have many animals under their care and may be interested. Putting out a brief media release a week before the event is also recommended. Very often the local newspaper for your area will pick up on this sort of news.
Where to hold an event
It's good to have the animal blessing in as public venue as possible, so as many animals as possible receive the benefit. Otherwise, at your centre is also good especially if you have a large outdoor stupa to circumambulate. If you have a resident Geshe or teacher who will lead the blessing, it is good to have an area with shade and a chair to sit on.
How to Set Up
In addition to chanting prayers and mantras for the animals, circumambulating the animals around as many holy objects as possible is very important. Have a table piled high with holy objects, statues, texts, pictures of Buddhas, deities, tsa tsas, prayer wheels, stupas, etc. Rinpoche prefers to have five levels of holy objects, if possible. Have some volunteers specifically designated to look after the table. The table should not be too high as Rinpoche advises that people need to hold the animal at the height of the holy objects, so if it's too high then people will have to lift their pets with some difficulty. To do it extensively Rinpoche advises to have the following texts and items on and around the table:
- 8000 verse Prajnaparamita texts
- Lam-rim Chenmo
- Tsa tsas (many)
- Water offerings
- Flowers on each corner
- Flowers on the ground around the table
- Prayer flags strung on posts around the table
It is good to have a microphone and speakers so that when the teacher recites mantras or gives a motivation people can hear. Have a big container of water with a wide open top (it could be one or more big buckets). Your teacher can then bless the water by blowing into this. The water is then sprinkled on the animals or some can be taken to a water source such as a river or the ocean and poured in to bless the countless beings there. Any water which is left can be put in small bottles and given to people, so you would then also need funnels and small bottles to fill up at the end and pass out to people. Have a few volunteers ready to do this. It is better to have one big container to bless rather than many small bottles. Students who are reciting mantras can also blow into the bucket during or at the end to add blessing.
You may like to have a large bag of dry pet food, and again this would be blown on and blessed, and then it can be distributed in small bags (if you have enough volunteers). Be mindful of potential fights over food by the animals. Have chairs for those who need them (especially as older people often come). You could consider making a small leaflet with mantras for animals that could be handed out if people would like one, as often people want to do something afterwards for their animals.
Remember to rejoice! Think how many billions and billions of animals there are in this world and how difficult it is for an insect to have the karma to be reborn as someone’s pet dog let alone a higher rebirth. Today you have given them that chance. Not only have these beings trapped in the lower realms been given many causes for happiness and enlightenment, so have all the attendees! Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice!
There are a few things you will need to consider in relation to safety and welfare for your Animal Blessing event to run smoothly. Many of these you will need to communicate to attendees beforehand. Some recommendations are listed below:
- Provide water for the animals to drink. You may need to check to ensure there is a water supply available at the venue. Also provide different sized water bowls for the animals. Advise people to bring refreshments for themselves (unless you can provide refreshments).
- Ask people to avoid or be careful giving their pet snacks in front of other animals, which could lead to some jealousy and fighting.
- Tell people to keep their animals on leashes, or in cages, as there are often different types of animals and there could be fights or disappearances!
- All animals should be supervised at all times. Dogs should be leashed and under control. Other animals should be suitably contained eg, in a carrier.
- Be mindful of ‘predator and prey’ – try to keep dogs from being near cats, birds from both and so on, or at least from seeing each other. Having a light cloth to cover a cage can help reduce stress in less confident animals.
- Be mindful of animals overheating / getting cold and make sure you have checked suitable shade and shelter available for the event.
- If someone has an animal which is too old or sick to come physically to the event, make sure you give them the blessed water or pet food afterwards.
- For human safety, it is a good idea to have a First Aid kit available.