Decorating Altars & Making Incense Offering
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sam Buddhassa
Honor to the Blessed One, Arahat, perfectly and completely Awakened One!
Introduction to Buddhism - Buddhism was founded in the ancient northern state of India, known today as Nepal. Its beginning revolves around Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BC). Buddhists believe that everybody has a Buddha-like nature, very much like the New Age movement, which believed that the goddess, god, angel, fairy, or those powerful energies will fetch them luck, wealth, good fortune, peace, and protection. Also, remove bad things before they occur, and make their path through life as smooth as possible.
If conditions allow, it is best to have an altar at home for yourself and your family to pay respects and make offerings to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Deceased Venerable Masters or Guru Monks (Idols).
Setting Up A Prayer Altar
1. The basic requirements for altar decoration at home are as follows:
2. The altar must not be near a toilet (the toilet door should be closed at all times).
3. The altar must not face the kitchen directly.
4. The altar must not be placed on the TV set.
5. The best location for the altar is sitting south and facing north (for the southern hemisphere) or north and facing south (for the northern hemisphere). However, other directions are also acceptable if your current conditions do not allow you to place the altar this way.
6. The altar should not be too high or too low. It would be best if the images of the worship idols on your altar are slightly above eye level (if they are too low, you can place something underneath to increase the height).
7. The altar should have oil lamps and water (one cup of fresh water for each image of the worship idols, and the water should be changed daily. (Please do not use the glass cup you used for drinking for offering prayer).
8. The altar should have an urn for the offering of incense. You can make an incense offering once in the morning and at night. The time for incense offerings should be kept consistent. The best times in the morning are 6 am to 10 am, and the best times at night are 6 pm to 10 pm.
9. On the Buddhist holy day, fresh flowers are put in the vase on the prayer altar. If it's possible, you can make an offering such as a plate of fresh fruits, fresh flowers, and betel leafs dabbed with a touch of lime powder on each leaf, together with betel nuts, "Areca nut," and tobacco. Soft drinks in red, tea, and coffee. Vegetarian food is also allowed. It would be best if you made incense offerings and then made full prostrations when you have done all these. "This combination guideline is of different forms of beliefs and of different views on one's own religion."
If your living circumstances limit you and you cannot have an altar at home to pay respects and make offerings, or when you are on business trips or holidays, you can make offering prayer by Heart Incense.
Method: When you offer the Heart Incense, you are visualizing that the image of the worship idols is in front of you. You imagine making an oil lamp offering, followed by taking an incense stick and lighting the incense, kneeling in front of the altar and joining your palms together, and then raising the smell above your forehead between your eyebrows. Then you visualize that you are praying to the idol, placing the scent into the urn, making full prostrations, and assuming your prayers in your mind. (Concentration on all methods you're praying daily in one's mind).
Please note: You can only make incense offerings if you have an altar at home where you pay respects and make offerings to the worship idols' images daily. For embodiments such as Buddha's or Bodhisattvas on computer screens, printed on sutra booklets, or other statues printed by your printer, the worship idols that you pay respects to and make offerings to every day will not have the energy field of the Buddha. If you are making incense offerings to these statues or images, then you are making offerings to Heaven and Earth, and all the spiritual beings around you would be able to come and accept your offerings. These involve risks and may invite unnecessary trouble.
Offering Made In A Temple
While we are on the subject of veneration, it might be useful to explain the meaning of the various offerings to the Buddha. For it is true to say that Buddhism contains nothing without meaning because such practices are found, then they are not indeed the Dhamma.
The three most common offerings, incense, flowers, and candles, provide the occasion for a brief discursive meditation as they have been offered. While lighting the candles or oil lamp, one may reflect: “May I become enlightened so that I can help others.” From that flame, the incense sticks (usually three in number) are lighted with the thought: “To achieve the enlightenment, may the fragrance of my virtue pervade all my actions of body, speech, and mind, as this sweet incense spreads in all directions.”
The three usual offerings are sometimes taken as symbolizing the Triple Gem. Flowers are offered between joined palms with the thought, "But this life is short, and even though these flowers are fresh and beautiful today, tomorrow they will fade and be foul-smelling as it is with what I call my body." The candle offered will represent the teaching, lighting up all the dark places of the heart and bringing enlightenment to replace unknowingly.
In this sequence, the Order "of Noble Ones" will be represented by incense because of their perfection, which pervades all their actions, whether by mind speech. Devotees sometimes also offer food and water to the image of their idol's "Deceased Guru Monk's." Not thinking that he will join them, but because religious devotees will not take the food for themselves until the best has been offered to the Buddha. Because the Buddha is the best among humanity, he merits the best gifts.
Similarly, some people are very enthusiastic about performing incense offerings. They went to the temples with their incense and prayed: "Oh Buddha or Guan Yin Bodhisattva, please protect and bless me." But they don't even know they should provide their names. According to the teachings of Buddha's Guan Yin Bodhisattva, you need to give your full name when you make incense offerings and make prostrations. Like say, today, you visit a temple to pay respects, and you can say the following. "I <your full name> sincerely ask the Great Merciful and Great Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva to protect and bless me, and my family to have good health, or safety and harmony. Today, I, <full name>, come to <name of the temple> to make prostrations and offerings." You should state your full name, including your middle name.
Also, many people make incense offerings and burn incense with all kinds of postures and rituals. You don't need to perform many procedures when you make offerings. There are 84,000 Dharma Doors. Each Dharma Door has different variations. All the Dharma Doors provide us with the same teachings. We are using our sincere minds to make incense offerings. We are using our real intention to perform recitations and make prostrations. We must remember: that our reason is of the most importance. Therefore Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are telling us to cultivate our spirit.