Decorating Altars & Making Incense Offering
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sam Buddhassa
Honour 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 in them, very much like the New Age movement, which believed that the goddess, god, angel, fairy or those powerful energies will fetch them luck, more 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 family to pay respects and make offerings to Buddha's, Bodhisattvas and Deceased Venerable Masters or Guru Monk (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 top of the TV set.
5. The best location for the altar is sitting south and facing north (for the southern hemisphere), or sitting north and facing south (for the northern hemisphere). However, if your current conditions do not allow you to place the altar this way, other directions are also acceptable.
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 the 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 glass 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 incense offering once in the morning and once at night. The time for incense offering should be kept consistent and the best times in the morning are 6 am to 10 am, and the best times at night are 6 pm to10 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 offering such as a plate of fresh fruits, fresh flowers, betel leafs dabbed a touch of lime powder on each leaf, together with betel nuts "Areca nut" and tobacco. Soft drink in red, tea and coffee. Vegetarian food is also allowed. When you have done all these, you should make incense offerings, and then make full prostrations. "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 visualising that the image of the worship idols is in front of you. You imagine that you are making an oil lamp offering, followed by taking an incense stick and lighting the incense, kneel in front of the altar and join your palms together, and then raising the incense above your forehead between your eyebrows. Then you visualise that you are saying a prayer to the idol's placing the incense into the urn, making full prostrations, and assuming your prayers in your mind. (Concentration to all method 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 images of the worship idols every day. For images 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 and make offerings every day will not have the energy field of the Buddha's. 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 which is offered will represent the teaching, lighting up all the dark places of the heart and bringing enlightenment to replace unknowingly.
The Order "of Noble Ones", in this sequence will be represented by the incense, again because of their perfection which pervades all their actions whether by mind speech. Devotee sometimes also offer food and water to the image of their idol's "Deceased Guru Monk's". Not, of course, thinking that he will join them but because religious devotee will not take the food first for themselves until the best have first have 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: For example, "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 or Guan Yin Bodhisattva, when you make incense offerings and make prostrations, you need to give your full name. Like say, today you visit a temple to pay respects, 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 are providing us with the same teachings. We are using our sincere mind to make incense offerings. We are using our real intention to perform recitations and make prostrations. We must remember: our mind is of the most importance. Therefore Buddha's and Bodhisattvas are telling us to cultivate our spirit.