Author Topic: Why do we have altars?  (Read 40710 times)

Big Uncle

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Why do we have altars?
« on: July 26, 2011, 03:53:53 AM »
I was told that as lay Buddhists, we should have an altar with representations of the Body, Speech and Mind of the Buddha. The representations and offerings should be the best quality that we can afford and making offerings is to collect lots of merits so it will fuel our spiritual transformation and eventually attainments. Why do we even need to do that? I was told never to bargain for Dharma items or offerings as it will demean our practice.

Also, isn't investing in expensive silver offerings bowls, butter lamps and gold Nepalese statues increasing materialism and desire, which is contrary to teachings on renunciation? Why do you guys think?

WoselTenzin

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2011, 05:41:36 PM »
Supposed what you would normally do with your money is to spend on things like designer clothes, going for a holiday or pursuing some expensive samsaric hobby.   

Now after listening to the Dharma and understanding the importance of making offerings to generate merits for your spiritual practice, you give up your attachment to those things that you like and use that money to buy the best quality offering items to offer to the Buddha and buy the best quality Buddha statue that you can afford.

In this instance, you are in fact developing some sort of renunciation. Why is that? It is because you have begun to understand the senselessness of mundane samsaric attachment and pleasure that you able to give them up and instead use it to generate merits so that you can be eventually be free from the sufferings of samsara.

Offering expensive items to the Buddha is not materialism if done with the motivation of making merit to achieve spiritual results.

Reena Searl

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2011, 06:14:05 PM »
An altar can have different meanings according to what the practitioner needs, and the level of his understanding and practice.

Offerings help the mind to focus on the proper attitude, or to be used as an inferential reminder for extensive inner offerings. They help us to open our mind to beneficial thoughts, cut trough the  Self-cherishing thoughts, remembering the qualities of the Buddhas etc

Making offerings on the altar is a great source of accumulation, depending on the method used , motivation and the attention given to it.

kurava

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2011, 04:22:04 AM »
We don't have the merits to meet a Buddha.

Some of us may have met an enlightened being but due to our obscurations , we would not recognize  buddha even if we come face to face with him/her.

Our mind is so distracted and unstable. Having an altar with representation of the three jewels help focusing our mind and stablize our practice .

When we purchase Dharma items, we are advised not to bargain because we we need to undo or slowly free ourselves from  the deep rooted habit equating everything (including enlightenment) to money.

If we have no hesitation to give our life's savings to cure our body from diseases and aging, why do we want to stinge and negotiate endlessly for altar set ups and offerings that are means to save us from countless lives' sufferings ?



pgdharma

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2011, 02:05:01 PM »
Supposed what you would normally do with your money is to spend on things like designer clothes, going for a holiday or pursuing some expensive samsaric hobby.   

Now after listening to the Dharma and understanding the importance of making offerings to generate merits for your spiritual practice, you give up your attachment to those things that you like and use that money to buy the best quality offering items to offer to the Buddha and buy the best quality Buddha statue that you can afford.

In this instance, you are in fact developing some sort of renunciation. Why is that? It is because you have begun to understand the senselessness of mundane samsaric attachment and pleasure that you able to give them up and instead use it to generate merits so that you can be eventually be free from the sufferings of samsara.

Offering expensive items to the Buddha is not materialism if done with the motivation of making merit to achieve spiritual results.
I agree with you Wozel Tenzin. Offering expensive items to the Buddha is not materialism if done with the motivation of making merit to achieve spiritual results. Buddha doesnt need our expensive offerings.  It is for us to practice cutting away our attachments and miserliness. It is a practice of generosity and for us to collect merits for our spiritual practice.

dsiluvu

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2011, 06:23:36 PM »
Look at it this way... if you love to shop, then instead of shopping and offering yourself which we do every day just by having our breakfast, lunch and dinner... so why not change it to offering to the Enlightened Buddhas? For a start you will be training your self to think of another apart from you. Then next step others, these are steps to cutting down the self-cherishing mind. Offerings are the causes for cutting away miserliness and self-cherishing. Hence it is not materialism.

This is why you see monasteries, centres and temples are always made beautifully with the best possible materials offered up to the Buddhas. Everything is an offering not just the altar...the whole place/building.

Big Uncle

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #6 on: August 01, 2011, 06:29:58 AM »
Supposed what you would normally do with your money is to spend on things like designer clothes, going for a holiday or pursuing some expensive samsaric hobby.  

Now after listening to the Dharma and understanding the importance of making offerings to generate merits for your spiritual practice, you give up your attachment to those things that you like and use that money to buy the best quality offering items to offer to the Buddha and buy the best quality Buddha statue that you can afford.

In this instance, you are in fact developing some sort of renunciation. Why is that? It is because you have begun to understand the senselessness of mundane samsaric attachment and pleasure that you able to give them up and instead use it to generate merits so that you can be eventually be free from the sufferings of samsara.

Offering expensive items to the Buddha is not materialism if done with the motivation of making merit to achieve spiritual results.

Thank you, that's nicely put. But I think the spiritual results do not arise solely from our motivation alone but from the object of these statues and offering items. They are all made in honor of enlightened Beings, whose body reveals the marks and signs of enlightenment itself. Hence, even with our superficial motivation, we can gain tremendous spiritual benefits. In fact, the more material resources we use to acquire it, the more merits acquired. The bigger the statue, the more causes for us to gain a Buddha body. The grander our offerings, the more resources we will have in the future to practice the Dharma. However, all is done according to our means of course.

dondrup

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #7 on: August 01, 2011, 07:31:12 PM »
I was told that as lay Buddhists, we should have an altar with representations of the Body, Speech and Mind of the Buddha. The representations and offerings should be the best quality that we can afford and making offerings is to collect lots of merits so it will fuel our spiritual transformation and eventually attainments. Why do we even need to do that? I was told never to bargain for Dharma items or offerings as it will demean our practice.

Also, isn't investing in expensive silver offerings bowls, butter lamps and gold Nepalese statues increasing materialism and desire, which is contrary to teachings on renunciation? Why do you guys think?

Every Buddhists setup their altars very differently.  We should strive to acquire the largest and the best representation of the Body, Speech and MInd of the Buddha.  We should strive to make the best quality offerings.  All these help us to eradicate miserliness, cultivate generosity and accumulate vast amount of merits.

The three representations of Buddha are perfect and their values are immeasurable. Bargaining for discounts shows the level of our mind.  When we bargain, we are degrading the value of these representations!

With the correct motivation of wanting to offer the best to the Buddha, Investing in expensive silver offering bowls etc does not make us more materialistic or increase our desires.

Helena

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2011, 09:15:04 PM »
At this day and age, with all the crazy distractions around us and let us not even mention the attachments we hold onto - we need altars to help us stay on the path, to remind us, to collect merits and to have something to look at - to keep us focussed on what it is that we must do for ourselves.

I find altars are very personal. As much as it reflects our personal status of our spiritual practice, it also reflects how we perceive our spiritual practice to be.

Over the years, our altars may change. Because our spiritual growth and practice have changed too.

Some altars are huge and impressive, because the individuals can afford them and they like to 'show off' in that sense.

Some altars are small and modest, because that's the best the individuals can afford.

Whatever and however our altars may look like, the most important thing is that we have done our very best for it because we have made it into our shrine of worship, aspirations and commitment of the highest degree.

It is not like some worldly goal, or lofty dream.

It is towards our highest dream, highest goal - Enlightenment.

I always find it a delight to see the various altars people have in their homes. It says so much about them, creatively and personally. The same applies to me.
Helena

Positive Change

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2011, 11:28:06 AM »
We as Buddhist or any other religion that practices the set up of altars, is done in my understanding, as a representation of the "divine" of which we would like to achieve. In Buddhism it is as Big Uncle has pointed out, the representation of Body, Speech and Mind of the Buddha and as such it should be given the due respect and reverence.

If we truly believe the altar represents the 3 jewels above, then any offerings, within our means is a wonderful opportunity to create merits for ourselves and our loved ones. Not to mention the wonderful seeds that will be planted on visitors to our homes!

samayakeeper

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #10 on: August 04, 2011, 08:06:50 AM »
On my altar, I have the best representations of the Body, Speech and Mind, and other offering items within my financial capability. It is a great practice for me to combat miserliness. I learned not to bargain for discounts for such items because I use them for purification practices and for generating merits. So, if I want to have some spiritual attainment, why should I ask for discounts when buying those items? I want full merits, not discounted merits.

I also learned not to criticize the quality of these items because they are made by people with different skills. If I go looking for such items and if I have to make a comparison, I would say, "this workman who crafted this piece is different from the other piece. I would like to have that piece."

Having an altar with such representations and offering items gives me the chance to do my spiritual practices at home because I cannot be at a dharma center daily. Having an image of a particular Buddha on my altar after I had attended a talk, puja, retreat etc helps me not to disconnect from the practice I learned.

Such items are representations and symbolism of the Great Beings who had gained realizations and achieved enlightenment and are objects worthy of refuge. They are not objects to 'pray' to.

hope rainbow

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2011, 04:15:27 AM »
Also, isn't investing in expensive silver offerings bowls, butter lamps and gold Nepalese statues increasing materialism and desire, which is contrary to teachings on renunciation? Why do you guys think?

Actually, I have seen some people who turned their altar into a materialistic pursuit of the best/most expensive statue and bowls ornate with gold and gems and displayed with pride and attachment to the objects more than to what they represent.
Some people also do it with the motivation of getting good fortune in return.
So is it wrong then?
Should those people stop adding more showy things to their altar?
What kind of karma are they collecting this way?

Essentially:
Should one rather not set up altars than set them up with tainted motivations and polluted thoughts?

Big Uncle

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #12 on: August 10, 2011, 02:59:42 PM »
Also, isn't investing in expensive silver offerings bowls, butter lamps and gold Nepalese statues increasing materialism and desire, which is contrary to teachings on renunciation? Why do you guys think?

Actually, I have seen some people who turned their altar into a materialistic pursuit of the best/most expensive statue and bowls ornate with gold and gems and displayed with pride and attachment to the objects more than to what they represent.
Some people also do it with the motivation of getting good fortune in return.
So is it wrong then?
Should those people stop adding more showy things to their altar?
What kind of karma are they collecting this way?

Essentially:
Should one rather not set up altars than set them up with tainted motivations and polluted thoughts?


That's precisely what I meant. However, it was mentioned earlier in the thread that it is still very beneficial that people with tainted motivation make these offerings to the 3 Jewels. Otherwise, the money would have been spent on further meaningless items and self-indulgence. I am sure there is merits or good karma when it is done in relations to the 3 Jewels. The offering alone would not transform their minds but it would plant certain seeds of enlightenment within their mind stream. Better that then nothing at all. However, when it is done with pure motivation, the merits would be tremendous.

ratanasutra

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #13 on: September 14, 2011, 01:09:35 PM »
this is  another skilful mean for us to collect merit and train our mind. As buddha does'nt want any offering and altar to be stayed.

when one have altar at home, is create good energy and enviroment. it the best fung shui to have in house.




Barzin

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Re: Why do we have altars?
« Reply #14 on: September 14, 2011, 03:35:32 PM »
As a Buddhist, having altar is actually to pay respect to someone higher, in this case of  course the Buddha, dharma and the Sangha.  Their images are also reminder for us to be motivated to achieve the qualities of the enlightenment being that we actually can achieve enlightenment.

It also work as a place for us to do our prayers/practice by focusing the images, our mind are not swaying and distracted knowing that our mind can be quite distracted.  Of course, the Buddhas and protectors do not need our offerings, expensive gold plated offering bowls, diamonds and silver.  It is actually a practice itself of our generosity.  We would offer up what we are attached to, by doing that we slowly letting go of things.  Simply because we want to offer the best to the Buddhas.

Also by having an altar, not only it blessed the environment, it'll bring peace and harmony and plant seeds into people's mind stream.  I always remember the story of the boy who offered sands to the Buddha and it is the most precious of all is our motivation and not the items that we are offering.