Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lesson 22 -The Flower Lesson

One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha's gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. . . . To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Lesson 21 - How to Create a Buddhist Altar

The Buddhist Altar is called a Butsudan. The picture I have on the top of this blog is a view of a traditional altar. Altars can be of whatever kind that you like. Please take the following as a guide but I believe an altar is more special when it is made with things that have specific spiritual meaning to you. You may place photos of family members. Many do this who are of the Amidism tradition as a form of ancestral worship/honor. Some place photos of their Guru. Altars can also be placed outside, this is very common in Japan and some parts of the Himalayas. Many believe making objects like statues carved from wood or clay bring good fortunes in the next life. So do what makes you feel comfortable in making that special place for you to sit and meditate and worship. Below are some concepts that may prove helpful and I hope interesting study. Happy Altar making!

~Buddhist Altar 101~

Having an altar in your place of meditation can be of help. Lighting the altar candle and offering incense can have the effect of quieting in the midst of a busy day and allow for focusing the mind before meditating.

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The Buddha on the altar is a reminder of the stillness and compassion found within meditation. Making the altar beautiful and joyful with flowers and incense encourages looking up within the concerns of everyday life.

Let the altar be as elaborate or as simple as is appropriate to your circumstances.

The elements of an altar are: a statue, picture or scroll of a Buddha or Bodhisattva; flowers or a plant; a candle; a water offering cup; and an incense bowl.

The flowers are usually arranged to show aspects of the Teaching:
A single flower to show the unity of all beings;
Three flowers to represent the Three Treasures;
Four to represent the Four Noble Truths; and so on.

Flowers represent the offering of our training and may reflect the season as a reminder of impermanence.

The candle is placed on the Buddha's left side (the right-hand side facing the altar). This represents the light of the Buddha's Teaching which comes from the Compassionate Heart of Buddha. For safety on a small altar, a night light or candle in a votive glass works very well.

The water offering cup placed in front of the Buddha symbolizes the cleansing power of meditation that converts greed, anger and delusion into compassion, love and wisdom. The cup is always kept full, symbolizing that the water of the spirit is always there.

The incense bowl stands in front of the water cup. This bowl should be filled with ash or sand and should be deep enough that lit sticks of incense inserted into it can stand upright. Incense is lit and offered before a meditation period or when you feel it might be useful to have a short period of recollection to ground yourself during a busy day.
The incense stick can also be used to time a meditation period. A five to six inch stick takes about 30 minutes to burn down.
The perfume of the incense permeates all corners of the room and thus symbolizes the power of the Teaching to reach and convert all forms of greed, hate and delusion.

*special note* Look for next weeks entry when I will break down in detail a traditional shinto home shrine altar.