Altar adornments





  1. Why is a home altar necessary?
  2. A home altar is needed because it becomes the center of all home activities, and also because it enshrines the image of Amida Buddha who gives us deliverance from illusions and sufferings. The altar is there to teach us the compassion of Amida Buddha and is not for the enshrinement of ancestors.

    There are some who erroneously say that there is no need for a home altar because no death has occurred in the home. Actually , a home without an altar is a home without solidarity, for a family that worships together enjoys a beautiful and harmonious life of true happiness.

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  3. When did the custom of having home altars begin?
  4. In the 14th year of Emperor Tenmu (685) an Imperial Edict was issued wherein each household was encouraged to build an altar with a dais where a Buddha-image and a Sutra could be placed so that family worships could be held. However, at that time, according to old records, only a few households followed the edict and it was not until the Edo period that home altars became general because the Tokugawa Shogunate pursued the policy of altar in every home as a means of coping with the spread of Christianity in Japan.

    In Jodo Shinshu the tradition of placing the Buddha-name scroll in homes actually had already started at the time of Shinran Shonin and this became well established prior to the general trend in society as a whole. The altars in the homes of Nembutsu followers of course are not for the worship of ancestors but are placed there in order to make it the center of home activities and also in praise and requital for the compassion of Amida Buddha.

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  5. How should we take care of the Buddha image?
  6. In Jodo Shinshu, Amida Buddha alone is worshipped. There are three types of images; the scroll bearing the Name (Namo Amida Butsu in six Kanji characters), a portrait of Amida Buddha on a scroll, and a carved wooden statue.

    The image should be received from the Hongwanji, and enshrined in the center of the home altar. It is customary to hold a special service commemorating the enshrinement. Thereafter, the altar must be maintained with loving-care and the family should worship together every morning and evening.

    Images
    Image (Portrait of Amida Buddha) and the scrolls on both sides of Buddha


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  7. There seems to be other Buddhas enshrined in a temple altar. Will you please explain this for me?
  8. In Jodo Shinshu temples, there is only one Buddha within the altar and this is Amida Buddha. The other scrolls flanking the Buddha image are those of Shinran Shonin and the Patriarchs who devoted themselves towards the propagation of the Nembutsu as is taught in the Buddha-dharma . Please look at the diagram below for the arrangement. It should be noted, however, that there may be some differences in arrangements depending upon temple conditions.

    E
    ba
    c
    de
    fg
    CAB
    D
    Side AltarMAIN ALTARSide Altar

    A
    B
    C
    D
    E
    -
    -
    -
    -
    -
    Amida Buddha
    Shinran Shonin
    Rennyo-shonin
    Prince Shotoku
    Seven Patriarchs
    a
    b
    c
    d
    e
    f
    g
    -
    -
    -
    -
    -
    -
    -
    Ryuju (Naganjuna)
    Tenjin (Vasubandhu)
    Donran (T'an-luan)
    Doshaku (Tao-cho'o)
    Zendo (Shan-tao)
    Genshin (Eshin)
    Genku (Honen)

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  9. Are temple adornments given to the Buddha as offerings, or are they meant for viewing?
  10. It is a natural desire to enrich and adorn the Buddha out of sincere reverence and respect. The adornments, then, are expressions of our gratitude to the blessings of the Buddha. However, once the altar has been adorned this becomes the Buddha's instrument to nurture within our hearts the desire to hear the Dharma. Therefore, essentially the adornment would not have a front and back sides but in practice they usually face the worshippers.
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  11. Why are candlelights and flowers offered?
  12. Candlelights
    Candlelight
    Ever since the discovery of fire man has advanced along the path of evolution at a fast pace and in his Consideration of light as being invaluable to life he has always held it as being indispensable in rituals. In Buddhism, light is cherished as the symbol of Buddha's wisdom inasmuch as light drives away the darkness of ignorance and embraces and nurtures all without discrimination. The light in the altar awakens us to our ignorance and gives us the wisdom to live courageously and in serenity.

    The custom of offering flowers or strewing them about the place of worship in order to beautify the altar originated in India. The flower symbolized 'ksanti', forbearance, and stands for harmony and unity of all. Let us embrace the beautiful and delicate flowers as the spirit of harmony within our hearts and gratefully respond to the compassion of Amida Buddha.

    Offering flowers (Hongwanji)


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  13. What kind of flower shall we use as floral offerings to the Buddha?
  14. Any flower in season may be used as floral offerings to the Buddha. However, poisonous, thorny and those with offensive odors should be avoided. If there are vases for the upper and lower tables to your. altar, it is customary to place evergreens in the vases on th.e upper table.

    Artificial flowers are not offered.

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  15. Is it not improper to make floral offerings of cut flowers because these, too, are living plants?
  16. Of course we must respect all lives. And yet is it not a contradiction that we must depend upon them for life and eat the flesh of animals and find beauty in flowers that we have cut?

    If floral arrangements are made to enhance the room, if food must be eaten, then let us do so by first making ourselves humble before the Buddha. This is where awareness begins.

    I believe you are deeply sensitive, and I hope that you will nurture your spitit carefully and gratefully. Let us respond with our gratitude to the Buddha who with compassion gives us deliverance despite our sorrowful inconsistency of killing in order to live.

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  17. Why is an offering of rice made, and when should it be taken down?
  18. offering of rice
    Offering of rice (Hongwanji)
    The offering of rice is an expression of dana. Dana means offering and sharing and has two aspects; that is, material offering and Dharma offering. Both are very important in Buddhism.

    Our life is made possible by what others share with us. Therefore, our offering of rice is placed before the altar every morning and in turn we receive this as our food from the Buddha with gratitude.

    In general, the rice offering is taken down before noon, but it is permissible to do so while the rice is still warm.

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  19. Shinshu does not restrict one to vegetarianism. Then is it permissible to make an offering of fresh fish to Buddha?
  20. Both temple and home altars represent the splendor and beauty of the Pure Land and are the centers of our lives. Do not make offerings that have offensive odors. The altar should be kept clean, beautiful and pure at all times.
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  21. Is it permissible to make offerings of salted salmon and wine that are received as gifts?
  22. In Jodo Shinshu ordinarily only rice offerings are made, but on special occasions such as Shinran Shonin's Memorials other offerings are made; usually rice cake (mochi), candy or fruits. We should definitely not make offerings of fish, meat, wine (sake) and tea served in cups. We ask that the traditional and set way of offerings be followed.

    However, when other gifts are received and we wish to express our thanksgiving, these may be placed by the side of the altar but must never be considered a part of the altar adornment.

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  23. Why are lotus flowers so often used in Buddhist adornments?
  24. Lotus-flowers in the pond The lotus flower is frequently mentioned in relation with the Pure Land in the Sutras, so it can be said that lotus is a Pure Land flower. In some Sutras those who are born in the Pure Land are symbolically said to be born from a lotus flower. Again, the Pure Land has been called the storehouse realm of lotus flowers.

    Even though the roots of the lotus may be in muddy bottoms it bears beautiful flowers untainted by the filth of the pond. In the same way, we, the lustful and imperfect beings, through the compassion of the Buddha are given the joy of faith in the Primal Vow and thus reach enlightenment. For these reasons the lotus flower is used as a sacred flower in Buddhist services.

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