Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Prayer alters

can you tell me about your altars and what they are used for?

This is too general a question, and quite unusual too.

Buddhism, being a very tolerant, adaptive, and accommodating religion, has been practised by the various races and nationalities according to their different traditions and customs. This means that you will find altars of various shapes and sizes, according to which country you go to.
The Chinese use very elaborate and finely crafted altars, usually with inlaid mother-of-pearls design. They are of the standard heights, but some higher. The Thais use altars of lower heights; also very elaborately crafted with gold coloured paint or covered with gold wafers. They are of course very Thai in design. The Burmese and the Sri Lankans also have their differing unique designs. And so are the Tibetans and the Japanese. All are very beautifully and elaborately crafted. Who knows, the Westerners may come up with their different versions!
The purpose of an altar is the same as with all altars, that is, to provide space for putting or displaying all the paraphernalia of a person's religion, and to worship in front of it. In a Buddhist altar you will find the Buddha images, urns for incense/joss-sticks, water bowls, candle holders, oil bowls for lights, vases for flowers, and other related things. These paraphernalia vary in shapes and sizes, even the Buddha image.
I have a very simple altar in a small recess in my home. The Buddha image occupies the centre stage, with 2 smaller Buddha images below it. In front of the Buddha image, I place a small bowl of water, to reflect the purity of the Buddha and his teachings. That's all. Very tidy and simple.
The main rituals will of course be conducted in front of the altar. The religious objects and symbols are just "objects and symbols" which we reflect on their qualities of purity and their meanings and messages. Because they are holy or wholesome objects, we treat them with respect and reverence.
If you really want to know the different types of altars, you will have to visit the various temples of the different traditions, and see for yourself. No amount of description and explanation can do justice to this exercise.
Please bear in mind that these Buddhist altars are for devotees to perform their "Buddhist" rites and rituals according to their respective traditions and customs. The universal message of the Buddha transcends race, nationality, space, and time.
His message:
1)Avoid committing evil
2)Perform good and wholesome actions
3)Train the mind so that one can commit oneself to lead a noble and dignified life

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