The meanings of offerings to the Buddha

By Essence of Buddhism  
September 28, 2013

Here, we are offering the best of ourselves to something higher than us – so that we can one day, aspire to become like that too!

The act of offering is an act of dana – an act of generosity.  So it’s an emotional and physical expression of our reverence:

  • To the Buddha himself – the Perfectly Enlightened One
  • To the Dharma – the Truth – sometimes we place holy Sutras and Mantras on altars to pay our respects to the wisdom elucidated within those sacred teachings.
  • [To the Buddhist monks], To the Noble Enlightened Ones like the Bodhisattvas – like Gwan Yin Bodhisattva who is a symbol of Great Compassion

What sorts of things do we usually offer?

Flowers

Flowers are the most beautiful things in the world, so here, we are offering the most beautiful things in the world to the Buddha.  And when they fade, it is also a reminder that things of the world also fade – so it’s reminds us of the teaching that “Whatever is of the nature to arise is also of the nature to cease”.  But in general, we want to offer the most beautiful things in the world to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas anyway!

Candles

Here, we are offering the radiance of our own hearts and minds to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  Remember, Buddhism is the path of wisdom.  So we don’t want to offer dull, murky minds clouded over with all our problems and vices – we want to offer the brightness and wisdom of our own minds over to the Buddha!

Fruits

Beautiful fruits can be offered to the Buddha too.  When offering fruits, we want to offer the fruition of our Buddhist practices to the Buddha. This means that we practice – we walk the Buddhist path until we get some real skill in those practices that we undertake – in this way, those practices were not all in vain but will have borne fruit.

Incense

Incense can have a calming effect on the mind.  So when we offer incense we want to offer our own peace of mind to the Buddha.  We want to offer the Buddha a little bit more of the patience that we have shown in our daily lives to the Buddha, a little bit more calmness, a little bit more peace of mind.

Water

Water symbobilizes purity and clarity of mind.  So with pure water, we want to offer our goodness, we want to offer our virtue to the Buddha.  We don’t want the water of our own minds to be dirtied by the deeds that we have done, the thoughts that we have thought and the unwholesome words that we have spoken – so we try to refrain from burdening our hearts with unwholesome actions of the body, mouth and mind.  We want to offer a pure heart to the Buddha (or at least as pure as we can get it!).

Water also symbolizes clarity of mind – we want to offer a clear, bright mind to the Buddha.  We don’t want our minds to be like seething with anger (boiling water), we don’t want our minds to be infatuated by the desires of the world (water with beautiful dye in it but is not clear).  We don’t want our minds to be like cloudy or murky water or water that’s stagnant that harbours no life.  We want to offer clear, bright, pure, clean water that’s place in a bright place – so that the purity of the water can be seen right through it.  That’s the sort of heart and mind that we want to be offering the Buddha.

The Best Offering

So that’s the types of offerings that are in accord with the Dharma.  This explanation that I’ve just given you is how I personally see offerings – so I hope that it has been of benefit to you.

To finish off though, I would like to bring up perhaps the most important offering that we can give to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas – the offering of our own practice.  This means practicing the teachings of the Buddha – until you can get some skill, until you can get some accomplishment – this way, the Buddha’s teachings will be able to bear some fruit in your own life and you may be able to benefit others.

_____________________

With perfumed incense, made from fragrant substances,
I honour the Exalted One, worthy of respect,
Who dispels the darkness (of ignorance)

When we offer incense, flowers and lights to remind ourselves that just as all these things are impermanent, so too will our bodies fade away. These offerings help us to meditate on impermanence.

By Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda

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