Shrines may be large, elaborate and formal, or quite simple and basic; they can be found in both private houses and in monasteries.
It is usual to have a Buddha image as the centre piece of a shrine, and this may be a physical model, a picture, or a symbolic representation of the Buddha — such as a model of the bodhi-tree or his footsteps.
Traditionally however, there are additional embellishments such as candles, incense, and flowers.
It is usual to have the Buddha image at the highest point of the shrine, with the candles, incense and incense-containers, and flowers placed lower down on either side.
These items are to be regularly ‘offered’ to the shrine (as explained later), each particular offering having a symbolic value, representing sīla, samādhi, and pannā (morality, concentration and wisdom).
Siila or morality is symbolised by the flowers because they have a fragrance and beauty reminiscent of someone living a good, virtuous life.
Incense symbolises samādhi or concentration – the measureless composure of the mind. Just as incense smoke can go everywhere, so the composure of the mind extends throughout consciousness.
Candles represent pannā or clear vision – understanding, the light of wisdom.
Additional items can be a picture of a teacher, or articles of personal significance such as stones and crystals, pieces of moss or similar natural objects. Images of teachers should be placed on a lower level than that of the Buddha.
A shrine serves as a focal point for the mind, a reminder and representation of the qualities we so respect and revere. Just sitting in the presence of a Buddha image, or before a shrine can bring much peace. This effect is enhanced by one’s activities of offerring to, and caring for a shrine.
Offering to a shrine
When offering to a shrine, the same basic principles apply throughout. Although flowers and candles are light in weight, when offering any of these, it is usual to hold them in both hands whilst placing them on the shrine. It is another way of showing respect by giving complete attention to the act.
The incense, lit from a candle and held between the two hands placed palm to palm, is raised to the forehead, the head being slightly bowed to meet the hands; the incense is then placed in the incense container, and a final gesture of añjali to the shrine completes the offering. One may then bow three times, as is explained later.
To extinguish lit candles, it is considered more gracious to use a candle snuffer or to fan them with a sharp downward movement of the hand rather than to blow them out.
At all times it should be remembered that making an offering to the shrine, to the Buddha, or to a respected teacher, is doing something special, and the whole procedure should reflect one’s respect and reverence.
Caring for a shrine
Apart from keeping a shrine tidy and clean, if the mind is very upset and restless, it can be very soothing to mindfully take the shrine down and clean every artefact that is there – an act of devotion, mindfulness and concentration which brings the mind once again to peace and greater equanimity.
Редакция перевода от 12.08.2022 19:40