Building an altar?

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Building an altar?

Postby Individual » Mon Oct 25, 2010 3:12 am

What kinds of flowers and decorations are good for an altar?

I'm Zen, not Tibetan, so I keep it simple:

  • Buddha-statue from Wal-mart (cheaply made: its head fell off once :emb: and I had to glue it back on! :lol:)
  • Mirror, to practice mirror meditation, and symbolize Buddha-nature
  • Little Guan Yin
  • Little Maitreya

Wanted to add a little Manjusri, but the Tibetan Buddhist gift-shop didn't have one -- second time in a row. The stuff they did have (but didn't want) was too expensive anyway. Decided to put an athame I had from my Wicca days there, for Manjusri.

Right now, my flowers are plastic. :emb:

What's on your altar? (if you have one: not having one is OK too!)

It'd be helpful to know what flowers are good... Stuff like roses are nice, but they don't last very long and they're too expensive and it's too wasteful to keep replacing them all the time. What flowers and plants are good indoors for this purpose?

I don't believe in any kind of superstitions, but like a girl at school the other day said, it's good to keep stuff around the house to remind you of what you love. So, a lot of western people have a "family altar" (of photos) whether they call it that or not.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby catmoon » Mon Oct 25, 2010 4:11 am

Currently I have and Amitabha Buddha front and centre. I once said to my teacher that it's the wrong Buddha (it really should be a Shakyamuni) and she looked at me like I had lost my mind and said " the.. WRONG... Buddha????" the point being there is no such thing.

To the left, Dharma books. To the right, a stupa or something symbolizing one.

Below, candles, precious or semiprecious stones, water bowl(s), a snuffer/bell thingy, incense burners, flower vase and so on. Less stuff kept clean is better than loads of gear covered in dust.

For me, it functions as a reminder set. There are symbols of most of the things suffering beings lack, and of the best things in Buddhism. They are not my gods. Contrary to my teacher, I never treat a statue as an actual Buddha, in fact I pointedly maintain that my Amitabha is nothing more than a conveniently shaped rock that serves a purpose. Nobody home.

Nonetheless, the whole assemblage serves as a strong focal point, drawing the minds of all who pass by towards the Buddha and his rather amazing qualities. I really like the fact that there is but a single human figure and it is a serene and very natural looking Buddha.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby KeithBC » Thu Oct 28, 2010 4:58 pm

In the centre, there is a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. At the left is Guru Rinpoche. At the right is Kuan Yin. In between them, there is a small Milarepa, and a small Shakyamuni Buddha that was given to me by H.H. the Dalai Lama. I also have photos of the Mahabodhi Stupa at Bodh Gaya and Karma Thinley Rinpoche.

At the front, I have the traditional seven water bowls and lamp.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Individual » Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:58 pm

KeithBC wrote:In the centre, there is a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. At the left is Guru Rinpoche. At the right is Kuan Yin. In between them, there is a small Milarepa, and a small Shakyamuni Buddha that was given to me by H.H. the Dalai Lama. I also have photos of the Mahabodhi Stupa at Bodh Gaya and Karma Thinley Rinpoche.

At the front, I have the traditional seven water bowls and lamp.

Any flowers or plants?
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby fragrant herbs » Thu Oct 28, 2010 10:31 pm

Individual wrote:
KeithBC wrote:In the centre, there is a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. At the left is Guru Rinpoche. At the right is Kuan Yin. In between them, there is a small Milarepa, and a small Shakyamuni Buddha that was given to me by H.H. the Dalai Lama. I also have photos of the Mahabodhi Stupa at Bodh Gaya and Karma Thinley Rinpoche.

At the front, I have the traditional seven water bowls and lamp.

Any flowers or plants?


i think you can add any flowers you like or a potted plant. if you don't wish to buy flowers you can get some from your garden or find a pine tree in the winter or other winter hedges. at least that is what i feel, not what i know. i tend to not like plastic flowers, but that is just me. you can add fruit too.

i hope someone can answer better than me. but this winter i plan on using ever green foliage if i can find and reach it. but does one really have to have flowers or plants?

right now i have a photo of buddha, a statue of kuan yin, a vase of flowers, a lamp, and a bowl of rice with incense sticks in it.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby ball-of-string » Thu Oct 28, 2010 11:16 pm

Individual wrote:Buddha-statue from Wal-mart (cheaply made: its head fell off once :emb: and I had to glue it back on! :lol:)

My Buddha Rupa was a gift purchased from Avon. :tongue: I have two elephant candle holders, and the whole thing sits on a small quilt. Everything was gifted. I also have my favorite Dharma books sitting nearby.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 29, 2010 12:30 am

Urgyen Chodron wrote:
Individual wrote:
KeithBC wrote:In the centre, there is a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. At the left is Guru Rinpoche. At the right is Kuan Yin. In between them, there is a small Milarepa, and a small Shakyamuni Buddha that was given to me by H.H. the Dalai Lama. I also have photos of the Mahabodhi Stupa at Bodh Gaya and Karma Thinley Rinpoche.

At the front, I have the traditional seven water bowls and lamp.

Any flowers or plants?


i think you can add any flowers you like or a potted plant. if you don't wish to buy flowers you can get some from your garden or find a pine tree in the winter or other winter hedges. at least that is what i feel, not what i know. i tend to not like plastic flowers, but that is just me. you can add fruit too.

i hope someone can answer better than me. but this winter i plan on using ever green foliage if i can find and reach it. but does one really have to have flowers or plants?

right now i have a photo of buddha, a statue of kuan yin, a vase of flowers, a lamp, and a bowl of rice with incense sticks in it.

I just think they look nice and it feels like a way of honoring it.

I don't like the idea of daily offerings because I don't know how to do it, I would be an idiotic westerner if I tried to replicate it, and because I think it's a superstition

Flowers are a different way of honoring the Buddha. Because you associate the Buddha with beautiful things in nature.

In the past, I did used to light candles and incense daily, but that was a bit costly, and I wondered how good it really was.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Tatsuo » Fri Oct 29, 2010 10:00 am

I have a Statue of Amida in the centre and Jizo, Kannon, Monju, Fugen and Fudo Myo-o in the front. But i don't have any flowers, i just offer incense from time to time.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Huifeng » Fri Oct 29, 2010 10:18 am

Individual wrote:What kinds of flowers and decorations are good for an altar?


An altar can be a nice idea, very positive part of one's house or room. :twothumbsup:

I'm Zen, not Tibetan, so I keep it simple:

  • Buddha-statue from Wal-mart (cheaply made: its head fell off once :emb: and I had to glue it back on! :lol:)
  • Mirror, to practice mirror meditation, and symbolize Buddha-nature
  • Little Guan Yin
  • Little Maitreya


Although actual price isn't that important at all, the effort that we make in setting up the altar is important. If you can only afford this now, no problem. But see if you can find some more enduring images in the future!

Wanted to add a little Manjusri, but the Tibetan Buddhist gift-shop didn't have one -- second time in a row. The stuff they did have (but didn't want) was too expensive anyway. Decided to put an athame I had from my Wicca days there, for Manjusri.


You could always put a copy of Prajnaparamita there for Manjusri. Many altars use the idea of images of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha: A buddha image (statue or picture), the Dharma in sutra, and the Sangha in pictures of great teachers, past or present.

Right now, my flowers are plastic. :emb:


Again, if that is all you can find, it is the thought that counts. But if you can even (legally!) pick some flowers near your home, then that is better.

What's on your altar? (if you have one: not having one is OK too!)


A couple of jade Buddha images, two Guan Yin's, flowers, censer, two oil lamps, and the usual Dharma instruments.

It'd be helpful to know what flowers are good... Stuff like roses are nice, but they don't last very long and they're too expensive and it's too wasteful to keep replacing them all the time. What flowers and plants are good indoors for this purpose?


Depends on where you are. One good idea is to actually have potted plants, that one can water and keep fresh. Just remember to trim / prune. And make sure they get enough light and air.

I don't believe in any kind of superstitions, but like a girl at school the other day said, it's good to keep stuff around the house to remind you of what you love. So, a lot of western people have a "family altar" (of photos) whether they call it that or not.


Exactly. These are just prompts for the mind, and it is easier to train the mind when some external item is there. As Sakyaputra and Sakyaduhitra, an altar is also a "family altar", too, the preservation of the Buddha gotra.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby fragrant herbs » Fri Oct 29, 2010 4:46 pm

i thought this was nice as said by Buddha.

I lay no wood, Brahman, for fires on altars,
Only within burneth the flame I kindle.
Ever my fire burns, ever composed of self
...and the heart is the altar;
The flame thereon--this is a man's self well tamed."
Now I don't quite understand this verse, but I did like that it said that "the heart is the altar," and so I think whatever you put on your altar if you do it with your heart, you are safe. From the book I am reading, it mentions that the sacrafice of one's own self is what Buddha recognizes. But I had my own twist to it.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:10 pm

Huifeng wrote:Again, if that is all you can find, it is the thought that counts. But if you can even (legally!) pick some flowers near your home, then that is better.

I never even thought of that. :shock:

Yes, if I walk through the forests nearby, there definitely can be beautiful wildflowers. Free and they would look nice... But wouldn't I be causing environmental harm? Imagine if everybody just picked wildflowers like that. There would be none left.

:namaste:
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:14 pm

Urgyen Chodron wrote:i thought this was nice as said by Buddha.

I lay no wood, Brahman, for fires on altars,
Only within burneth the flame I kindle.
Ever my fire burns, ever composed of self
...and the heart is the altar;
The flame thereon--this is a man's self well tamed."
Now I don't quite understand this verse, but I did like that it said that "the heart is the altar," and so I think whatever you put on your altar if you do it with your heart, you are safe. From the book I am reading, it mentions that the sacrafice of one's own self is what Buddha recognizes. But I had my own twist to it.

He is burning fetters\hindrances within the mind (internal rather than external), which are composed of various forms of self-view. The "heart" could also be called "mind," (the place where dharma practice actually happens) but physically the heart is also the place we most frequently experience painful emotion. In a related point, Nirvana is called "snuffing out," (of the flame) because when there are no more fetters, the flame no longer needs to be kindled.

So, for a person who goes around thinking, "I have reached Nirvana!" his fetters can easily spin out of control because he gives up tending the fire, thinking he has already reached the goal.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Oct 30, 2010 3:59 am

Urgyen Chodron wrote:i thought this was nice as said by Buddha.

I lay no wood, Brahman, for fires on altars,
Only within burneth the flame I kindle.
Ever my fire burns, ever composed of self
...and the heart is the altar;
The flame thereon--this is a man's self well tamed."


Now I don't quite understand this verse, but I did like that it said that "the heart is the altar," and so I think whatever you put on your altar if you do it with your heart, you are safe. From the book I am reading, it mentions that the sacrafice of one's own self is what Buddha recognizes. But I had my own twist to it.


This is coming from the ancient distinction between the householder who keeps the sacrificial fire in the home, as opposed to the renunciant who has internalized the sacrificial fire through the winds into themselves.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby swampflower » Wed Nov 03, 2010 9:44 pm

Plastic flowers are ok, maybe silk flowers would be an upgrade from plastic , silk flowers are made of natural substance and look almost like the real thing.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby spiritnoname » Thu Nov 04, 2010 10:19 pm

Why would a Zen person need an altar?

There are 2 kinds of altars lay people keep in their house:

- Knickknack altars littered with every little think people pick up that reminds them of Buddhism, Big kuan yin here, little Shakyamuni there, maybe a tara or ho tei. These kinds of altars are basically the change bowl where you through your keys, pens and pocket change of Buddhism.

- Practice altars. These are set up for practices like making offerings, Buddha Shakyamuni is in the middle, Yidam's flanking him, bodhisattvas flanking them, support deities flanking them. + a book and stupa.

No matter what kind of altar you have you should keep it clean and organized, present things properly and respectfully always because your altar reflects and influences your mind.

I have rose bushes outside my house, at times of the year I have a constant supply of roses. Used to have gladiolas too, but they were dug up.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby spiritnoname » Thu Nov 04, 2010 10:23 pm

"This is my altar. There are many like it but this one is mine. My altar is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my altar is useless. Without my altar I am useless."

:rolling:

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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Individual » Thu Nov 04, 2010 10:57 pm

Spiritnoname, some advice (don't take this negatively): You should put the books below the Buddha or somewhere else.

Or if those are put there intentionally, put something else besides books. Or at least make sure that the books are carefully chosen, not just whatever you've come across at this point.

Also, if you do use candles, make sure they're properly secured (make sure cat or dog won't knock them over) and that they are at least several inches away, especially directly above the candle.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby ball-of-string » Thu Nov 04, 2010 11:15 pm

Hmm... in the OP you seemed to diminish the importance of an alter, but then advise if someone else's is not up to snuff. What are your credentials for such assessment?
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby spiritnoname » Thu Nov 04, 2010 11:54 pm

Individual, I'm from Manjushri lines, books go on top, statues don't teach you Dharma, texts and teachers do, they go on top. Those books and binders are all respectable Dharma or practice texts. I have more Buddhist and yoga books but they aren't worthy of going up there.

hehe, my dogs are so small, they can't reach it at all, very sturdy shelves.
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Re: Building an altar?

Postby Individual » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:47 am

ball-of-string wrote:Hmm... in the OP you seemed to diminish the importance of an alter, but then advise if someone else's is not up to snuff. What are your credentials for such assessment?

None, just a friendly observation I thought might be useful and truthful. :)

What I said about candles, for instance, is nothing esoteric; it's to prevent a fire hazard.

spiritnoname wrote:Individual, I'm from Manjushri lines, books go on top, statues don't teach you Dharma, texts and teachers do, they go on top. Those books and binders are all respectable Dharma or practice texts. I have more Buddhist and yoga books but they aren't worthy of going up there.

hehe, my dogs are so small, they can't reach it at all, very sturdy shelves.

I see. Good. :)
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