Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Ikkyu » Tue Jun 12, 2012 8:21 am

If so, how is the altar set up in Zen? Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan or altar? What rituals are performed at the altar? Etc...?
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby jundo cohen » Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:09 am

Ikkyu wrote:If so, how is the altar set up in Zen? Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan or altar? What rituals are performed at the altar? Etc...?


Hi.

Well, I cannot even speak for all Soto Zen Buddhists, let alone all Zen Buddhists, however ...

Traditionally, in Japan, there is a home altar, but the emphasis is decidedly on "ancestor worship" (for want of a better term) for dead parents and grandparents who are in "transition", although that is not the only symbolism in the altar. Here is a description from the official Soto-shu page in Japan ...

http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/com ... altar.html

As far as I am concerned, any Buddha or Bodhisattva Statue in a quiet corner of a room can be an altar. Incense optional (it can cause cancer like any secondary smoke, or at least, trigger allergies). Since our core Practice is Zazen, it is good to just have the altar in the room where one sits. One could also do other practice in front of the altar, such as reciting the Heart Sutra, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, Metta (a South Asian practice we adopted in our Sangha) and such, but that is up to the individual's feeling.

Now, when I say "Buddha Statue in a quiet corner of the room", I would like to emphasize that such need not be what we might think of as a "Buddha Statue" ... for in what form, and in what corner, is a Buddha limited?

When I do ceremonies, I usually grab anything that strikes my heart ... As a personal Practice, often when I lead a ceremony or sitting for a group, I replace the Buddha statue on the altar with whatever comes to mind ... sometimes a car tire, a dirty diaper, a trash can, an open space, a flower, a rock. Other times, I just bow to the statue that is there. Once, after the Afganistan war started, I replaced the statue with 3 photos ... Mother Theresa, George Bush and Osama bin Laden. That really upset some folks in the group (admittedly hard to see "Buddha" sometimes).

But, you know, what isn't the Buddha, where is Buddha not found? And for me, if you think I degradate the Buddha by replacing him(her) with a trash can, or that I raise up the trash can in praise, you miss the point I think.

Gassho, Jundo
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Anders » Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:57 am

I have a home altar. I find it helps to have a 'sanctified' or ritualised space where there are clear boundaries - Sit here and the demands are firm: Mindfulness and careful choreograph to express it.

I have a Buddha, a Samantabhadra,a Manjushri, a female guanyin and an Avalokiteshvara engraved in a glass cube. The latter is the only one I am somewhat attached too. I dropped it within a few days of purchasing and a large chunk broke off. The line where it broke however is almost impossible careful to avoid the engravings of Avalokiteshvara himself. Almost as if to say 'you can break the glass all you like, but not me'. And besides that, a few candles and an incense burner.

As for the dance/rituals I perform - I start out sitting with hands in anjali, and pay homage to these three bodhisattvas and the perfections they represent(guanyin/avalokiteshvara gets double up because he's a buddy) by bowing and calling out "Namo [name] Bodhisattva" . Then three similar homages to the Buddha Amitabha as a way to hedge my bets at the time of death. And finally, a homage to the Buddha Shakyamuni to express my gratitude.

Then I chant the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum (the mantra of guanyin), for at least 110 times (the number of beads in my mala string) since this is the Samaya I have pledged to myself to do every day, or for however long it takes to 'work', whichever is longer, and finish it all off with a few sharply incantated "Om Arapacana Dhih" (the mantra of Manjushri). Then I recall the joyous wish that all living beings may be happy and free and dedicate whatever merits I may have accumulated to the fulfilment of said wish. And after that, I enact the ritual of still sitting as my minds opens to a different kind of meditation. The enacting of said ritual goes a long way towards stilling the mind as well, generally a satisfactory endeavour.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jun 12, 2012 10:16 am

Here's someting traditional from Japan.
Image
http://www.sotozen-net.or.jp/ceremony/m ... /obutsudan

Like Jundo said, in modern Japan one of it's uses is ancestor worship. In the above image you can see two pinky purple objects either side of the buddha image. These are memorial tablets, miniature tomb stones if you will. http://global.rakuten.com/en/store/butu ... em/kaisho/
But this set up is mainly for worshipping the Buddha & Buddhadharma. On the bottom shelf you have your practicals (bell, juzu, liturgy book, incense and matchstick disposal and mokugyo.
The next shelf has the three standard offerings: flowers, incense burner & candle.
The next shelf up has further offerings of food stuffs; rice, cakes, tea & fruit.
The top shelf is the main Buddha image, sometimes a scroll, somtimes a statue.

The set up varies from sect to sect and then varies still in the west. Most western home altars tend to be a lot more simple.

Hope that helps.

Gassho,
Seishin.
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Matylda » Tue Jun 12, 2012 11:04 am

Seishin wrote:Here's someting traditional from Japan.
Image
http://www.sotozen-net.or.jp/ceremony/m ... /obutsudan

Like Jundo said, in modern Japan one of it's uses is ancestor worship. In the above image you can see two pinky purple objects either side of the buddha image. These are memorial tablets, miniature tomb stones if you will. http://global.rakuten.com/en/store/butu ... em/kaisho/
But this set up is mainly for worshipping the Buddha & Buddhadharma. On the bottom shelf you have your practicals (bell, juzu, liturgy book, incense and matchstick disposal and mokugyo.
The next shelf has the three standard offerings: flowers, incense burner & candle.
The next shelf up has further offerings of food stuffs; rice, cakes, tea & fruit.
The top shelf is the main Buddha image, sometimes a scroll, somtimes a statue.

The set up varies from sect to sect and then varies still in the west. Most western home altars tend to be a lot more simple.

Hope that helps.

Gassho,
Seishin.


The next shelf up has further offerings of food stuffs; rice, cakes, tea & fruit.

One can see, that in the middle on the special stand is KAKOCHO an open book divided into 31 parts [here book is opened like for the ceremony, but actually it is closed if not used], where are written names of deceased ancestors and relatives, according to the day of death. if it was 15th of the month one writes the name in the section 15, if 8th then in the section 8, and in prayers if it comes to particular day one does either special offering for that particular person/-s or includes the name in dedication of merits.
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jun 12, 2012 11:45 am

Matylda wrote:One can see, that in the middle on the special stand is KAKOCHO an open book divided into 31 parts [here book is opened like for the ceremony, but actually it is closed if not used], where are written names of deceased ancestors and relatives, according to the day of death. if it was 15th of the month one writes the name in the section 15, if 8th then in the section 8, and in prayers if it comes to particular day one does either special offering for that particular person/-s or includes the name in dedication of merits.


Thanks for the clarification Matylda. I didn't notice that book. :smile:

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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Matylda » Tue Jun 12, 2012 12:01 pm

Seishin wrote:
Matylda wrote:One can see, that in the middle on the special stand is KAKOCHO an open book divided into 31 parts [here book is opened like for the ceremony, but actually it is closed if not used], where are written names of deceased ancestors and relatives, according to the day of death. if it was 15th of the month one writes the name in the section 15, if 8th then in the section 8, and in prayers if it comes to particular day one does either special offering for that particular person/-s or includes the name in dedication of merits.


Thanks for the clarification Matylda. I didn't notice that book. :smile:

Gassho,
Seishin



:) my pleasure
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Ikkyu » Tue Jun 12, 2012 4:36 pm

jundo cohen wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:If so, how is the altar set up in Zen? Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan or altar? What rituals are performed at the altar? Etc...?


Hi.

Well, I cannot even speak for all Soto Zen Buddhists, let alone all Zen Buddhists, however ...

Traditionally, in Japan, there is a home altar, but the emphasis is decidedly on "ancestor worship" (for want of a better term) for dead parents and grandparents who are in "transition", although that is not the only symbolism in the altar. Here is a description from the official Soto-shu page in Japan ...

http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/com ... altar.html

As far as I am concerned, any Buddha or Bodhisattva Statue in a quiet corner of a room can be an altar. Incense optional (it can cause cancer like any secondary smoke, or at least, trigger allergies). Since our core Practice is Zazen, it is good to just have the altar in the room where one sits. One could also do other practice in front of the altar, such as reciting the Heart Sutra, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, Metta (a South Asian practice we adopted in our Sangha) and such, but that is up to the individual's feeling.

Now, when I say "Buddha Statue in a quiet corner of the room", I would like to emphasize that such need not be what we might think of as a "Buddha Statue" ... for in what form, and in what corner, is a Buddha limited?

When I do ceremonies, I usually grab anything that strikes my heart ... As a personal Practice, often when I lead a ceremony or sitting for a group, I replace the Buddha statue on the altar with whatever comes to mind ... sometimes a car tire, a dirty diaper, a trash can, an open space, a flower, a rock. Other times, I just bow to the statue that is there. Once, after the Afganistan war started, I replaced the statue with 3 photos ... Mother Theresa, George Bush and Osama bin Laden. That really upset some folks in the group (admittedly hard to see "Buddha" sometimes).

But, you know, what isn't the Buddha, where is Buddha not found? And for me, if you think I degradate the Buddha by replacing him(her) with a trash can, or that I raise up the trash can in praise, you miss the point I think.

Gassho, Jundo


Interesting. Now, I've also heard the Buddharupa should be above one's head when standing. Is this necessarilly true?
"Nothing can be known, not even this."
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Ikkyu » Tue Jun 12, 2012 4:39 pm

Seishin wrote:Here's someting traditional from Japan.
Image
http://www.sotozen-net.or.jp/ceremony/m ... /obutsudan

Like Jundo said, in modern Japan one of it's uses is ancestor worship. In the above image you can see two pinky purple objects either side of the buddha image. These are memorial tablets, miniature tomb stones if you will. http://global.rakuten.com/en/store/butu ... em/kaisho/
But this set up is mainly for worshipping the Buddha & Buddhadharma. On the bottom shelf you have your practicals (bell, juzu, liturgy book, incense and matchstick disposal and mokugyo.
The next shelf has the three standard offerings: flowers, incense burner & candle.
The next shelf up has further offerings of food stuffs; rice, cakes, tea & fruit.
The top shelf is the main Buddha image, sometimes a scroll, somtimes a statue.

The set up varies from sect to sect and then varies still in the west. Most western home altars tend to be a lot more simple.

Hope that helps.

Gassho,
Seishin.


How often do the flowers, food and other non-incense offerings need to be changed?
"Nothing can be known, not even this."
-- Arcesilaus (but I'm not sure)
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jun 12, 2012 4:44 pm

Ikkyu wrote:How often do the flowers, food and other non-incense offerings need to be changed?


I think that depends on your particular school. I think rule of thumb would be to change the water everyday, and only change the food before it goes bad. So uncooked rice will last longer than cooked, but some schools stipulate you must use cooked rice. Flowers only need replacing before they wilt. Some schools even use artificial flowers.
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jun 12, 2012 4:48 pm

Ikkyu wrote:Interesting. Now, I've also heard the Buddharupa should be above one's head when standing. Is this necessarilly true?


Again, as far as I'm aware it depends what your particular school says, but most schools prefers the Buddharupa to be the upper most on your butsudan and should be above your head whilst sitting for meditation.

Gassho,
Seishin
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby jundo cohen » Tue Jun 12, 2012 5:07 pm

Seishin wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:Interesting. Now, I've also heard the Buddharupa should be above one's head when standing. Is this necessarilly true?


Again, as far as I'm aware it depends what your particular school says, but most schools prefers the Buddharupa to be the upper most on your butsudan and should be above your head whilst sitting for meditation.

Gassho,
Seishin


Hi,

I am of the "no up or down" school, with Buddha not limited to any of the 10 Directions.

For practical purposes, when sitting Zazen or performing a ceremony, the altar may be high. However, truly, it is not a matter of up or down and the "sacred altar" is all around, in every place, when seen as such.

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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jun 12, 2012 5:09 pm

jundo cohen wrote:I am of the "no up or down" school, with Buddha not limited to any of the 10 Directions.

For practical purposes, when sitting Zazen or performing a ceremony, the altar may be high. However, truly, it is not a matter of up or down and the "sacred altar" is all around, in every place, when seen as such.

Gassho, Jundo


Sure, as I said, it varies from school to school. :smile:

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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Ikkyu » Tue Jun 12, 2012 6:38 pm

Seishin wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:Interesting. Now, I've also heard the Buddharupa should be above one's head when standing. Is this necessarilly true?


Again, as far as I'm aware it depends what your particular school says, but most schools prefers the Buddharupa to be the upper most on your butsudan and should be above your head whilst sitting for meditation.

Gassho,
Seishin


I'm sorry for throwing all these questions at everybody. But I can't sem to find the answers elsewhere.

So is it okay to remove the Buddharupa after prostrations/meditation and put it in storage until the next use? Is this disrespectful?
"Nothing can be known, not even this."
-- Arcesilaus (but I'm not sure)
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Matylda » Tue Jun 12, 2012 7:31 pm

Ikkyu wrote:
Seishin wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:Interesting. Now, I've also heard the Buddharupa should be above one's head when standing. Is this necessarilly true?


Again, as far as I'm aware it depends what your particular school says, but most schools prefers the Buddharupa to be the upper most on your butsudan and should be above your head whilst sitting for meditation.

Gassho,
Seishin


I'm sorry for throwing all these questions at everybody. But I can't sem to find the answers elsewhere.

So is it okay to remove the Buddharupa after prostrations/meditation and put it in storage until the next use? Is this disrespectful?



Actually if you have a real butsudan it is consecrated place in special ritual. Then one does not move it at all. If you have temporary place for worship, then it is up to you. There are portable altars as well, they are moved around.

But once butsudan is consecrated one does not move it, but rather focuses its duties and services towards the representation of 3 jewels.

1There are special ways to take care. Yes buddha is above the eyes. In Japan where in the past people set on the floor the main figure was not very high, but still above the eye level.
2. Water change everyday.
3. Candies, or fruits could stay no longer then 3 days.
4. Cooke food is taken away after the meal is finished.
One can eat it or put out for animals.
5. Uncooked rice etc, is never used in Japan regardless of the denomination. That kind of food is offered only for dharmapalas like Daikoku, Bishamon, Dakini, etc. together with alcohol, salt on separate altars, mostly in the kitchen or close to entrance. But it is not necessary to have an extra altar.
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Seishin » Tue Jun 12, 2012 7:44 pm

On a practicle note, the Buddharupa is more likely to be damaged if you keep moving it. I have a traditional travel altar similar to this:
Image
http://global.rakuten.com/en/store/butu ... ri-soutou/

It folds up and is no larger than a small book. Pretty nifty! :smile:

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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Wesley1982 » Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:45 pm

Everyone's style is unique and reason why they built it is different. I installed a Orthodox Christian prayer corner with a small library and allow quality Buddhist books to be part of the education/learning curriculum.
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby jundo cohen » Wed Jun 13, 2012 4:41 am

Seishin wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:How often do the flowers, food and other non-incense offerings need to be changed?


I think that depends on your particular school. I think rule of thumb would be to change the water everyday, and only change the food before it goes bad. So uncooked rice will last longer than cooked, but some schools stipulate you must use cooked rice. Flowers only need replacing before they wilt. Some schools even use artificial flowers.


Hi,

Although a lovely practice for many (and we have flowers on our Altar too, next to the wooden statue ... or tree branch or empty space or old tire depending on the day ... ), and I fully celebrate and encourage (for what it is worth) anyone who does find meaning and beauty in such practices, I wonder at the actual purpose and feeling and philosophy behind offering food and flowers to Buddha in their hearts. Why?

What is more, WHO is undertaking this offering, and WHO is there to receive, and WHAT is there to be given or received?

I am curious as to what, in peoples' hearts, is the meaning of offering a bowl of rice or tangerines at the altar with a Buddharupa? There is nothing wrong ... certainly not in Zen anyway ... with doing something for no purpose, or with sincerity beyond right and wrong. But I am wondering if people have some thing that they feel they are doing when they do this.

I often put flowers, which add life and color anywhere, from a Zendo to a hospital room to a funeral room. However, no real need (in my heart anyway, and that is all it is) to serve the Buddha a snack.

I am all for creating a sacred space, by the way, a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of mundane, dusty life. All these Practices of making a quiet room, an altar, putting flowers, food and incense, can help us mentally to mark out such a space and the sacred feeling. However, it is also vital to see the "sacred space" all throughout this world ... in the city streets, the junk yard, the child's nursery, the battlefield, the crack house, the mountain top ... the places where people meditate and the places where people suffer and are in need of saving.

Gassho, Jundo
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Berry » Wed Jun 13, 2012 7:01 am

However, it is also vital to see the "sacred space" all throughout this world ... in the city streets, the junk yard, the child's nursery, the battlefield, the crack house, the mountain top ... the places where people meditate and the places where people suffer



Absolutely :anjali:
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Re: Do Zen Buddhists use a butsudan/altar?

Postby Seishin » Wed Jun 13, 2012 9:12 am

Perhaps Jundo, that question should be posed in another thread :smile:

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