wei wu wei wrote: ↑Mon Feb 21, 2022 11:56 pm
Do you feel any pull towards setting up an altar that is in keeping with your tradition (e.g., a more Tibetan altar would look pretty different from a Zen altar)? Or do you go more universal or simply go with personal preference? What happens if you've changed traditions--do you feel any need to re-align your altar with your new tradition? Should one try to keep an altar in line with their tradition or simply go with whatever inspires them?
I don't have much space, so I try to keep mine small and simple. I offer incense and light, because for various reasons food and water offerings are not very convenient or feasible for me. It's also not very oriented to a specific tradition; I don't even have an icon of Amitabha, despite affiliating myself with Amitabha devotional practice. (This is for personal/internal reasons, which would take too long to explain and would result in me going way off-topic, but I will say that I am often confused by a lot of stuff in Mahayana, and for me my devotional practice is a form of upaya for cultivation of certain positive traits/habits.)
In any case, unless your tradition is rather sectarian or exclusivist, you can pretty much go with what inspires you. Remember that Shakyamuni didn't really want icons made of him, and that for a long time Buddhism was in fact an aniconic tradition. But, it is human nature to make icons, as a way to remember and contemplate the Buddha and his admirable qualities; we are, after all, very visual creatures. If you want to cultivate compassion and love, icons of Amitabha and Guan Yin can be skillful additions; if you admire certain teachers, such as the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh, displaying photos of them will help you to remember what qualities of theirs that you wish to emulate. I've seen online Zen stores that sell not just namarin and mokugyo, but also various icons and offering implements. The only traditions I know of that ask their followers to keep a very "orthodox" altar are Nichiren Shoshu and SGI, which unlike Nichiren Shu don't even encourage icons of Shakyamuni Buddha on the altar, or ihai/ancestor veneration on the gohonzon-butsudan.
In the end, it depends on the purpose of your altar. I try to practice non-attachment, loving-kindness, and contemplation of impermanence, in addition to nembutsu to Amitabha and gratitude to Shakyamuni. My altar serves my needs. If you practice a more meditative tradition, it would be most skillful for your altar to facilitate the meditative process. If you practice in a more esoteric tradition such as Tibetan Vajrayana or Shingon, your altar will probably have many ritual implements, icons, etc. on it and need more surface space. And, if you are Nichiren, you'll probably have your gohonzon, your juzu, and your butsugu around a slim butsudan.