About-FestivalBuddhism Your Questions Answered (171 FAQ)

Q&A 75. Ancestral tablets

Q: Master Lu, we would like to invite ancestral tablets and a general tablet for ancestors from past generations to come down from the altar. Please advise us on the correct procedure. Thank you.

A: 

  • For photos of the deceased hung on the wall: Prior to inviting a photo down from the wall, recite and burn 21 Little Houses. Address the Little Houses to <full name of the deceased>. Ensure the 21 Little Houses have been completely burnt before moving the photos.
  • For ancestral tablets placed on an altar: Prior to inviting an ancestral tablet down from the altar, recite and burn 21 Little Houses. Address the Little Houses to <full name of the deceased>. Then recite the Great Compassion Mantra 7 times, the Heart Sutra 7 times, and the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance 7 times. After completing the recitations, say the following prayer: “May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva kindly have my ancestor protect and bless me, <your full name>. I will place your tablet on the altar and make offerings on the anniversary date of your passing (or other important occasions such as Tomb-Sweeping Day, etc.)” If you do not say the above prayer: you will likely experience misfortune as a result.
  • After you have invited the photo or the ancestral tablet of the deceased down from the altar, you can wrap it with red fabric and store it horizontally or flat in a clean and tidy place.

    You can take them out to pay your respect and make offerings on important occasions, such as the anniversary date of the deceased’ death, Ching Ming Festival (Tomb- sweeping Day), Zhong Yuan Festival (Ullambana Festival), Dong Zhi Festival (Winter Solstice), etc.

  • It is more complicated to invite a general tablet for ancestors from past generations to come down from the altar. You need to recite at least 21 Little Houses before you proceed. Address them to “Ancestors of <your full name> in the present life”.
  • Before you recite the Little Houses, you can say the following prayer: “May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva protect and bless me, <your full name>, help me to give these Little Houses to my ancestors in the present life so that they may rest in peace or be reborn into a higher heavenly realm.”
  • Then recite the Great Compassion Mantra 7 times, the Heart Sutra 7 times, and the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance 7 times. Afterwards, say the following prayer: “May the Greatly Merciful and Greatly Compassionate Guan Yin Bodhisattva kindly have my ancestors over the past generations protect and bless me, <your full name>.” Then you can wrap the tablet with red fabric and store it horizontally in a clean and tidy place for 6 months to one year before disposing of it.
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