About Buddhist AltarBuddhism Your Questions Answered (171 FAQ)

Q&A 171. Dedicated mini Buddhist altar for performing recitation

Q: A Buddhist practitioner has a designated table where he sits when performing recitation of Buddhist scriptures. Master Lu, you once mentioned that it is best if he can place a small image of the Bodhisattva on this table and offer incense when he performs recitation. May I know how to go about it?

A:

  • The table designated to performing recitation needs to be tidy. If you wish to enhance the efficacy of your Little Houses, prepare a small incense burner and use it to light an incense stick. Make an incense offering, then you can recite Buddhist scriptures and dot your Little Houses at this table. It will enhance the energy of Little Houses many times. It is a particular practice of Buddhism. I have been to the personal chambers of many highly virtuous monks. All of them have a mini Buddhist altar in their room where they place their scripture booklet, a small incense burner and a statue of Bodhisattva. For our practice, we worship Guan Yin Bodhisattva.
  • Placing a Bodhisattva statue is optional, but it is best to at least place an image of the Bodhisattva on this table. The size of the image can be six inches or similar to a small image of Bodhisattva blessed by Master Lu; it should not be larger than A4. The image should be placed upright on the table and should not be stuck to the wall. You may frame it and have a stand in the back to support it. Neither the table nor the image needs to be against the wall, unlike a formal Buddhist altar, where the image should always be placed against the wall.
  • It is best to lay a piece of red or yellow cloth beneath the image of Bodhisattva. When you are not burning any incense, you may use a brand-new red cloth to cover the image and incense burner.
  • When offering incense, firstly do so at the main Buddhist altar, preferably one incense stick for each Bodhisattva. If conditions do not allow, you may offer one incense stick in the burner in front of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Following that, offer incense at the small table. You may then choose to put the oil lamp on the main Buddhist altar out.
  • In the event that the incense on the small table has burnt out and the oil lamp on the main Buddhist altar has been put out, but you wish to continue offering incense to perform recitation, you may light up the incense for the mini Buddhist altar with a lighter. In this case, it is not necessary to offer incense at the main Buddhist altar.
  • A small table dedicated to recitation is the best alternative for those who do not have a formal Buddhist altar at home. Having such a Buddhist altar is always better than having none. All it takes is an image and an incense burner. With that, you will at least have a place for spiritual cultivation in your mind.
  • This mini Buddhist altar can be set up in the same room as the main Buddhist altar, or it can also be set up in any other room, as long as it is clean.
  • There is no need to put any cups or oil lamps on the mini Buddhist altar as it is not a formal altar. All you need is an image of Bodhisattva and an incense burner. Placing cups and oil lamps will make it a formal Buddhist altar, but in this case it is too small to be so.
  • Do not kneel or perform prostrations before the mini Buddhist altar. However, you may put your palms together to pay respect after offering incense and sit by this table to perform recitation.
  • If you are offering Little Houses, you should follow the standard procedure, which is to prostrate and pray at the formal Buddhist altar. It is not suitable to offer Little Houses at the mini altar, even if you do not have a formal altar at home. If that is the case, you may offer incense at the mini Buddhist altar first, and then follow the standard procedure of “Burning Little Houses without a Buddhist Altar”, that is, offering the “Heart Incense”.
  • This mini Buddhist altar should not be treated as a formal Buddhist altar. If you do not have the latter and wish to kneel, pray or offer Little Houses, you may set up a temporary Buddhist altar which has to be complete with incense burners, water cups, oil lamps, etc. A temporary Buddhist altar is not the same as a mini Buddhist altar.
  • You may wrap the Bodhisattva image and incense burner with red cloth and carry them with you when travelling. If you are staying in a hotel or similar places, you may set up a mini Buddhist altar on a table where you perform recitation. As the mini altar has been activated spiritually through your daily practice at home, it will be more efficacious than praying at other people’s Buddhist altars.
  • For Buddhist practitioners who return to their hometown during the New Year period or travel for business, if they wish to bow and pray, it is best that they bring along a photograph of their Buddhist altar at home and set up a temporary Buddhist altar complete with incense burners, water cups, oil lamps, flowers, fruits, etc.

If you do not wish to set up a temporary Buddhist altar, you may set up a mini Buddhist altar to offer incense when performing recitation. However, do not kneel or perform prostrations before the mini Buddhist altar. Moreover, if you are to pray or make vows, you still have to follow the “Heart Incense” procedure. The effect of a mini Buddhist altar is much worse than a formal one.

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