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Q&A 5. Placement of a Buddhist altar

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Q: Could Master Lu advise on the basic requirements and areas of concern regarding the placement of a Buddhist altar in the home from a Buddhist perspective? Thank you!


The basic requirements for Buddhist altar placement in the home are as follows:

  • The altar must not be near a toilet (the toilet door should be closed at all times).
  • The altar must not directly face the kitchen.
  • The altar must not be placed on top of the television, refrigerator, or directly below an air conditioner. If it is close to the television or in an untidy environment, you can use a cabinet with a wooden door for the altar.  When you are not offering incense, you can close the door. When you are offering incense, do not switch on the television. You should also not cover the statues or images of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas with a glass dome.
  • You should not place the Buddhist altar in the bedroom of a couple (the bedroom of an elderly couple may be acceptable).
  • You can place the Buddhist altar in single bedrooms, but the foot of the bed should not face the altar.
  • You should not place the altar on a balcony extending out from the building (i.e. not attached to the ground). However, if the balcony is inside the building then it would be fine, e.g. sunroom.
  • All statues and images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as other Dharma instruments, including incense burners, oil lamps, etc. should not be placed on an extended fixture (jutting out over empty space). In other words, there must be tables, cabinets or frames, etc. that are connected to the ground to hold up the items.
  • The best location to make offerings and pray to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is near a window where it is bright. The back of the Buddhist altar should not be facing a window. The altar must be placed against a wall, and there should not be any mirrors in its surroundings.
  • Do not place unrelated objects or books underneath the altar. Sutras and Dharma instruments would be alright.
  • The altar should not be too high or too low. It would be best if the statues or images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on your altar are slightly above eye level (if they are too low, you can place something, such as a nice box, underneath to raise their height).
  • On the altar, there should be oil lamps (refilling the oil lamps with oil can improve your eye health), and water (one cup of water for each statue or image of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The water should be changed daily. Do not drink the water directly from the cup used for offerings).
  • There should be a burner for the offering of incense. You can make an incense offering once in the morning and once at night. The time for incense offerings should be kept consistent. The best times for the morning offerings are 6am, 8am and 10am, and the best times for night offerings are 6pm, 8pm and 10pm.
  • It is best not to have too many statues or images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the altar.
  • If conditions allow, you can make offerings of fresh fruit (allowing wishes to come true more quickly) and fresh flowers (offering fresh flowers can improve your physical appearance). Generally, fruit and flower offerings should be made once a week.
  • The best location for the altar is sitting south and facing north (for the Southern Hemisphere), or sitting north and facing south (for the Northern Hemisphere). However, if your current living conditions do not allow you to place the altar facing these directions, then other directions are also acceptable.
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