Q: Respected Master Lu, I am now following Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door. I have started reciting sutras and mantras, and learning Buddhism. However, I do not have a Buddhist altar in my home yet. Will my recitations still be as effective? I have learnt from your radio programs that we can offer the “Heart Incense” instead. Does offering the Heart Incense have the same effect as offering real incense?
- When you offer the Heart Incense, you first visualise the image of Guan Yin Bodhisattva in front of you. Next, visualise yourself performing the following steps: Light the oil lamp, take an incense stick and light it with the oil lamp, hold the incense stick upright with both hands, raise it with hands touching the forehead, and place the incense into the incense burner. Finally, visualise that you kneel and bow, and then pray. As you offer the Heart Incense, you are using your mind to connect yourself with the energy of Guan Yin Bodhisattva.
If you are limited by your living conditions and cannot have an altar in your home to pray to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or if you are on a business trip, on holidays or travelling away from home, you can offer the Heart Incense to pray to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as a sign of respect. By doing so, you can connect yourself with Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s energy, and ensure the quality of your scripture recitations.
- When you offer real incense, you should offer one or three incense sticks and pray to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. You can make incense offerings twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. Offering incense is a way to pay respect to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It is recommended for Buddhist practitioners to have an altar in their homes. If a person is unable to have an altar in their home, or experiences objections from family members, it is usually caused by their own karmic obstacles.
- If you offer the Heart Incense with sincerity, you will still be able to connect yourself with the energy of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
However, it would be much better to offer real incense in front of a real altar. On one hand, if you have just started practising Buddhism and find it difficult to control your thoughts and your mind, it is much better for you to focus your attention on physical statues or images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas than to try to control your scattered thoughts and visualise Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at the same time. It is also easier to connect yourself with the energy of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas when offering real incense. On the other hand, it would be a great blessing and a meritorious deed if you could have statues or images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in your home that you can constantly pray to. Your home could also be frequented by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and your family would be protected and blessed.
- It is important to act in accordance with your karmic conditions. When you do not have the conditions for setting up an altar in your home, do not insist upon it. As you progress along the path of cultivating your mind, and with the blessings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, you will naturally find a suitable location in your home to invite statues or images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas when the time is right. Therefore, do not cling to this matter when the conditions are not ready. As long as you sincerely recite sutras and mantras and practise Buddhism with diligence, everything will eventually work out for you.
If you are currently unable to have a Buddhist altar in your home, you can still perform recitations. As long as you recite with sincerity, it would still be efficacious.
- To learn how to sincerely pray and make offerings to statues and images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, please refer to Q&A 5: Placement of a Buddhist altar.