Guide to setting up an Buddhist Altar


22/08/2021 |    

Master Jun Hong Lu’s
Public Talk
Sydney, Australia
5 September 2010

When paying respect to the Buddhas, offering flowers will improve your appearance, and offering oil is good for our eyesight and for gaining wisdom. Some wise people suggest children spend their pocket money in buying a bottle of oil as an offering to the Bodhisattva and to pray for more wisdom. Offering water can ease and calm our mind while also helping us eliminate greed as water doesn’t cost anything. Many people are even attached to the offerings made to Bodhisattva. A novice Buddhist practitioner will feel secure once they offer water to Bodhisattvas. Their mind will be as pure as water. Therefore, if one prays for a sense of security, it’s best to offer water. The water offered on the altar needs to be changed every day. Furthermore, offering fruit can help you to achieve what you wish at a sooner time if you pray for something specific. For example, if you pray for a smooth career path or job security, offering fruit such as oranges and apples could speed things up, so you’ll get the outcome sooner. Offering fruit makes the wishes of a kind-hearted person come true sooner. For evil people, even though they make fruit offerings, karmic retributions come due earlier, too. The severity of the karmic retributions would be reduced if they take place earlier, which is better than suffering harsh retributions at a later stage. This is the law of cause and effect.



5.4 About oil offering

Offering oil to Bodhisattvas can improve your hearing, eyesight and wisdom

Buddhism: Your Questions Answered  Q87
(An excerpt)

Question: When offering oil in the Guan Yin Citta Practice Centre, should we place a bottle of oil in front of Bodhisattva, or add oil to the oil lamp?

Answer: Making offerings of vegetable oil to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will result in improved eyesight, hearing and wisdom.

Generally, vegetable oils such as olive oil, canola seed oil, corn oil, and lotus oil can be used for oil offerings.

Sesame oil, peanut oil, or any oil with an aroma should not be used for oil lamps, as oils with an aroma are considered impure. Their strong aroma would overpower the scent of the sandalwood incense. They are not suitable for offerings to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Soybean oil is too concentrated and won’t burn easily, thus unsuitable for oil offerings.

After removing the packaging and the label, you can offer the entire bottle of oil before the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the altar. This would be considered an oil offering, too.

However, the best way of making oil offerings is to light oil lamps and refill the oil lamps with the oil that you wish to offer. You should refill the oil lamps frequently by adding a small amount of oil every day, just as you would with offerings of fresh flowers, fruit and water.

Ensure that the oil that has been offered to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas must not be used to cook non-vegetarian dishes. We can consume the fruit and water after offering them to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas directly. But for the oil that we offered, it has to be cooked before consumption. For example, you may use the offered oil to cook vegetarian dishes.

When you make oil offerings in a public place, for example, at the Guan Yin Citta Centre, you can bring your own bottle of oil to fill up the oil lamps on the altar. Afterwards, you can take the bottle home and use the remaining oil for vegetarian cooking. Do not offer shortening to Bodhisattva.


Wenda20110417 32:15
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Shortening often contains animal fat. Animal by-products can never be used as offerings to Bodhisattvas.


It is best to add vegetable oil to oil lamps

Wenda20110415 15:10
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: I use sesame oil in my oil lamp. It produces heavy smoke. Please take a look for me, Master.

Master Lu: It is best to use canola oil, vegetable oil or sunflower oil. Don’t use sesame oil. Is this what you use?

Caller: Yes.

Master Lu: Don’t use it. It is best to use vegetable oil.

Caller: How about olive oil?

Master Lu: That’s okay but vegetable oil is best.


It is best to use a thin oil for an oil lamp

Wenda20130111 25:40
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: If the lamp wick can’t be lit easily, what might be the reason?

Master Lu: The lamp wick might be too far from the oil. Add more oil, and it’s best to use thin oil.


It’s not advisable to light candles

Wenda20121228 28:45
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: Should we not light candles?

Master Lu: In Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door, we don’t encourage people to light candles. If you light candles, that’s not a problem, but we don’t encourage this. Candles are normally for deities or immortals in the Underworld, or for certain spirits. Oil lamps are used for praying to heavenly beings. They both use fire, but oil lamps are for Heaven, and candles are for beings in the Underworld.


If the bottled oil has been opened and consumed, can we use it in the oil lamp?

Wenda20120722A 51:23
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: The bottled oil has been opened and used in the kitchen. Can we still use it in an oil lamp?

Master Lu: Only temporarily, or under restricted circumstances. However, this is not very respectful. For example, if the oil dedicated to offering runs out and you haven’t had the chance to stock up yet, you can use the one from the kitchen. Inform Bodhisattvas first before adding the oil to the oil lamp. It is unacceptable to share the same bottle of oil between the altar and the kitchen regularly.


Oil used for offering can be used to cook vegetarian dishes

Wenda20140606 08:25
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: A lot of practitioners give oil to local Guan Yin Citta Centre for oil offering purposes. Some of the oil is not the same as what we normally use for oil lamps. What should we do with it?

Master Lu: As long as it is vegetarian oil, it can be used as offering to Bodhisattva. If you find it not suitable to be used for oil lamps, place the oil bottle in front of the altar for a short while, and give it to other practitioners and let them bring home and cook with. It can only be given to vegetarian practitioners.


Prayer when making oil offerings

Wenda20160501A 10:00
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: Master, how should we say our prayer when adding oil to the oil lamp? Any Buddhist scriptures we should recite?

Master Lu: No need to recite scriptures. If the oil lamp is for each Bodhisattva in particular, such as Guan Di Bodhisattva, you can say, “Guan Di Bodhisattva, XXX (Your name) is now adding oil to the oil lamp, may Guan Di Bodhisattva protect and bless me with safety and good vision.” Or “Nanjing Bodhisattva, today XXX (Your name) is adding oil to the oil lamp, may Nanjing Bodhisattva protect and bless me with good eyesight.” You can say the following to each Bodhisattva, “bless me with good eyesight”, as adding oil itself could benefit the practitioner with good eyesight and wisdom.


Number of oil lamps on the altar

Wenda20160501A 08:19
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: Master recently advised that it’s best to offer an oil lamp to each Bodhisattva on the altar, so there will be four oil lamps altogether. If conditions permit, it is best to have six oil lamps, including one for Zhou Tsang Bodhisattva and one for Guan Ping Bodhisattva. Can Master please elaborate?

Master Lu: I will give you an explanation. If the altar is too small, then one oil lamp will do. If the altar is slightly bigger, you can offer two oil lamps in total to all Bodhisattvas. If there’s still space, offer a total of four oil lamps, one each to Guan Di Bodhisattva, Guan Yin Bodhisattva, Nanjing Bodhisattva and Tai Sui Bodhisattva, respectively. This way, there’ll be one oil lamp offered to each Bodhisattva. In the past, in a very small temple with only one incense burner, all Bodhisattvas worshipped in the temple can receive the incense offering by a worshipper. That’s the idea. To make it symmetrical, you can place two oil lamps on each side of the incense burner. If there’s enough space, why wouldn’t you place four oil lamps?


It’s okay to use oil lamps made of glass

Shuohua20131018 04:36
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt


<Lotus flowers on an oil lamp>

When the wicks of oil lamps form the shape of lotus flowers, Bodhisattva must have visited

Wenda20120420 01:02:41
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: When the wicks of oil lamps form the shape of lotus flowers, does it mean Guan Yin Bodhisattva have visited?

Master Lu: No, it could be other Bodhisattvas or Dharma Protectors. However, it must be a Bodhisattva from Heaven.


Do not be obsessed with the scenes of lotus flowers on oil lamps or incense curling

Wenda20120914 06:09
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt


Don’t trim the lotus flowers on the oil lamp

Wenda20131013B 19:25
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: Master, is it correct that we shouldn’t touch or trim the lotus flowers formed by the wicks of the oil lamp, but light the oil lamp up as usual?

Master Lu: That’s correct. Don’t trim it.

Caller: If I light the oil lamp up as usual, the lamp wick will spark, producing black stains on the altar and on the oil lamp.

Master Lu: Just leave it, it’s okay for it to spark. Don’t touch it or trim it anyhow.


<About extinguishing an oil lamp>

The oil lamp should be extinguished before the incense; never leave it lit all day long

Wenda20120122 79:05
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

You’ve invited Bodhisattva. It’s disrespectful if the incense is burnt out but the oil lamp is still lit.

Avoid lighting the oil lamp without offering incense, as this would attract spirits.


What if we forget to extinguish the oil lamp?

Wenda20130818B 48:55
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: Sometimes I forget to extinguish the oil lamp after offering morning incense. Do I need to recite Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance in this case?

Master Lu: No need. It won’t be a problem if you didn’t do anything inappropriate in between.

Caller: No, I didn’t. I noticed the oil lamp was still lit after I returned home. Thus, I felt a bit uncomfortable.

Master Lu: If you felt uncomfortable, you can recite Qi Fo Mie Zui Zhen Yan 49 times.


Order of lighting and extinguishing the oil lamps on the altar

Wenda20160828B 03:10
(Master Jun Hong Lu’s call-in radio program)
An Excerpt

Caller: There are four oil lamps on the altar. In what order should I light them?

Master Lu: Light up the one for Guan Yin Bodhisattva first, followed by Nanjing Bodhisattva, the Tai Sui Bodhisattva and Guan Di Bodhisattva.

Caller: I see. How about the order in which we extinguish it?

Master Lu: Extinguish the ones in the middle first.

Caller: Should I follow the same order as I lit them?

Master Lu: Yes, it should be the same.


Don’t blow out the oil lamp with your mouth

Excerpt from Master Jun Hong Lu’s Dharma Talk in Sydney, Australia, 5 September 2010

There are a lot of defilements in our breath. Indigestion problems will cause bad breath. Paying respect to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and reciting Buddhist scriptures are ways to communicate to the Buddhas with our energy field. Therefore, never blow out the oil lamp with your mouth. How come Buddhist monks in the temple can do so? As they have been vegetarian all their lives, their body and mouth are cleaner than a layperson. Strictly speaking, that’s not advisable, either. It is best to extinguish it with the oil lamp lid. The oil lamp will be put out very soon.