Oct 22, 2009

The Altar

My Altar

The Butsudan
The butsudan (Japanese: Buddha House) is the cabinet where you enshrine your Gohonzon to protect it. The butsudan or cabinet is usually made of wood. It can range from a simple, plain design to elaborate finishes and hardware. Every believer should endeavor to keep the butsudan dusted and clean and make it an attractive place for the Gohonzon.

Evergreens symbolize the "property-of-action", the Buddha's enlightened physical property or his compassionate action and the potential to form a correct relationship with the environment that allows us to manifest our Buddha nature. The evergreens are used to adorn the space before the Gohonzon, which is eternal and supreme. Therefore, they should be something symbolic of permanence and purity.

A cup of fresh water is placed before the Gohonzon each day prior to morning gongyo, it is removed just before evening gongyo. Traditionally water was offered as something of great value in the hot country of India where Buddhism began. It also has the property to purify. After being offered, the water may be put into another cup and then consumed.

Fruit or other non-animal foods can be another offering to the Gohonzon. The food may be consumed after it has been offered to the Gohonzon. Cooked food, such as rice, is sometimes offered on special occasions, such as New Year's Day. When offering food, we ring the bell three times, place our palms together and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo three times as a gesture of deep gratitude and appreciation.

Candles stand for the truth of non-substantiality or the latent potential of life. They also represent the property of wisdom or the Buddha's enlightened spiritual property and they symbolize the potential wisdom to become aware of our innate Buddha nature. Since it extinguishes darkness and makes all things visible, light expresses the Buddha's property of wisdom and his wisdom itself so we also have expressions like "Light of the Law," "Light of the Buddha," and "Light of Wisdom." Burning candles thus also signifies incinerating earthly desires and the sparking of the flame of wisdom in the Buddha nature. Symbolically, the light (candle) signifies the light of the Buddha's wisdom.

Parents of small children may prefer to use battery operated candles or avoid lighting candles.

Incense represents the truth of the Middle Way, the essential property of the Buddha's life or the property of the Law, and the potential of our innate Buddha nature. One to three sticks of incense are burned in a flat position so as to help engender a feeling of serenity before the Gohonzon. The incense burner is placed in the center of the altar, and incense is burned from left to right. Incense serves to create a fragrant atmosphere and is burned in front of the Gohonzon during morning and evening gongyo. The Great Teacher T'ien T'ai wrote, "No color, nor fragrance is not of the Middle Way." This indicates that all things encompass the True Aspect of the Middle Way, as well as elucidates that the fragrance of incense includes the virtues of the Buddha of the Law Body of the Middle Way. Thus burning incense, while spreading fragrance throughout the room, also signifies, through the fragrance's spreading throughout the environs, the universality of the realm of the Law of the Buddha's property of the Law. although stick incense is used most of the time, powdered incence is used under certain circumstances, such as funeral and memorial services.

Parents of small children or those with allergies may prefer not to use incense.

The ringing of the bell during gongyo serves to offer a pleasing sound to the Gohonzon and life. It should therefore not be sounded jarringly, but in a way that is pleasing to the ear. There is a specific pattern of bell ringing in the course of the morning and evening recitation of the sutra (gongyo). It is described in the sutra book, The Liturgy of the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin. If you live in an apartment complex or with others, be careful not to ring the bell so loudly that it might disturb them.

Prayer Beads

The prayer beads are a traditional accessory. The basic number of beads is 108, which is said to represent the number of earthly desires which common mortals have.
When we use beads during Gongyo, the end of the figure eight, with the two strands, is place over the third finger of the left hand. The end with the three strands, over the third finger of the right. They lie on the outside of the hands, which are placed together with palms and fingers touching each other.
Although traditional meaning has been assigned to the various parts of the prayer beads, they have no special power and are not an essential part of the Buddhist practice.

Sutra Book

Practice for ourselves is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo each morning and evening along with reciting Gongyo (two chapters of the Lotus Sutra).

Study Material
Nichiren Daishonin taught that study is an important part of the practice. In the "True Entity of Life" he wrote, "Believe in the Gohonzon, the supreme object of worship in the world.... Exert yourself in the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism. You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others. Both practice and study arise from faith. Teach others to the best of your ability, even if only a single sentence or phrase. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." MW Vol. I, pg 89.

There are three fundamentals in the practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. Faith, Practice and Study. Faith means to believe in the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws, when you first begin this is just hope that it will help your life. Practice means to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo yourself and to teach others. Study means to study and understand the Buddhist teachings. Among these three, faith is the most fundamental for the attainment of Buddhahood. Faith gives rise to practice and study, and practice and study serve to deepen one's faith.

Source: SGI-USA


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