Do you know what the Buddhist Altar & Rosary Means?

Updated: Apr 26


A Buddhist Rosary Is Not a Tool to Protect From Evil. What Is The Connection Between Absolute Happiness

We use a rosary in Buddhism every time we join our palms together to show reverence to Amida Buddha. But what is a rosary really for? Is it a tool for protecting ourselves from evil? Is it just an accessory? If we know the real meaning of a rosary, then it becomes more significant for us.


In Pure Land Shin Buddhism, a rosary represents true faith. The beads in a rosary represent the 108 worldly passions. Just on their own, beads scatter and cannot be put neatly together in one place. It is only when a string has been put through all the beads that they become coordinated. The string represents "other-power faith," which is bestowed upon us by Amida Buddha. Even after we gain other-power faith and attain absolute happiness, our worldly passions do not increase or decrease. Rather, it is taught that our worldly passions turn to joy as they are. A rosary represents "passions turning to joy." This is the world of happiness attained through other-power faith. Master Rennyo, who was active in the Muromachi era, wrote in one of his letters,


"There are people who do not have Buddhist rosaries. If they worship Amida Buddha without rosaries, it is like strangling him. Master Shinran never taught us to discard our rosaries and press our hands together before Amida Buddha without them."


Master Rennyo warned us not to make light of Buddha by putting our hands together and worshipping Amida Buddha without a Buddhist rosary. This shows just how important a Buddhist rosary is. Therefore, we must always take care to place it in a case and never leave it by itself on a tatami mat or in a bag.


Summary

A Buddhist rosary represents the happiness attained through other-power faith (passions turning to joy).To worship Amida Buddha without a rosary is like strangling him; it means that you are making light of him. Therefore, Master Rennyo warns us not to do this.



The Healing Aroma of Incense Teaches Us Something Important in Buddhism


Nowadays, we see many varieties of incense sticks. Some people burn incense for relaxation or to enjoy the aroma, but there is a meaningful reason to burn incense when we sit in front of a Buddhist altar. Let us talk about the meaning of incense.


Some people are reminded of the aroma of incense when they hear the word "Buddhism". Incense is made from fragrant wood or grass and so generates a nice aroma when it burns. But why do we burn incense in front of a Buddhist altar?


Cleansing ourselves with incense

Amida Buddha, whose Name is displayed in the Buddhist altar, is the greatest buddha of all and the only buddha who will grant us absolute happiness. When we meet someone important, we take great care over our appearance—and in the same way, when at the altar, we use incense to cleanse ourselves and eliminate bodily smells out of courtesy to Amida Buddha.


To see our future with burned ashes

Furthermore, the cooled ashes of the burned incense remind us that we too will someday be cremated and become nothing but white bones. In this way, the incense is also there to make us contemplate impermanence.


Amida Buddha: The original master and original buddha (teacher) of all buddhas


Master Rennyo, who was active in the Muromachi era, wrote in his letter On White Bones that "[the once-familiar form] is taken to an outlying field, and when it has vanished with the midnight smoke, nothing is left but white bones."


Every day we run about desperately trying to get all our worldly tasks done, but the reality is that with each passing moment, we are getting closer and closer to the time when we will be reduced to white ashes (death). Life is over in the blink of an eye—and all that is left after we are cremated is a handful of ashes. We have to leave behind everything we earned and fought for in this life, such as wife, children, and possessions, and enter the afterlife all alone. But when we do journey into the afterlife, where will we go to?


The reason we were born as humans is to resolve this crucial matter of birth-and-death and attain eternal happiness. This is stated as the conclusion of the letter On White Bones in this way:

"We should all immediately take to heart the crucial matter of the afterlife, deeply rely on Amida Buddha and be saved."

Whenever we smell incense, we should reflect deeply on the impermanence of our lives and focus on our crucial matter of the afterlife.


*The Letters: Letters written by Master Rennyo



Summary

In Buddhism, incense is used for two reasons: to show courtesy to Amida Buddha and to prompt us to contemplate impermanence.

Rice for Buddha and Offerings Deepen your Bond with the Buddha


Through listening to Buddhism, we learn about the meaning of Buddhist practices that deepen our bond with Buddha. This month, we will learn about "rice for Buddha" and "offerings." The act of offering rice and sweets to Amida Buddha is a very important practice. "Rice for Buddha" is the rice served to Amida Buddha where Amida's Name is displayed in the Buddhist altar. We also place offerings of sweets and fruits at the altar.


Never skip it, even on a busy morning

To do this properly, the rice should placed in a rice holder immediately after having been cooked and then shaped to look like a lotus flower bud.


Then put the rice on a tray and bring it to Amida Buddha. Hold your arms up high so you don't breathe on the rice on the way. Everyone is usually rushing in the morning, but we need to place highest priority on what is most important for us, which is Amida Buddha. It would be a sad loss for us if we don't offer rice for Buddha in the morning.


Every day we keep ourselves busy, but let's think about why we work so hard. Buddhism teaches that the purpose of life is to solve the crucial matter of the afterlife and attain absolute happiness now, in life.


For us to attain absolute happiness, Master Shinran teaches that we must listen to Amida Buddha's Vow.


Chanting and serving both rice for Buddha and other offerings are incredibly important deeds if we are to encounter salvation by Amida. Therefore, we must make sure never to skip these.


We should take out the rice for Buddha after the evening's chant and share it with our family. People raised by Shinran Followers or family-owned temples sometimes say that they grew up on the rice for Buddha.


They rejoice at having been able to gain ties with Buddhism by eating the rice and offerings.


For offerings, serve rice cakes, sweets and fruits. We must avoid meat and fish as offerings to Amida Buddha since they are obtained by killing living beings. Whenever we receive fruits or sweets for children, we should place them in front of Amida Buddha first.


It is important to be mindful of Amida Buddha in our daily lives and pursue these important opportunities to deepen our ties with Amida Buddha.


Kuyou = Serving sweets, fruits, lights and flowers to Amida Buddha.



Summary

Serve rice to Amida Buddha every morning and avoid meat and fish as the offerings.

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