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  • Writer's pictureLama Jigme Gyatso

Buddhist Altar Advice

In the Dhammapada we could learn that it is better to spend an hour in meditation than to squander a lifetime tending a sacred flame. And we could infer that the Buddha valued spiritual practice far more than ritual. But could there any use for an altar?

My Tibetan teachers explained that earth gazing could be sedating, sky gazing could be stimulating, and horizon gazing could be rather stabilizing. Therefore my altar is nothing more than a second-hand end-table with a small box, upon which perches my statue of the Buddha. I chose that box to better adjust the height of the statue that it’s face may be at my eye level when I sit in meditation. That sounds pretty Spartan. Is there anything else?

Before the box (upon which rests the statue) I burn a tea light, to the left of that is a Vajra and bell (a remnant of my earlier training as a tantric fundamentalist) and a potted plant. Is there benefit to the presence of the Vajra, Ghanta, and plant: occultly powerful and metaphysically significant? No, I just feel they look pretty there, in front of the picture window overlooking the fern outside.

It is the business plan of many a company to sell pseudo-spiritual chachkies to the earnest and gullible. And it is also the strategy of those who are rigid and literal-minded to promote ritualism for it drags fear and elitism in its wake making their acolytes all the more easier to control.

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