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The offering of lights, flowers, food, fruit juice, incense, etc. in the name of the Buddha is yet another practice, the meaning of which some people fail to understand. Offering of such things to holy persons is in fact an oriental custom. Even during the Buddha's time, it was customary among Indian people to carry some flowers whenever they visited a holy person. This is only done as a mark of respect. Devout Buddhists likewise always offer something in the name of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. This symbolic act gives them a sense of happiness, peace, and relief.
At the same time, understanding Buddhists often use the same offerings as objects of their meditation. They are fully aware that these physical objects are simple representations of things spiritual. The flame of the candle or oil lamp and the flowers could each be compared to the physical body of life. The offering of light symbolises the dispelling of darkness or ignorance through light. The existence of the flame and its brightness, the beauty of the flowers, the aroma of incense and the final fading away of such brightness and beauty only to manifest their impermanence; hence all these natural phenomena could be taken up as suitable objects for meditation. The flowers on the altar represent one of the most beautiful and yet one of the most transient forms of nature.
These offerings symbolises meritorious deeds because of the wholesome and devout mental states they induce. Therefore time spent in a shrine room in offering some of these articles and reciting some verses is not at all wasted. The devotees' pious acts have the effect of pleasing themselves and calming the mind. It is good to start out daily work after offering some of these objects to the Buddha as a mark of respect to the holy religious teacher who has shown us the correct path for our peace, happiness, and salvation.
However, Buddhists should not be satisfied by simply offering something in the name of the Buddha, reciting in a parrot-fashion some verses or Suttas thinking that their duty has been done. To become good Buddhists, they have to do something more; they have to correct themselves by following the Buddha's advice. Try to gain more knowledge and understanding through His Teaching. One should not think that by just offering something to the Buddha, one's wrong doings can be eradicated.
Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre
Buddhist Society of Western Australia
Vesakha Day, 18 May 1997
Perth, Western Australia.