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Care of the Buddhist Altar


         The Gohonzon is the entity of Nichiren Daishonin’s life , the true Buddha of the last day of the Law.

Getting the Gohonzon is like welcoming the Buddha to your home , so you have to keep it in the best place in order to let the Buddha sit down. The Buddhist altar or “butsudan” puts up the Gohonzon , which is the fount of happiness and prosperity for you and your family from now onwards. Try to find a place which is consistent with your sincere feeling for the Gohonzon.

However , there is no need to be whacky or to spend more than you could really afford to. As you  realise  the greatness of the Gohonzon , you will want to make worthy the place chosen for the Gohonzon. As for the accessories for the altar , at least you should have a little pot for the plants , some incense and a candle holder. Moreover you might have a bell , a glass of water and an item for the offerings.

Q: Why do we offer the water , plants and incense to the Gohonzon

A: The offerings to the Gohonzon are an importan expression of our faith and they should never be taken for granted. .The most important thing in making such offerings is our desire to express our gratitude for the Gohonzon . Cleaning the altar and offering fresh water every day , making offerings of plants or fruit , lighting the candles and burning incense while we do Gonghyo  and chant daimoku are all forms of praising the Gohonzon and make worthy the place where it is set .The offering of candles , water , incense ecc. represent the devotion to the three treasurers : the Buddha (NICHIREN DAISHON) , The Law (NAM MYO HO RENGHE KYO of the thre great secret Laws) and the priest (NIKKO SHONIN).

You can both use a couple of candles and pots for the plants , either a candle and a pot for the plant. The triad of plants,candles and incences has got several symbolic meanings , among them the three Truths , the three Properties and the three Potentials belonging to the very nature of Buddha. As for the three Truths , incense represents the very essence of Buddha’s life , or the property of the Law , the candles represent the enlightened spiritual property of the Buddha  , or the skill of wisdom , the plants symbolise the enlightened physical property of the Buddha  , or the property of the compassinate actions . As for the three potentials belonging to the Buddha , incense represents the inborn Buddhahood , the candle the wisdom to sense it and the plants the ability to build up a relationship with the environment  , which allows us to reveal our inborn enlightened nature. The  tradition of water offering dates back to India , the birthplace of Buddhism . Since India is a really hot country , water has always been regarded as a very precious commodity and it was usually offered to the guests. By extension it was later offered in Buddhist graves and sanctuaries.

 A bowl of fresh water is being offered to the Gohonzon every morning before the ceremony and is being taken away before the evening ceremony.

Q: Could you explain me the  meaning and the right use of the Juzu ? I was told that you should have it by every time .Is it true ?

A:  The juzu is an accessory for the prayer used during Gonghyo and daimoku . The Jutsu has got 112 beads , apart of  those of the strands . These 108 beads represent 108 earthy desires and the 4 guides of the Bodhisattvas (according to some Buddhist commentators the number of our illusions and earthy desires adds up to 108. The Bodhisattvas represent the four vitues of the Buddha : true self , eternity , purity and happiness ). This means that by accepting the Gohonzon , and devoting ourselves to the chanting of NAM MYO HO RENGHE KYO , we can transform our illusions and our sufferings from the neverending past into joy and enlightement.

The Japanese word Jutsu means nothing but “  number of beads “ . It is also called “nenju” ; nen means wondering or keeping in mind . This means that when we are in front of the Gohonzon , the Jutsu helps us to keep in mind the three Treasures.

When we use the Jutsu , the ending with the three strands must be set around the middle finger of the right hand  , whereas the other one must be set around the middle finger of the left hand and twisted to form a figure of eight in the middle.

Avoid eccessive frictions of the jutsu during Gonghyo and daimoku. Lots of people keep their Jutsu on every occasion , but there isn’t any strict  rule about this . A person might say that  it’s better having the Jutsu with you because it can help to improve your awareness  , pride and sense of responsibility as a Buddhist.

However , the singular situations are different and they must be evaluated case by case. The only basic thing is to keep always  your faith in the Gohonzon , and on this basis , decide what to do in every single situation .

Q: What is the meaning of ringing the bell ?

A: The chapter Jo ( first of  the Lotus Sutra ) “ ….. gods and dragons , human and non-human beings  constantly offer music and fragrance. “

In the Lotus Sutra and in other Buddhist writings  music is often quoted as an offering to the Buddha . In the same way , the sound of the bell is used to pray the true Buddha  and raise your heart with its beautiful harmony .  The bell should be always  rung in a pleasant way . Keep this fundamental fact in your minds : if you live in a block of flats , be careful not to ring the bell too loudly because you might disturb your neighbours.

Q: What’s the meaning of burning incense and how should it be used?

A: Incense has traditionally been used to create an atmosphere of purity and fragrance in front of the Buddhist altar . The offering of fragrances is often quoted in several Buddhhist writings  , the Lotus Sutra included . Incence is burnt in front of  the altar in the morning and evening  as an expression of sincerity for  the Gohonzon .

The nowadays most commonly used incense  , was first produced during the age of Edo.(1600-1868).

The use of one or three sticks of incense depends on the shape of the incense holder. The stick is generally burnt in vertical position, but it is an ancient and honourable tradition to lay it horizontally. This solution , apart from generating a qiuet atmosphere , prevents  any risks of damage for the Gohonzon caused by the  fall of ash.

Q: Why are evergreens used as an offering instead of other flowers  or plants ?

A: Flower. are colourful and pleasant for the sight , but they do wither really fast , thus representing the transience of all the phenomenons That’s why they are considered unsuitable as  an offer for the eternal Buddha , whose teachings lead all the people to the enlightement “ for 10.000 years and more “ . The plants offered to the eternal Gohonzon should express the virtues of eternity and purity. Evergreens , with their perpetual vitality , are more suitable . In Japan an aromatic evergreen bush called Shikimi  is widely used . However any kind of evergreen might be suitable .

IMPORTANT : To avoid eccessive overheating your are highly advised , for the internal light of the Butsudan, to use only cool light low energy light bulbs  or neon .


                                                              Thank You