Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Home Shrine


Duang's Shrine

Here in Thailand, more specifically in Isaan, it is common for people to have a special place in their home or business.  The special place is a shrine where they are able to perform their devotions.

Wealthy people often have a small room in their home whereas poor people will have a shelf set high on a wall for their shrine.

For Duang's shrine, the location is an alcove off to the side of the stairway leading to the second floor of our home.  My roll top desk, which I purchased 35 years ago in Lake Charles, Louisiana, has been appropriated by Duang to serve as the base of her Buddhist shrine.

Behind the shrine are two portraits of Buddha - occupying the highest position as is appropriate for demonstrating respect and high regard for the Teacher.

The pictures and sculptures that comprise the shrine are not objects to be worshipped or constitute idolatry.  They are objects that remind the person of the Buddhist teachings and show reverence for the Buddha and his teachings.  Reverence is an essential part of Buddhist training.  Buddha taught that people who are respectful and honor those who are superior to them will have more "Long life and beauty, happiness and strength" (Dhp 109)

Duang's shrine is located in a quiet area of our home - no television, no computers, and no radio, as is is appropriate and required for mediation and practicing Dhamma (Teachings of the Buddha).  Her shrine is also separated from where I am in the home.  Shrines are supposed to be out of the line of sight of people who are not interested in the Dhamma and it is desirable that the area be set up for only Dhamma practice.

Besides an image of the Buddha, there are three other things required for a shrine.  The three things are necessary for making the usual offerings.  The three items are:  candlesticks or devices to hold candles, an incense (Joss stick) burner and vases for flowers.

On certain days Duang will also place other items such as glasses of water, glasses of strawberry soda, glasses of whiskey, bananas, tropical fruit, plates of food.  These offerings show gratitude to Buddha, The Teacher, and also melds into the Animist tradition of offering nourishment to the spirits of departed family members.

Candlesticks or devices to hold candles are necessary because candles are burned as offerings to symbolize the light of Buddha's teachings which people should have in their heart to drive out the darkness and desecrations that are there.

Incense is burned as an offering as a reminder that the Dhamma-light can only be found with the assistance of good moral conduct.

"Slight is this perfume of tagara and sandalwood, best the perfume of the virtuous blowing even to the devas.

The perfume of flowers does not go against the wind, neither that of sandalwood, jasmine, or tagara:
but the perfume of the vituous does go against the wind.  The good man suffuses (spreads out) all directions.

Sandalwood or tagara, lotus or the jasmine great - of these perfumes various, virtue's perfume is unexcelled."  Dhammapada verses (54, 55, 56)

Duang's incense burner is typical of home shrines as well as many Wats.  The incense burner is a ceramic bowl filled with clean sand and placed on a metal tray to collect the ash as it falls from the burning Joss sticks.

Flowers are made as offerings and are reminders of the transitory nature and impermanence of the body.  There is a very old Sinhalese Pali writing along that line:

"These flowers, bright and beautiful
fragrant and good-smelling, handsome and well formed - soon indeed discolored, ill smelling and ugly they become.

This very body, beautiful, fragrant and well formed - soon indeed discolored, ill smelling and ugly becomes.

This body of mine too is of the same nature,
will become like this,
and has not escaped from this."

The offerings also serve as objects for focusing the mind so that the person can concentrate when reciting the Buddhist scriptures and for meditation.

Almost every night after dinner, Duang will shower and change into what I call her "holy clothes".  She will then make her offerings and perform her ritual in front of the shrine.  During that time I do not talk or distract her.

The roll top desk has travelled far and near - going from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Santa Maria, California to Hercules, California to Martinez, California to Walnut Creek, California and eventually to here - Udonthani Thailand.  However in all its' travels I don't believe that it has ever been used more or for a better purpose than now.

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