We are together… at home… in the zendo… on Zoom. Who could have predicted this would describe our Zen Buddhist training when we began 2020? What creative and flexible beings we are!
With our practice place at home during the Coronavirus, we have an opportunity to practice intimately with our home altar. Maybe you have had an altar for a long time, or perhaps one is just coming together now.
Jintei Sensei teaches, "All Altars are a reflection of our practice. All Altars are Buddha’s Altar."
Altars should have two elements: 1) A symbol of Buddha. This is usually a statue, although it can be another representation. 2) Our offering. This is usually light and something that will die, such as a flower arrangement.
Sharing a photo of your home altar with the sangha is a way to encourage each other and learn from each other. If you haven't yet, please share your home altar. Email a photo and words to the Ino to add an image of your home altar to this gallery.
Meditating Buddha. Various stones that I have collected over the years with special meaning. A bamboo plant given to me that I thought was dead, but came back beautifully. A pin I received after completing the recovery program at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, and my recovery chips thereafter.
This picture of a sculpture of the head of the Buddha is from Thailand, though it lives in the V&A Museum in London, where I see it when I am there. I hadn't realized until now, but the other things on my altar are gifts from people I love who are far away (Laurie), or dead (my mum), or very ill (Lance).
Buddha's seat is a brick from a building that was demolished that once housed the PATS center. It was a glorious magnet program that was sort of like Hogwarts in real life. Every Friday in 6-8th grade I went to this school along with other weirdos and eccentrics from several other district schools, public and private. We got to sign up for our own curriculum and had classes like film photography, architecture, marine biology, game theory, calculus, garment construction, improvisational theatre, programming, sculpture, creative writing, anatomy & physiology, and environmental ecology all taught by specialists and subject matter experts. It was very hard work and was the only place I ever really felt like myself before I found Ashland Zen Center.
After a lecture on cosmology and the structure of the solar system, the philosopher William James was accosted by a little old lady.
"Your theory that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and the earth is a ball which rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it's wrong. I've got a better theory," said the little old lady.
"And what is that, madam?" inquired James politely.
"That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle."
Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at his command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position.
"If your theory is correct, madam," he asked, "what does this turtle stand on?"
"You're a very clever man, Mr. James, and that's a very good question," replied the little old lady, "but I have an answer to it. And it's this: The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him."
"But what does this second turtle stand on?" persisted James patiently.
To this, the little old lady crowed triumphantly,
"It's no use, Mr. James—it's turtles all the way down!"
The books I have been reading for the past few years have mostly been winners of the Newbery Medal for excellence in children’s literature. “The Cat Who Went to Heaven” won this award in 1931. The story is set in ancient Japan and it was a breakthrough introduction to Zen Buddhism for children of the western world. I easily let go of the few areas I thought were inaccurate.
After telling another cat lover about this book and how much I valued it and my Zen Buddhist practice, she sent me this wooden Buddha Cat sitting in Zazen. She hand painted it herself.
As we now go through our AZC book study about what a Bodhisattva is, I have come to believe the role of the cat in this story was that of a Bodhisattva.
This Buddha-Cat statue, along with other highly valued objects, has been on my window sill since last winter. This is my special place of peace. I often look at it and the mountains, sky and stars out my window then reflect on being my “best me”.
“Aciu jums visiems” (Thank you all,,, in my mother’s language)
My home alter includes a Buddha statue that is Thai and a gift to Marvin from a good friend of his. The incenser is an antique from my fathers family.
This altar evolved with the Pandemic time we are in. About 30 years ago a man passed through town selling Tankas. I have not practiced Tibetan Buddhism but Greg took refuge with Gayatrul in
Hilt monastery for a time. This Buddha holding the empty bowl of wisdom was chosen then and has been hanging above our dresser for many years.
Also on the dresser is a white arctic wolf which was purchased on line after the retreat at Red’s Cabin in which a vivid dream of a white wolf walking near a field of white snow edged by a pine forest occurred. I saw the tree at Bi Mart one day and brought it home to be with the wolf.
It has been thus for a long time. When AZC closed I began sitting with my husband so a little altar evolved with a zazen bell, a small sutra book, rakusu, incense, candle and small vase for flowers. One thing and then another entered the space, not all at once.
In cleaning out the stack of papers, I found an envelope with the Ofuda and a message from Buddha Eye Temple in Eugene. I had never opened the envelope thinking it was a receipt for tax purposes.
It was a beautiful response: “Great Prajna.” So it is posted now with the tanka.
I really feel this altar is a protective focus in these times. It is with deep gratitude that zazen practice occurs here.
There is a Buddha at the center of the altar. At equidistance on either side of the Buddha are some flowers and a candle. In front of the Buddha is an incense holder and burning incense. Behind the altar is a blockprint of Avalokitasvara.
My home altar has a variety of pieces that encourage me in daily practice. A stone buddha, items from my Jukai ceremony such as the framed precepts, the list of ancestral lineage (Kechimiyaku), the paramitas, the naming paper prepared by my teacher for the ceremony, a candle, a picture of a priest's robe on the Jizo altar at the Zen Center from Dakudo Mike's ordination and a bell for zazen. It is a draped shelf with storage underneath for incense, my Oryoki eating bowls, and a wooden box to keep a variety of practice-related cards, correspondences, and photographs.
My altar is in a multipurpose room where (before COVID19) I met with counseling clients. I still use the room to have virtual meetings (with AZC and clients) to work on my desktop (which lately includes 2-4 hours a day of Sierra Club texting) to watch the news with my husband and sometimes to meditate (if not outdoors). The altar helps me remember to set intention and dedicate merit. While facing the altar, I sometimes do three prostrations before and after an activity. The altar is immediately visible to anyone entering the room. When I met there with clients in person, the altar encouraged us to set intention for the counseling session (What are we practicing together in this session?) as opposed to only setting a goal (What do you hope to take from this session?). When I met with clients in person, those clients who had mediation practices and sanghas of their own sometimes commented on the windowsill altar. Others probably just saw it as ornamental, but perhaps it contributed to their feedback about the office being a peaceful place.
Kakuga Cyndi and Dakudo Mike
Medicine Kannon, Buddha and the Paramitas with offerings of flowers, light and incense.
Tendo Stacy and Kigetsu Ramana
Please share your home altar with the sangha! Email a photo and words to the Ino.