Monday, February 20, 2006

Hope this is okay to post about...

How many of you have altars? I just finished making myself one.

I have incense, a candle, an offering of water, a gong/bell thing I just bought today, and a wee little Hotei statue.

Does it matter how things are arranged? What if my Buddha statue is the smallest thing on the altar? Is that bad at all?

How important do you all find altars?

Thanks.

I'd love to see pics of people altars, by the way!

***

Here's a picture, just to bring my post to life.

40 Comments:

At February 20, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

hey kvitsch, i dont have an altar but my mate does an one of things his teacher told him is not to burn inscense during any buddhist practice cos of the smoke being carcinogenic. not to bum you out or anything, just thought i'd say something!

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger cromanyak said...

I'd like to see pics also. I'm thinking of building one soon.

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger oxeye said...

On yahoo search there are 191 results for the query "zen altar". for "buddhist altar" there are 19,300 results. There seem to be few zen buddhists with altars. What are they used for anyway?

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger Siren said...

I have an altar. I've had one for, wow, probably about 20 years now...different purposes at different times. I don't really use it, I guess. But it has little things on it from what I think of as different 'eras' in my life (I'm not that old!). I've used the same little Korean chest from my childhood for years with drawers and an interior. I've got a Buddha, a few Ganeshas, sundry other personal things...I mostly have to keep the dust off it!

 
At February 20, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

In my house I have nothing at all. Last night I was in a room with a 12 foot buddha and lots of ornaments. It made no difference to me.

You may find a little alter helpful. Just be aware that it might become an object of attachment and worship.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

In my sangha's zendo there's an altar with a wooden statue of Kuan Yin (who represents compassion, she's the Chinese version of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara), a vase with fresh flowers, a few candles and some incense.

By my cushion at home, there's a little Buddha statue, a bell, and a tea candle that symbolizes the morning star, as the Buddha saw it while sitting under the Bodhi tree.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

Hmm, that didn't seem to work.
If you go to ohenrosan.blogspot.com and click on the link for Self-Portrait Tuesday, Valentine's Day, you'll find the photo whose link I tried to post above.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Does it matter how things are arranged?

*****Nope. Only to you.


What if my Buddha statue is the smallest thing on the altar? Is that bad at all?


*****You might want to examine the need behind the drive of having an altar. What do you think it will bring you? What is its purpose? Are you accumulating more beliefs or dropping more of them by constructing an altar? I'm not challenging you or anyone else about this. People will do what they will do. But sometimes people are willing to examine, explore, ponder, question, their actions and out of that, sometimes, insight may happen. Or not. Sometimes the crutches drop away and reality is experienced directly instead of through the veil of thought-forms.

I used to be a real deep zennie. Altar an all. At home, when I wasn't living at the monastery, I did the prostrations, chants, etc. that were part of the daily liturgy at the monastery I was a member of (as well as the zazen, of course!). This went on for nearly 16 years.

Evenually sanity prevailed (for me). The window dressing no longer mattered. Clear Seeing did. So zazen persists because it appears to contribute, for me, to clarity. The rest of the stuff...donated to those who could better use it (I still burn VIVA sandlewood incense 'cause I like the smell...I DON'T burn it during zazen because I no longer see the need to link the two of them into one foolosophy of "enlightenment").

Bottom line: do what you want; don't worry about the results. The results don't matter. ;-)

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

endofthedream: Agreed. My little altar helps me adjust my attitude a little bit. It provides a familiar set and setting that's conducive to mindfulness, and I like it. It's really just window dressing. But so is a lot of other stuff in my house. :-)

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Gareth said...

I have an alter, created almost entirely by gifts from others.

True seeing is vital. All the rest is smoke and mirrors.

Is my alter superfluous to my practice? Perhaps. But it is there, and while it is there, it forms part of my practice.

There's a wonderful story about a monk who is showing an angry young man around a temple, as they approach a statue of Buddha the monk prostrates. The young man spits on the ground and tells the monk that the statue is just a lump of stone. The monk agrees, but tells the young man that he’s free to spit on the ground, but that he, the monk, will keep on bowing.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Jules ~

When you're not in your house what helps you adjust your atttitude? When you are out of the house, what aids in producing mindfulness?

See...what I'm gettin' at is that all the window dressing stuff is fine and dandy.....and...it can become a trap. (Of course if that's to happen it will happen.)

Better perhaps to See that there is nothing holy (as did Bodhidharma) and that every object, every interaction, is a reminder of the holiness and sanctity of all manifestation.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

Whatever happened to enjoying something for its own sake?

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger K'vitsh said...

Thank you, everyone. I appreciate your responses. Keep them coming! And more pics!

endofthedream: I see what you're saying and am trying to be careful.

I wanted an altar because, well, it's kind of an aesthetic choice, I suppose, but it's also a nice focal point.

I realize how unimportant it really is, since I've been reaping the benefits of zen w/out having one.

I like shiny things, too.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger oxeye said...

Altars look like little collections of fetish items with religious undertones. I could see our friend as having a little Godzilla in his. Altars also seem like little passive agressive anouncements that you are an individual and a buddhist. Who cares what your reasons are for wanting one. If you go to the trouble to make an altar it must represent something important to you.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger K'vitsh said...

Doh! I forgot the Godzilla...(runs to toystore)

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

I don't have an altar. But I have Buddha figurines here and there around my house. I originally bought them because they represented "beliefs" that I had about zen.
I also used to try to think piously when I looked at the Buddha figurines. I think I was trying to be someone other than who I actually was. It was a stage I went through.
And I think I wanted to make a statement to my visitors... "Look, that statue over there proves to you that I am a Buddhist! Aren't I clever?"
But after a while, that just felt goofy.
I would feel really goofy about having an altar in my house. I think that most visitors would assume that I was praying to it, as if the Buddha was a "god".

I still have the Buddha statues here and there. But they are only for decoration. I like the way they look. They do reflect my belief system, to a certain extent... but they are no more important than a flower vase or my fossil collection.
I guess I hope that by having them around, someone might ask me about Buddhism when they see them.

I burn good quality insence because I love the smell. Especially Aloes wood. But not during zazen.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

endofthedream wrote:
When you're not in your house what helps you adjust your atttitude? When you are out of the house, what aids in producing mindfulness?

See...what I'm gettin' at is that all the window dressing stuff is fine and dandy.....and...it can become a trap. (Of course if that's to happen it will happen.)

Better perhaps to See that there is nothing holy (as did Bodhidharma) and that every object, every interaction, is a reminder of the holiness and sanctity of all manifestation.


Well, yeah... the ultimate dharma is all around us. The ultimate teaching is silence. The ultimate altar is no altar. But until we habitually See that there's nothing holy, nothing profane, I don't think it hurts to have a little reminder to be mindful here and there.

From Steve Hagen's "Buddhism is not what you think":

After Katagiri Roshi gave me permission to do a little teaching, it took me only a short time to realize how impossible it was to teach anything about Truth. I'd try to make a point, but every time I'd say
something I felt I had to tack on, 'Well, that's not quite what I meant.' I soon realized that I could never actually say what I mean. Not fully. What I was trying to do was literally impossible.

I wanted to quit. I went to Katagiri Roshi and told him of my misgivings. 'We can't talk about this,' I said.

'But you have to say something,' he replied. 'If you don't say anything, nobody will understand.'


So in spite of the fact that the Truth cannot be manifested in words, some words are helpful. Though the words can become a trap, they are offered anyway because they can be useful, and are even necessary sometimes.

I like window dressing, flowers and candles, bells and incense. Especially bells, those bowls are awesome, I wish I could justify spending the money for a big one.

I agree, I think it's important not to get all tied up in the supposed "holiness" of your altar. It really is just window dressing. I think it's also important not to get attached to iconoclastic attitudes. As we have seen in the news recently (heaven forbid we publish "likenesses of Mohammed"), strict adherence to iconoclastic rules can also cause problems.

It's only a trap if you don't know what a trap looks like.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

It's only a trap if you keep on rationalizing to the nth degree the issue of having an altar just for the sake of having one.
For Pete's sake, put down the "Buddhism Rule Book and Technical Manual" for a few minutes and just take some time to smell the flowers (in the vase on your altar). :)

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Michael, I actually hadn't rationalized it at all until this morning. My point was: no sense getting all caught up in it either way. Neither iconoclasm nor icons are important. I think that's the same point you just made (much more concisely, though), isn't it?

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

Why would you not do anything conducive to your practice?

If your zebra-striped wallpaper is hard to look at during zazen, if you'd do better painting it white, then why on earth wouldn't you paint it? And if someone says you should be able to do fine with the stripes, heck with'm.

"Don't you think that's a crutch?"

"Well, sure ... but if you're crippled, that ain't bad."

Objects of devotion exist because people find them helpful -- for any reason, for no reason.

When Jules said,

"It's only a trap if you don't know what a trap looks like."

I laughed. It was very well put.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Jules ~

In response to mine, you wrote, "Well, yeah... the ultimate dharma is all around us. The ultimate teaching is silence. The ultimate altar is no altar."

*****I don't know about that. Certainly dharma (what's so) is all around and in and through us. No argument there. I see no reason why the "ultimate teaching" is silence. Teaching can occur, as far as I see, in any circumstances. Sometimes it is by silence, other times by words, other times by a pebble striking a stick, other times by a blow to the body. Ultimate altar? Dog shit. :-))

You wrote, "But until we habitually See that there's nothing holy, nothing profane, I don't think it hurts to have a little reminder to be mindful here and there."

*****It may hurt. It may not. Some get hooked into the ritual stuff, never able to See beyond it, clinging to it like a liferaft. Some are able to see it, See through it, drop it, and get on with life. It's neither right nor wrong. Just how things are.


I'm glad you referenced Hagen's book. I've read scores of zen texts. Personally, most of them fall far, far short. Not Hagen's. It comes as close to verbalizing Insight as anything I've ever come across (after 25 years). I found "Buddhism Is Not What You Think" a powerful, powerful tool. Much clarity arose from my three readings of it. I bow to Hagen Roshi (although he'd probably tell me to get off my knees and do something useful...and he'd be right! Hahaha!!!....and yet the debt of gratitude is still present).

And, at the same time, I disagree with the trust below. You don't HAVE to say something. The innate conditioning-in-the-moment may elect to "sit down and shut up" (now where did I hear THAT before! Hahaha!!!). Seriously though: I distrust ANY and ALL prescriptions when made on a universal basis. Perhaps Katagiri HAD to say something. Clear Hagen HAS to. But as a dictum...I think it is an open question, one that gets answer moment to moment (if speaking happens, that is the answer; if silence arises, there is the answer).

You wrote, "So in spite of the fact that the Truth cannot be manifested in words, some words are helpful. Though the words can become a trap, they are offered anyway because they can be useful, and are even necessary sometimes."

*****Absolutely. There is no absolute certainty here.


You wrote, "I like window dressing, flowers and candles, bells and incense. Especially bells, those bowls are awesome, I wish I could justify spending the money for a big one."

*****Jules, I pass NO judgment on what you want or do not want. That's YOUR business. Enjoy!

You wrote, "I agree, I think it's important not to get all tied up in the supposed "holiness" of your altar. It really is just window dressing. I think it's also important not to get attached to iconoclastic attitudes."

*****Whether or not it's "important," it is certainly a lot less stressful on the bodymind mechanism when there are less operating attachments. The past two years have been, for me, an ongoing dissolution of investments (not financial!!) and attachments (not my wife!!). Other stuff. Dumb ego-based stuff. The change, psychologically, physiologically, has been profound and most relieving. Now.....if we could only figure out a surefire way to dissolve attachments, one that would work for everybody. :-))))


You wrote, "As we have seen in the news recently (heaven forbid we publish "likenesses of Mohammed"), strict adherence to iconoclastic rules can also cause problems."

*****Dumb asses they are. And yet...and yet...one Recognizes that even their idiotic behavior is not of their choice, and so, they too are forgiven. (They're still dumb asses imo.)

You wrote, "It's only a trap if you don't know what a trap looks like."

*****Yes. And so the teaching persists, pointing out traps to those who are currently too myopic to see them.

Jules ~ a pleasure, a genuine pleasure, doing business with you. Thank you for your motivation and the creation of this site.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

endofthedream wrote: "a pleasure, a genuine pleasure, doing business with you. Thank you for your motivation and the creation of this site."

Thanks to you and everyone else here for your thoughtful and extensive comments. It's been a real pleasure for me too, and we're just getting started!

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger K'vitsh said...

Dumb asses they are. And yet...and yet...one Recognizes that even their idiotic behavior is not of their choice, and so, they too are forgiven. (They're still dumb asses imo.)

Mine, too. Except I believe they are responsible for the behaviour. How are they not?

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

Hey Jules,

I agree pretty much with your response to my response. I didn't have your original post in mind specifically. I was responding, and reacting, to all the questioning about the necessity (or lack of it) of certain things that might be expedient means for some, window-dressing to others.
My point is, a reason isn't needed for everything that we do in our lives, in my opinion.
I guess what I perceive to be pharisaic adherence to doctrine is one of my pet peeves -- perhaps something I need to get over, perhaps not.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

K'vitsh, you asked "how are they not?"

I recommend you check some of my posts (and rot-13's) on this topic from the past four days.

In brief: choices arise from thought; to be more exact: choices ARE thoughts. Thoughts arise from the innate conditioning-in-the-moment, the way the brain is programmed to respond at any moment. There is no freedom in that. There is no freedom OF thought. There is, however, freedom FROM thought. But that's a whole separate issue.

There is a wealth of scientific data in the field of neuroscience to support the fact that thought (of which 'choice' is a subset) is constructed out of the stored data in one's brain. One doesn't get to choose what gets stored and what doesn't.

I know it FEELS like we are consciously "making" choices. But what is happening is that choices (and thoughts) are constructed out of the underlying and pre-existing substrate of data in unconscious regions of the brain. These thoughts (and choices) then travel through neural networks and, about 500 milliseconds after they arose (biochemically & electrically) in those UNconscious regions of the brain...these thoughts (and choices) "arrive" at conscious regions and we have the experience of "making" the choice. But it happened already, about 1/2 second prior.

You are standing on a curb of a street and witness a car crash. You think you see the car crash in real time. But you don't. It takes between 500-800 ms for the images of the crash to reach the retina, travel through the optic nerve, enter the brain, get evaluated and 'explained' based on previously-stored data, and then, finally, almost 1 second later, enter consciousness. So we don't even experience Reality in real time. But we think we do. Thought is very very convincing at the illusion it weaves (it would have to be, of course, else most people wouldn't buy into it). Very, very few bodymind mechanism (read: sentient beings) see through it. And the seeing through is not a talent nor any comment on the "purity" or "skill" of the particular bodymind mechanism. It is simply a...gift, one that is not necessarily deserved.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger K'vitsh said...

Hmm. That's a thinker.

When does one become responsible for one's actions, though?

Maybe they can't control getting mad, or being offended, but surely they have the choice of whether or not to burn things, kill people, yell and scream, etc.?

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

K'vitsh, you wrote "When does one become responsible for one's actions, though?

*****There is NO responsibility in reality. Responsibility is an ascribe characteristic (a useful fiction) generated out of societal desires and a lack of understanding. You're absolutely correct: if one has no control over one's actions, then there is no responsibility. (But it is a popular fiction in most cultures.)

You wrote, "Maybe they can't control getting mad, or being offended, but surely they have the choice of whether or not to burn things, kill people, yell and scream, etc.?"

*****When you See that you have no choice or control over which thoughts visit you, you begin to Understand that this is so for all sentient beings. Actions (burning, killing, yelling) are a function of thoughts which arise out of one's innate conditioning-in-the-moment. An action is a thought which has been acted on via a choice. But a choice is a thought. And, as was previously shown, we have NO choice regarding what thoughts arise in our brains (and thus NO choice in which actions we take). This is so, whether or not you believe or like it. And it is so for all sentient beings. We are the driven, not the drivers. ;-)

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Hmm. Brad makes the opposite argument in the review of "What the bleep" on his web page:

For my nine bucks, the real point of What The Bleep (thought the movie itself doesn't seem to know this) is when they speculate that the discoveries of quantum physics could lead humanity to a new kind of morality, the understanding that we ourselves are ultimately responsible for the world we live in. This is the meat and potatoes (or tofu and potatoes if you're like me) of Buddhism. Had those asswipes who attacked the WTC understood that it was they themselves who were responsible for the existence of the Great Satan America, things would've been a lot different. No matter what situation you find yourself in, it is a situation you made for yourself. And that includes everything, baby. Even all the stuff you think you had nothing to do with. If you don't like the President or his war, to take a popular example, try and understand how you created both of them yourself. Every suicide bomber and every Texas yokel on Bush's cabinet is you. Not figuratively. Literally. There is no one else they could possibly be.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger K'vitsh said...

That makes oodles more sense to me.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

eod: Your theories on the choice or lack of it are all very fine. They may also be true.

In a past life I would have endless discussions on predestiny and freewill.

In the end it does not matter what I believe about how I act the way I do. I still act.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

Amen, MikeDoe. All this intellectualizing gives me a headache.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

P.S. One of the main reasons it gives me a headache is because I do way too much of it myself. :)

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

Thinking about thoughts... Hmmm...

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

Sometimes thinking about them is preferable, at least to me, to feeling compelled to write about them.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger me said...

I've got a bunch of buddhist and other Asian stuff on my fireplace mantle - including a nice tibetan painting depicting the life of buddha (and a shiva, and a white tara). Most of this stuff I accumulated before I decided to actually pursue zazen. Not sure really why I like it but I must have it because I like it. Never thought too much about it.

How would one post an image?

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger K'vitsh said...

Me: You can either post it on here, or email it to me (kvitsh@gmail.com), or put it on a Flickr (or equivalent) account.

 
At February 24, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Jules ~

Regarding your quote from Brad about "What the Bleep" and responsibility...

I don't think you fully understand how Brad (and other zen masters) operate. I had the same problem with my first zen teacher. I began to get a glimpse of what it was all about when he mentioned one reason why newbies have such difficulty with Dogen (regardless of whether or not they like his notions). He said that Dogen keeps one foot in the relative perspective and one foot in the absolute perspective and he keeps hopping from foot to foot, moving swiftly between the two Understandings. Unless one is clear-sighted enough to appreciate from which perspective Dogen is speaking (ok, writing) at any one moment, there is often confusion. Brad does this also.

Responsibility, no responsibility? It is genuinely both, depending on the perspective out of which one is speaking. In the relative sense, where there are *conditioned* bodymind mechanisms operating, ... how can there be true responsibility? Thoughts which produce actions arise from a complex constellation of circumstances going back in time eternally (this caused this caused this caused this...). The action you take at any one moment is a product of the previous conscious thought which is a product of ... and on and on. You didn't get to choose your thoughts. So there is no responsibility in that sense.

From the perspective of the absolute, the "little" you is, in simple terms, not. There is not little you. There is just...this! The entire catastrope: what some call the Unicity or Totality. As the little you is birthed from this, in that sense you ARE Totality. And, in that sense, you ARE responsible. Not just for YOUR actions but for ALL actions, all happenings. You did it. You created it. You are responsible for it: for all the wars, hatred, violence, pestilence, disease, bigotry. All of it. This is not to say you are to "blame" for it. But you, the Totality which is ultimately you, is. There is no escaping it. This is what Krishnamurti was pointing to when he spoke the words "you are the world."

 
At February 24, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

That strikes me as pretty different from what you said earlier: "There is NO responsibility in reality. Responsibility is an ascribe characteristic (a useful fiction) generated out of societal desires and a lack of understanding."

I'm not sure I would agree with the above statement from either the 'little self' perspective or the 'big self' perspective.

In the relative sense, where there are *conditioned* bodymind mechanisms operating, ... how can there be true responsibility? Thoughts which produce actions arise from a complex constellation of circumstances going back in time eternally (this caused this caused this caused this...). The action you take at any one moment is a product of the previous conscious thought which is a product of ... and on and on. You didn't get to choose your thoughts. So there is no responsibility in that sense.

I don't care about the mental state of a violent criminal - when he commits his crime he is responsible for his actions, no matter what his mental state is. You can't separate off "thoughts" like they aren't part of the person.

"Your honor, my client would never have robbed that bank if he wasn't just swimming in delusion. Please don't put him in jail."

Intellectual rationalizations can 'prove' any side of any argument, given a long enough logical chain. We could spend hours splitting hairs over any part of this argument. We could spend hours splitting hairs over the definition of the word responsibility. But I'm just not that interested, sorry.

 
At February 24, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Jules, you wrote "That strikes me as pretty different from what you said earlier: "There is NO responsibility in reality. Responsibility is an ascribe characteristic (a useful fiction) generated out of societal desires and a lack of understanding."

*****In that I was pointing to the absolute understanding, in which there is no one to be responsible and no one to do the holding of responsibility. It is all One Movement, Unicity. In the *realtive* understanding (of everyday life), there is clearly a societally-agreed upon state of accountability.

You wrote, "I'm not sure I would agree with the above statement from either the 'little self' perspective or the 'big self' perspective."


*****That's what makes a horse race! :-))) Phenomenality is chocked full of "I agree's" and "I don't agree's."

In the relative sense, where there are *conditioned* bodymind mechanisms operating, ... how can there be true responsibility? Thoughts which produce actions arise from a complex constellation of circumstances going back in time eternally (this caused this caused this caused this...). The action you take at any one moment is a product of the previous conscious thought which is a product of ... and on and on. You didn't get to choose your thoughts. So there is no responsibility in that sense.

I don't care about the mental state of a violent criminal


*****Why not? Are not mental states contributory to the actions which arise out of them?


- when he commits his crime he is responsible for his actions, no matter what his mental state is. You can't separate off "thoughts" like they aren't part of the person.

*****Then you've missed the point entirely. Take a child, sexually abused from birth, raised as an adolescent to believe that this type of behavior is the way love is given and received. And that person becomes an adult pedophile. The mental state (and conditioned history) of that person is very much at the crux of his/her adult behavior. I'm not suggesting that we let pedophiles roam free, if you think that's where this is going. But I view them (and most "criminals") as ill, mentally incapacitated, and ill people need treatment, not punishment, need help, not retribution.

"Your honor, my client would never have robbed that bank if he wasn't just swimming in delusion. Please don't put him in jail."

*****I never said or suggested that one doesn't take actions against those that harm others. But in taking action it is wisest to see the Whole Picture, not just a limited concern. And to understand the mental state and conditioning out of which such behavior arises.


Intellectual rationalizations can 'prove' any side of any argument, given a long enough logical chain. We could spend hours splitting hairs over any part of this argument. We could spend hours splitting hairs over the definition of the word responsibility. But I'm just not that interested, sorry.

*****Yeah, ... "just not that interested," ... welcome to the conservative viewpoint. When you Realize - really Realize on a cellular level not just conceptually - that the criminal is you, then another, broader appreciation may evolve and the interest may then be there.

 

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