The offering of lights, flowers, fruits, water and incense, etc. to the Buddha is yet another practice, the meaning of which some people fail to understand. Offering of such things to a holy man 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 man. 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 brings to the givers 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 simply representations of things spiritual.
The flame of the candle or oil lamp and the flowers could each be compared to the physical body or life. The offering of light symbolizes 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 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 of forms of nature.
These offerings symbolise 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 claming the mind.
It is good to start our 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 and 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.
“With this light brightly burning, dispelling all darkness, we worship the fully enlightened Buddha, Light of the Triple World. By offering this light, may our path be free from darkness and may our hearts and mind be always bright and pure.”
“With this fragrance incense we worship the Exalted One who is worthy of respect and honor. By offering this fragrance to the Tathagata, may the perfume of virtue spread always and everywhere.”
“By offering this water, fresh clean and cool, may the minds of all beings be washed of impurities.”
“We offer these flowers , fresh, beautiful and fragrant at the Buddha’s lotus-like feet. By offering these flowers may we realize the truth of impermanence that destroys all cravings and cuts all bonds.”
“By offering these fruits to the fully enlightened Buddha, may all beings be nourished and their hunger allayed.”