The altar supports different images of Buddhas. The arrangement and choice of personages on the altar vary from temple to temple. One often finds Sakyamuni Buddha being side by side the Amitabha Buddha and the Medicine Buddha, the two great Buddhas of past eras. At other times, a single Buddha may be seen seated between his two Bodhisattvas such as Amitabha Buddha with Avalokitesvara (Kuan Yin) and Mahasthamaprata Bodhisattvas. It is common to find altars dedicated only to Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, the most compassionate one. At the altar, beside the dharma instruments devout Buddhists offer their prayers. Offerings of incense, candles, flowers, fruits, and other gifts are placed on the table in front of the altar.
Sarira is relics left after the cremation of a Buddha or saint and are formed as a result of a serious cultivation of precepts, meditation and wisdom during a lifetime. These relics were usually placed in stupas and worshiped, the white representing bones, the black, hair, and the red, flesh. A Sarira-stupa is a reliquary or pagoda for relics.
The sutras in the Tripitaka are the sermons or discourses attributed to the Buddha. Nearly every sutra begins with the words, “Thus as I hear,” indicating that it contains the words of Sakyamuni Buddha which were recited by Ananda.
Dharma instruments are located in front of the altar in temples and are played by monastics to produce a rhythm during chanting services. They are typically arranged with the wooden fish to the left of the altar, the large gong to the immediate right, and the drum and suspension bell at the far right. They may be accompanied by the smaller Dharma instruments such as the hand bell-gong, tang, and chia.
Khakkhara is a monk’s staff that is partly made of metal. It has four sides with twelve metal rings, representing the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Nidanas (Twelve Causes and Conditions). In the olden days, when a monk went for almsgiving, he held the staff and shook the metal rings at the door to announce his presence. This staff was also used for the expulsion of demons.
During the time of Sakyamuni Buddha in India, it was a usual practice that Sra manas carried a bowl and collected alms from people. In return, they would have time to cultivate themselves, preach to people, and help them in their spiritual reliance. When Buddhism was transmitted to China, monks were highly respected and the practice of collecting alms was taken to be too humiliating and was thus abandoned. Today, almsgiving is still considered as an offering to the Sangha and can generate a lot of merits.
THE BUDDHIST FLAG
CHABBANNA DHAJA (Pali name) – This is the six colors were taken from the rays RANAI (P), which radiated from the Holy Body of the Buddha, immediately after he had attained Full Enlightenment under the BODHI TREE at BUDDHAGAYA in B. C. 588. From thenceforth, during the rest of His life, He radiated these six colors, whenever He wished. Sometimes He sent His luminous body with these colors to convert people. The colors are as follows:
(1)blue; (2) yellow or golden color; (3) red; (4) white; (5) orange; (6) Lit: resplendent （A mixture of the above 5 colors）
“Zen is the display of mercy, wisdom, and humor, and has the power to calm an irritated heart. The “Zen Pitaka” which took ten years to compile and edit, is not only a collection of literary works but also covers the area of philosophy. It enables people to discover their own Zen heart, and therefore light up their own spirit being. “These words are spoken by Ven. Master Hsing Yun during the book donation ceremonies in which the collection of “Zen Pitaka, Fokuang Triptaka” were broadcast over four television stations, to one hundred and forty tertiary institutions and universities in Taiwan.
“Zen Pitaka” is a monumental accomplishment resulting from many scholars’ hard works for over ten year period. The complete set consists of fifty-one booklets in luxurious packing and collects the exploits, saying and thoughts of the most well-known Chinese Master from Tan, Sung, Yuan, Ming, Ching dynasties through to the Republic of China. Contributions from overseas countries have been grouped into four main categories which are: Historical Biography, Sayings, and Preachings, Theory of various branches and Miscellanea.