by Rev. Koshin Schomberg


The Divine Light lives in ourselves and opens our inborn ability to realize perfect Wisdom.

The Altar of the Heart

In Buddhism, the altar in a meditation hall, ceremony hall or shrine represents the altar of our own Heart. The statue of a Buddha or Bodhisattva on the altar represents the Eternal, usually with an emphasis on one or more of Its aspects. Just as the statue of the Buddha or Bodhisattva sits atop the altar, so the Eternal must sit atop the altar of the Heart if we are to truly meditate. Rev. Master put it in characteristically down-to-earth terms: "The first thing that we need to do in religion is get down out of God's seat." The junior partner cannot take the place, or do the work, of the senior partner.

The offering of incense, flowers, light (through candles), food and water has the general meaning of offering everything to the Eternal. This is an intrinsic aspect of meditation and the logical and natural next step after asking the Eternal for help. When we meditate truly, we place everything that arises in consciousness upon the altar of the Heart, entrusting it to the Eternal.

Roses and Skunk Cabbage

The flowers on the altar represent all life offered to, and looking toward, the Eternal.

Our life includes flowers that have beautiful fragrance and flowers that stink--and many flowers between these two extremes. The flowers of joy and the flowers of grief both belong on the altar of the Heart, as do love and hate, doubt and dogmatism, hope and fear--all the opposites, all the passions, all our thoughts and desires, emotions and sensations.

To the Eternal, all our offerings are the same. Infinite Love does not discriminate or judge. Roses and skunk cabbage are both of the Eternal, though roses have a beautiful smell and skunk cabbage stinks to high heaven. It is our choice whether or not we will put something on the altar of the Heart: the Eternal will not make the choice for us. However, if we do choose to offer, the Love and Wisdom of the Eternal will then be able to do their transformative work upon any spiritual need contained within the offering.

Not Holding On, Not Pushing Away

Offering is not the same as holding on. The very word "offering" implies generous-hearted giving. The attitude of mind and heart in offering in meditation is conveyed in the words, "Not my will, but Thine."

Offering is not the same as pushing away. This point may not always be clear, for we can make a gift to someone of something that we do not want to keep.--"Here, you take it; I don't want it." If we try this with the Eternal, we get a big "return to sender" notice in the form of increased tension and spiritual dis-ease. Offering is not the same as dumping.

If a particular offering has pain in it, we will feel that pain when the offering is placed upon the altar of the Heart in meditation. This is where we learn in detail why greed, hate and delusion are called "the causes of suffering:" when we make a real effort to sit still with them, the pain coiled up in them is felt and seen for what it is. This is why it can be so hard sometimes to meditate. We may experience our struggle with spiritual pain as an inability to concentrate and stay present, as physical and spiritual tension, and as vague discontentment and dis-ease.--These are all symptoms of underlying pain.

What can we do about such pain?--The answer to this question has two parts. First, keep placing the pain on the altar of the Heart, neither holding on to it nor pushing it away. To do this, we must be willing for the pain to stay on the altar of the Heart (and therefore in consciousness) as long as it is good for it to be there. Second, be open to the teaching that the pain conveys about the causes of suffering.

Doing the first part makes it possible for the Love and Wisdom of the Eternal to work upon the cause of the pain, thereby eventually allowing the pain to dissolve. Doing the second part makes it possible for us to take Preceptual teaching to heart so that we can refrain from doing actions that create more spiritual pain, and instead do that which is good to do. The first part is an important aspect of "living from our Buddha Nature." The second part is an important aspect of "following the Eternal." Here again we encounter the twofold practice of living from our Buddha Nature and following the Eternal.

Offering in Faith and Offering in Gratitude

The offering that comes out of need is an offering made in faith. The offering that comes out of need that has received the Help of the Eternal is an offering made in gratitude.

When we ask the Eternal for help, we ask in faith. Then we need to place that for which we have sought help upon the altar of the Heart in the faith that the Help is there, whether we see It or not. The offering thus grows right out of asking; and offering keeps the arrow of need on track in its journey to the Help of the Eternal.

The upwelling of gratitude signifies that need and Help have met, and that need is being helped. "Out of gratitude to the Buddhas and Ancestors I give Dharma, I give wealth, I give life itself--strength, youth, beauty, wealth, everything that I have and, even then, I cannot give thanks enough for one second of Their true training; I can never repay Their kindness to me. Only by my own true training is this possible and then, again, there is no repayment: it is just the work of a Buddha." (How to Grow a Lotus Blossom, Plate XII; first edition, Plate VIII.)

Asking points our spiritual need toward the Help of the Eternal; offering opens the need up so that it can receive the Help of the Eternal. Our responsibility in the work of conversion does not end with offering, as will be seen in Part XIV of these Reflections.


Click here to proceed to Part XIV, "Waiting"

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