Offering (Buddhism)

Lay Buddhist Practices

Offerings * Prostration
Taking refuge * Chanting * Pūja


Uposatha * Shinbyu * Thingyan
Buddha's Birthday


Five Precepts * Eight Precepts
Bodhisattva vow * Bodhisattva Precepts


Meditation * Alms * Texts · Pilgrimage

Worshippers making offerings of incense, flowers and candles to a chedi at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand
An offering at Chaitya Bhoomi.

In Buddhism, symbolic offerings are made to the Triple Gem, giving rise to contemplative gratitude and inspiration.[1] Typical material offerings involve simple objects such as a lit candle or oil lamp,[2] burning incense,[3] flowers,[4] food, fruit, water or drinks.[5]

Contemporary Western practitioners often find the making of offerings to be occasions for gracious mindfulness.[6] Within the traditional Buddhist framework of karma and rebirth, offerings also lead to:

These offerings often act as preparation for meditation.[8]

Theravada practices

Material offerings nurture generosity (Pali:dāna) and virtue (Pali: sīla).[9] The act further honors the Triple Gem (the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha), deepening one's commitment to the Buddha's path. For instance, traditional chants (in English and Pali) when offering lit candles (padīpa pūjā) and incense (sugandha pūjā) to an image of the Buddha are:

With lights brightly shining
Abolishing this gloom
I adore the Enlightened One,
The Light of the three worlds.
With perfumed incense
And fragrant smoke
I worship the Exalted One,
Who is great and worthy of worship.[10]

Dīpena tama-dhaṃsinā
Tiloka-dīpaṃ sambuddhaṃ
Pūjayāmi tamo-nudaṃ
Dhūpenāhaṃ sugandhinā
Pūjaye pūjaneyyaṃ taṃ

Similarly, a traditional Pali incense-lighting verse speaks of the Buddha's "fragrant body and fragrant face, fragrant with infinite virtues."[12]

By contemplating on an offering, one tangibly sees life's impermanence (Pali: anicca), one of the three characteristics of all things upon which the Buddha encouraged his disciplines to recollect. For instance, the end of a traditional chant (in English and Pali) when offering flowers (puppha pūjā) to an image of the Buddha is:

I worship the Buddha with these flowers;
May this virtue be helpful for my emancipation;
Just as these flowers fade,
Our body will undergo decay.[13]

Pujemi Buddham kusumenanena
Puññenametena ca hotu mokkham
Puppham milāyāti yathā idam me
Kāyo tathā yāti vināsa-bhavam[11]

Mahayana practices

Burning of incense before the Potala, 1939

Mahayana material offerings might be imbued with the following symbology:

In Northern Buddhism, sacred images have set before them:

Non-material offerings

In some traditions, two different types of offerings are identified:

In this context, material offerings are considered external offerings of "words and deeds."[15]

Practice offerings may be manifested by practicing:

In the Pali Canon, the Buddha declared practice offerings as "the best way of honoring the Buddha"[20] and as the "supreme" offering.[15] This is primarily an internal offering for mental development (Pali: citta, bhāvanā and samādhi).

See also


  1. See, for instance, Harvey (1990), pp. 172-3.
  2. Indaratana (2002), pp. iv, v; Kapleau (1989), p. 193; Khantipalo (1982); Lee & Thanissaro (1998).
  3. Indaratana (2002), pp. 11-12.
  4. See, for instance, Indaratana (2002), pp. 11-12. Harvey (1990), p. 173, and Kariyawasam (1995), chapter 1, both maintain that flowers are the most common form of offering.
  5. Kapleau (1989), p. 193; Khantipalo (1982); and, Harvey (1990), p. 175, particularly in regards to Northern Buddhism.
  6. Such an appreciation might be experienced, for instance, by those practicing in the style of Thich Nhat Hanh.
  7. Lee & Thanissaro (1998). See also Harvey (1990), p. 173, who in discussing "offerings" states: "Such acts consequently generate 'merit'."
  8. See, for instance, Indaratana (2002), p. v; Kapleau (1989), pp. 191ff.; and Khantipalo (1982).
  9. See, for instance, Lee & Thanissaro (1998).
  10. Indaratana (2002), p. 11. See also Harvey (1990), p. 175, who translates the light-offering verse in part as describing the Buddha as "the lamp of the three worlds, dispeller of darkness."
  11. 1 2 Indaratana (2002), p. 12.
  12. 1 2 Harvey (1990), p. 175.
  13. Indaratana (2002), p. 11. Similarly, see Harvey (1990), p. 173; and, Kariyawasam (1995), ch. 1, sect. 2, "Personal Worship."
  14. Harvey (1990), p. 173.
  15. 1 2 3 Lee & Thanissaro (1998).
  16. Khantipalo (1982).
  17. See also Alms#Buddhism regarding the traditional Theravada offering of providing daily alms to bhikkhus.
  18. Khantipalo (1982); Lee & Thanissaro (1998).
  19. Khantipalo (1982); and, Nyanaponika (2000), pp. 298-299. On the other hand, Lee & Thanissaro (1998) identify only meditation as patipatti-puja.
  20. Kantipalo (1982), n. 1.


External links

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