Using Home Altars for Zen Practice

What is Zen Practice?

Zen practice is said to be used as a way to discover that there is no separation between ourselves and others. It is a way to escape from greed, anger and ignorance. Zen helps people to become more centered, focused, and more receptive. It can help prevent being blinded by their own preconceptions of themselves and others. Zen is used as an expression of fundamental completeness and wholeness as we are.

Creating Your Altar

Creating our home altars for Zen practice is quite easy. The first step is to pick a place were you would like your altar. Some people use an entire room, but you can also pick a corner or an area of a particular room of your liking. This room should be kept clean and tidy. There should be little light but enough so the room does not seem gloomy.

For your altar you can use a low table or shelf. On this altar, you should place a candle, fresh flowers, incense bowl, cup of water, and a Buddha image. Each of these items have a symbolic value. They help us connect to the Zen practice tradition and to a deeper sense of gratitude, generosity, and wisdom.

The Buddha image will be placed in the center of your altar. The Buddha image is to remind us of the awakening of wisdom. You may substitute the Buddha image with a beautiful rock or other item that is suggestive to your spiritual practice, if you wish.

A candle will be placed on the right side of the altar. The candle represents the light of wisdom. One the left side of the altar, the same distance from the Buddha image as the candle, should be the fresh cut flowers, these represent impermanence.

An bowl filled with rice, sand or ash is used to burn incense. The incense bowl is placed in front of the altar. The incense that is burned represents purity. Finally, the water cup is raised and placed directly in front of the Buddha image. The water cup should be kept about half-full. It is a symbolic gesture of giving to the "hungry ghosts," these being one’s that suffer from worldly "thirsts" they can never satisfy.

In Zen practice Zazen, seated meditation, is used. Zazen is a very simple practice. You sit in the proper Zazen posture and attend to the body, breath, and mind. In front of your altar you will place a Zabuton mat and a Zafu cushion for meditation. The Zabuton mat will help cushion your ankles and body during meditation. A Zafu cushion is placed on top of the mat to help hold a sustainable posture.

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References

Dharma Rain Zen Center: Zazen Meditation – www.dharma-rain.org/zazen/whatis.html

Zen Open Circle: Zen Practice – www.zenopencircle.org.au/aboutzenpractice.htm

Dharma: Creating an Altar – www.dharma.net/monstore/article.php?article=creatingaltar&articleid=13&catPath=21_