A shrine is a focal point of meditation and provides a means of accumulating merit through the generosity of making offerings. A traditional shrine would include an image of the deity (a statue, photograph, or painting), seven water offering bowls set out in a straight line, and an arrangement of special offerings of incense, flowers, food, tea, and butterlamps or candles. A serkyem may be added for making offerings to the dharma protectors. Other items such as photographs of one’s lama and dharma gifts that one has received could also find a place on the shrine. Texts should occupy a shelf above the shrine if possible, or at least in a high place (never on the floor).
In the morning, one fills the water bowls left to right, lighting incense and a butter lamp or candle, as well as offering tea (or alcohol) and food in a small glass and a dish. It is best to make fresh tea and to keep a bag of cookies or other food used only for this purpose. One recites Om Ah Hung as these offerings are multiplied without limit through mantra and visualization. The water is visualized as billowing clouds of pure offerings and qualities that are presented to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, particularly to the practitioner’s chosen deity, and their blessings shower on the practitioner and all beings. One may recite the water offering prayer entitled Ocean of Siddhis by Kyabje Dudjom Lingpa.
Similarly, incense is imagined to pervade the universe with a delightful scent that purifies sickness and obscurations, and expresses the perfect discipline of the dharma. Light becomes complete illumination, dispelling the darkness of delusion for all beings. TheButter Lamp Offering Prayer may be recited here. When one offers flowers, they fill all of samsara and nirvana with loveliness and with pleasure in their beauty. Food and drink are transformed into nectar, absolutely satisfying.
Alternatively, a set of seven offering bowls may be filled with rice, on which are placed the traditional offerings of water for drinking, water for washing, flowers, incense, a butter lamp or candle (without an offering bowl), perfume (a drop of perfume in a bowl of water or sprinkled on some rose petals), food, and sound (a small conch shell or a set of tingsha). One may use the same visualization, recitations, and prayers as described above to make this kind of offering. One renews all the offerings except for the offering of sound every day.
During the day one adds to the offering a bit of one’s own food and drink before one partakes of them, as nectar to all wisdom beings and then imagines that they are returned as wisdom blessings and nourishment to all.
There are many profound teachings on the nature of offerings, but the essential point is to make offerings with supreme generosity. Such generosity creates a foundation of nonattachment and open awareness that increases the accumulations of both merit and pristine awareness.
Whatever virtue one has created is dedicated to the welfare of all beings with the wish that they be free of suffering and attain enlightenment.
The above teaching has been adapted from the Red Tara Commentary by Chagdud Khadro.