The Path of Purification? No, my friend. Ratha-vinita Sutta (Chariot Relay Sutra) teaches us not to confuse the seven purifications, with the destination, Nirvana
Atisha’s Great Praise: 11th century wisdom.
Why do Buddhas and Enlightened Beings need offerings? The simple answer: they don’t. The better answer is…
Book Review: Tara in the Palm of Your Hand: a guide to the practice of the twenty-one Taras in the Surya Gupta lineage
Amitabha Sutra: cutting delusions with one-pointed blissful contemplation of Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land
Reviving the genuine Dharma ritual art traditions: an interview with Vajra artisan and craftsman Rigdzin Pema Tuthob
Great Compassion Mantra: Purification, healing and protection, the Maha Karuna Dharani Sutra — benefiting all beings
Video: Why is Mantra important to daily practice? For protection: “We are human beings. We have many problems.”
A Sutra for Troubled Times: Usnisa Vijaya Dharani Sutra and Mantra— Purify Karma, Eliminate Illness and Prevent calamities
Naked wisdom for degenerate times: Vajrayogini, enlightened wisdom queen, leads us to bliss, clear light and emptiness, despite modern obstacles
Headed for darkness or light? Of world’s 7.5 billion people, Tamonata Sutta says there are four types of people, two headed to darkness
Interview Lama Dr. Shannon Young: Dzogchen teacher focuses on bringing Dharma practice into daily life and bridging heritage with modern life
H.H. 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje in Canada for one month, arrived in Toronto for teachings
What’s so special about Hayagriva? This wrathful Heruka emanation of Amitabha, with horse head erupting from fiery hair, literally neighs with the Hrih scream of Wisdom
Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta: The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness; mindfulness of body, feelings, mind, mental qualities
Difficult lesson of karma: even “mass murderer” turned Arhat, Angulimala, had to bear the consequences of 999 murders
Video: Why a teacher-coach is important and how to practice Guru Yoga;  the “inconvenient” subject many teachers avoid
“Mahamudra is ultimately about trying to experience absolute truth” — and Helping Your Mind Get to Know Your Mind: Teaching Retreat Notes, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
A Better Way to Catch a Snake Sutra: Buddha explains the danger of misinterpreting the Dharma
Happy Wesak Day! On this most sacred day, celebrating the birth, Enlightenment and Paranirvana of Gautama Buddha, we wish all sentient beings health, happiness, and ultimate Enlightenment.
Finding the Good in Any Situation and “Turn the other cheek”? The Sutra with Advice to Venerable Punna from the Buddha
Healing and Foundation Practices Video: Learning from the Teachers Video Series with Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Buddha’s Teachings on Anger Management: Five Ways to Put an End to Anger, or to Use it Constructively and 3 Sutras on Anger
Overcoming Fear: Three Remedies for Fear; What Buddha had to Say About Fearlessness in Abhaya Sutta
The many faces of Avalokiteshvara’s compassion: sometimes we need a father or mother, sometimes a friend, sometimes a warrior
Mokugyo: Drumming for a Wakeful Mind with the Wooden Fish Drum’s Unique Sound
Pith Instructions on Mahamudra from Mahasiddha Tilopa: The Ganges Mahamudra Upadesha
Learning from the Teachers Video 1: Four students ask Zasep Rinpoche meditation questions — resting the mind in a natural way in Mahamudra; foundation practices; being your own Guru, and meditative “realizations.”
Four Questions the Buddha Would NOT Answer and Why: Is the Cosmos Finite in Space?; Is the Universe Finite in Time?; Is the Self Different From Body?; Does the Buddha Exist After Death?
Advice from the Teachers Video 10: Struggling with Visualizing Your Heart Bond Yidam. How to Choose One, How to Improve Clarity and Concentration.
BW Interview with Geshe Thubten Sherab: Skillfully Teaching Traditional Tibetan Buddhism for Western Students
Video Buddhist Advice 9: How Can Advanced Vajrayana Students Simplify and Manage Commitments and Practice? Answered by Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Thich Nhat Hanh’s Translation: The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings “Torches That Help Light My Path”
Movie: Walk With Me — Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village on the Big Screen: “Mindfulness is to always arrive in the here and now.”
Inspired by H.E. Garchen Rinpoche, Galgamani Art Project Aims Personalize the Tibetan Prayer Wheel: Interview with Micha Strauss
Prayer Wheels Growing in Popularity; Benefiting Sentient Beings and Practicing Right Livelihood: Interview with Shea Witsett of The Prayer Wheel Shop
Why do Buddhas and Enlightened Beings need offerings? The simple answer: they don’t. The better answer is…

Why do Buddhas and Enlightened Beings need offerings? The simple answer: they don’t. The better answer is…

Nothing confuses people interested in Buddhism — or new to the Dharma — more than the topic of offerings. It seems counter-intuitive from a “western” point-of-view. Buddhas have gone beyond all attachment, cravings or even the sense of “self” and “other” so why would an Enlightened Being appreciate an offering of fruit, incense, water, or a more elaborate Tsog feast. In fact, many teachers say, if you have time for no other practices, the two you should consider undertaking would be: offerings and meditation.

“The offering is not because the Buddhas need it or want it,” Venerable Zasep Rinpoche explained. “The offering is for you, an opportunity for you to create merit, good karma.”


Candles as light and incense and pleasant scents are two of the “sensory” offerings often presented to the Buddha daily by practicing Buddhists. They are not a shallow practice, nor symbolic. The activity of “offering” is a remedy for our attachments and greed, the opportunity to create merit and positive karma.


Nor is this just symbolic. Many people try to rationalize them that way, as metaphors and symbols — but they are much more than that. They are an important foundation practice for Buddhists, so much so — in some Tibetan schools — the basic foundation includes offering 100,000 water bowls to the Buddhas.

Offerings as “remedy”

In Buddhism, practices such as “offerings” and “prostrations” are sometimes seen as “remedies.” The metaphor of the healer/doctor is often used in Buddhist teachings: Buddha as the doctor, Dharma as the medicine, Sangha as the “supportive” team. In that metaphor, offerings are a remedy for our lifetime of “greed” and “attachment” in the same way that bowing or prostrations are a remedy for “pride” and “ego.” Ego and attachment are two of the biggest obstacles to Buddhist realizations. These two simple remedies are perfect ways to help overcome these issues (in Buddhism, often called “afflictions”, another medical metaphor.) [For a feature on the practice and benefits of prostrations, view this earlier feature>>]


The more time we spend on offerings, the more we appear to offer, the more we reinforce the activity of giving — and the positive merit the action accumulates. Even if this only works at the level of mind, this is an important reinforcement. Here, at a temple, all the sensory offerings are made, plus Tormas (cake offerings). The eight sensory offerings are: water for drinking, water for washing the feet of the Buddha, flowers, incense, light (candles), perfume (or perfumed water), food, and sound. Symbolically  many Buddhist try to place at least one of each in front of the Buddha each day — or, more simply, eight bowls of water symbolically representing the eight sensory offerings.


Over simplifying is always dangerous, but from the point of view of someone new to Buddhism, we are usually taught foundation practices in the beginning with two purposes in mind. In Tibetan Buddhism, this is very carefully outlined in precious Lamrim teachings, which include the topic of offerings.

Two purposes of foundation practices

If you simplify the purposes of the foundations they could generally be categorized as:

  • Creating merit
  • Purifying negativities.

These two aspects, the positive and negative, creating good karma, and purifying negative karma, are with the view of removing the obstacles to successful practice. To obtain realizations in our meditations, we need a calm mind, free of clinging, stress, anger and other afflictive emotions.

Simply put, offerings give us a precious opportunity to create merit. Even if the Buddha doesn’t need incense, we need the act of offering to start to “work out” our past “selfishness.”

If the fruit and incense offerings bother you, conflict your practice, then several teachers have recommended instead making an offering in the Buddha’s name to various charities. The point is to overcome the clinging and selfishness and greed by acts of giving and selflesness.


For special occasions, or in special places (here, the Holy place of Bodhghaya) the offerings tend to be even more elaborate. Note, especially, the gigantic Torma cakes with elaborate symbolism.


An offering to the yourself — your own Buddha Nature

The offerings are also implicitly — and explicitly — an offering to our own Buddha Nature. It’s implicit, of course, because in Mahayana Buddhism we are taught that we all have Buddha Nature. All sentient beings have the future potential to become a Buddha. Animals, insects and even criminals have the same Buddha Nature. When we make an offering to the Buddha — any Buddha — we are make offerings to ourselves and also to all beings, because we all have Buddha Nature.


The Buddha taught that each of us has “Buddha Nature”, Tatagatagharba, all sentient beings from the lowest to the highest. It is this nature that unites us in Oneness and Emptiness, and helps us feel Compassion for all beings. It is also why, when we offer to the Buddhas, we are also offering to ourselves — our own inner Buddha Nature, that will, one day, ripen into full Buddhahood.


Explicitly, because in advanced practices, in sadhanas (guided meditation practices), we are taught to visualize ourselves as Buddhas — as our own Buddha Nature ripened in the future to become a perfect Buddha. In the sadhanas we explicitly make “offerings to yourself as Buddha.” It can’t be more explicit than that. The role playing, including the offering to ourselves, is “training” of a sort.

To bring back the medical metaphor: ourselves as intern Buddhas.

Water bowl offerings

In Lamrim, we learn to make water bowl offerings. In fact, we are asked to — over a period of time — make 100,000 water bowl offerings. The great wisdom of this practice is that over the course of the year, or two, that we make these offerings, we gradually come to appreciate and understand the practice. Water bowl offerings are very special and precious and normally tied to a small performance of sound and action (mantra and mudra). [For a full how-to on Water Bowl offerings, see this feature>>]

Offerings continue throughout all our Dharma practice. In fact, as we move to more advanced or devoted practice, the offerings become much more elaborate.

The simplest and most elegant offering is water. The eight bowls represent the eight sensory offerings, but each is filled with water. The reason we offer water in this practice is it is consider pure. It also recognizes that all people, even someone who has nothing to offer, can generate good karma with offerings. With the exception of areas with shortage of water, generally water is the least expensive offering, accessible to all.

Leave a reply

Are you a Sentient Being? *

Copyright Buddha Weekly 2007-2017. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to excerpt stories with full credit and a link to Budddha Weekly. Please do not use more than an excerpt. Subject to terms of use and privacy statement. All information on this site, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote  understanding and knowledge. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, including medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Buddha Weekly does not recommend or endorse any information that may be mentioned on this website. Reliance on any information appearing on this website is solely at your own risk.

Send this to a friend