In front of an image of Buddha on our shrine we set up beautiful offerings. We may arrange a row, or many rows, of seven offering substances: water for drinking, water for bathing, flowers, incense, light, perfume and food. These can be offered as actual substances or as water. The seven substances represent the objects that delight the senses. In some Asian countries it used to be customary for hosts to offer these things to their guests whenever they entered the house. In the same spirit we can offer anything we find beautiful or welcoming. When we offer water to Buddha we should regard it as pure nectar because that is how it is perceived by Buddha.
The practice of offering is a very important preparation since it creates a vast amount of merit (good fortune) and makes our mind very strong. One of its special beauties is that everyone can do it easily because seven offering bowls are not hard to find and we can easily obtain water. Furthermore, when we offer water there is no danger of developing greed or miserliness as there is when we offer other substances. Therefore, this is one practice that we can perform very purely right from the beginning.
The Benefits of Making Offerings
When we offer water, we should try to offer water that is cool, delicious to taste, light, soft, clear, sweet smelling, good for the digestion, and soothing on the throat. Offering cool water causes us to develop pure moral discipline, offering delicious water ensures that we will always find delicious food and drink in future lives, offering light water will cause us to experience the bliss of physical suppleness, offering soft water makes our mind calm and gentle, offering clear water makes our mind clear and alert, offering sweet smelling water brings easy and powerful purification of negative karma, offering water that is good for the digestion reduces our illnesses, and offering water that soothes the throat makes our speech beautiful and powerful. If we cannot find water that possesses these eight qualities, we should imagine that we are offering such water and then we shall receive the same benefits.
Offering flowers creates the cause to attain the special attributes of a Buddha. Temporarily, we create the cause to have a pleasant appearance in future lives, free from sickness, ageing, and other bodily ailments; and to see everything around us in a pleasant aspect. If we could see everything and everyone as beautiful we would not develop anger or jealousy but would feel affectionate love for all living beings. On the basis of this we would find it easy to generate compassion and bodhichitta. Moreover, if we could experience everything as pleasant we would not generate attachment because our mind would always be balanced. From this we can see that immense benefits come from making qualified offerings.
By offering incense we create the cause always to experience pleasant smells and never to be reborn in unpleasant places. We also create the cause to keep pure moral discipline and attain pure concentration.
Temporarily, offering light makes our mind clear and sharp during meditation, and creates the cause to have clear eyesight. Moreover, offering candles with steady, long lasting flames crates the causes to have a long life. Principally, however, offering light is a powerful method for destroying the darkness of ignorance and increasing our wisdom.
When we offer perfume we creat the cause to attain pure moral discipline, to become free from samsaric rebirths and to attain the form body of a Buddha.
The benefits of offering food are that in the future we will always find nourishing food and drink, gain freedom from the suffering of poverty, be sustained by the food of concentration and obtain the enjoyments of the Buddhas.
By offering music we create the cause to hear only pleasant sounds in the future, especially the sound of Dharma; and never to hear unpleasant sounds such as bad news. It is also a cause of attaining the speech of a Buddha.