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Creating your Altar and Making Offerings

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Teaching by Venerable Domo Geshe Rinpoche

Good evening. We’re going to talk about creating offerings tonight. We’ll do so, as usual, on different levels.

When we’re looking at this system, we’re looking at a Western transplant of an Eastern process. In that way, the altar is set up in the traditional manner that we do in the Tibetan system. Here we have a little bit different kind of looking altar, which gives a very nice contemporary appearance, with different levels and the thangkas hanging behind. It’s very appropriate, but it comes a little bit different than the traditional.

When you are setting up your Buddhist workstation, [as] I call [it], you want to have…just like you have pencils and paper and your computer and everything around you, you want to have everything that you’re going to need, all of your Buddhist tools right handy, so in case you feel a mantra coming on there’s your mala right there (laughter). Some people leave their mala or have a separate mala right there in their meditation place – sometimes right on their altar. And they never take that outside. They just keep that there. I never used to wear my mala, but then I was a hermit and I never left my room, so there must be some connection between those two processes.

When you have all of the things that you need surrounding you…it comes more comforting when you gaze around, you have something over here, like over here hanging on the wall that has something disruptive or too exciting or too stimulating. It’s better to remove even these things in your peripheral view on both sides. It just helps to reduce any irritants. Some people like to put one of those little Japanese screens around where they’re doing their meditation.

You have to find a place in your house that is going to be comfortable and where you’re not going to be jumped on by Chihuahuas or cats or children or that are sitting next to the telephone that’s about to ring. You reduce all of these as much as you can to zero, and you focus on your actual working area. In that way, just like Buddha Shakyamuni when he sat down for his enlightenment meditation. He said, “My seat is firm and I shall not rise from this place until I attain enlightenment.”

His seat was firmly set. Please don’t make that vow. You do your practice step-by-step. Don’t make a vow that, “Today I’m going to attain enlightenment.” I know many students do that as sort of a remembrance of the grand events of the awakening of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. But please don’t even do it for that purpose because it puts a little bit too much strain on your process and you don’t want to do that right now. You want to make that steady effort.

However, you should feel when you sit down on your meditation cushion, you make it as comfortable as possible. For those of you [[[Wikipedia:present|present]]] sitting on chairs I bet you don’t like sitting on the floor. Or your knees don’t go good like that. When you have any difficulty sitting, you find the correct position. If you can sit on the floor cross-legged in a very nice Oriental-style position, and many of you [[[Wikipedia:present|present]]] are able to do that. If you’re not, it doesn’t make you any less holy. Or it doesn’t make you any more holy if you can do it. It simply has a stable tripod appearance to your position, and it does give a certain kind of stability. But only when it doesn’t hurt.

So if you’re sitting like Kris and you’re sitting for meditation, sometimes it helps to spread your legs the way Pete is doing and keep your feet…get more of a tripod position, so that however you’re sitting you’re feeling stable. That is your diamond seat. Generally, we only use the word diamond seat to the actual location that Lord Buddha Shakyamuni sat on. So I’m using it in a very contemporary mode. Like a birthday party kind of a…I don’t know why I said it. Ideally, that will be your diamond seat (laughs). Now I remember why I said it. So treat your meditation area with a lot of care and respect.

If you don’t have any space at all, then you simply have your sadhana and you sit on your bed, like that. I think everyone can find a little space to do their work where they’re going to feel comfortable. In that space, this is your meditation space. However, I’m going to give you some general ideas. The Dharma Center altar here is much more elaborate than you would do at home. However, the elements here have some meaning. I’m going to talk about how to make offerings, but first I’m going to talk about altar, otherwise you don’t know why you’ve got things sitting out that are considered to be Buddhist. Or you go the other way and you think that anything that has to do with Buddhism should go on the altar. So let’s look at some of the various elements.

We have here two [[[statues]]], but you really only require a picture or an actual photograph of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. Has anyone ever seen one? No, OK. 2,500 years ago they didn’t have cameras (laughter). Although I understand that the story goes that the very first image that was drawn of him was when the Buddha looked into still water and an artist looked at his image and translated that to a canvas or a printed material.

You need to have some representation of enlightenment there in your vicinity. Since the Buddha is a universal symbol for the awakened one and for the enlightened state, the Buddha is not just purely Indian. We think that the Buddha is Tibetan, right? And the Japanese people think that Buddha is Japanese. Vietnamese people have a completely different look. And Indian people have a completely different look. However, we know by historical data that Buddha was an Indian. Everyone knows that.

In fact, the Buddha is a universal symbol of the awakened one. In that way, the Buddha has just as very much right to be considered as Western iconography as any other symbols that we have of holy beings. Are you with me? The West has come a long way since…I hear in the 1950’s that people would have – I even saw one – these big plaster Buddhas and they would use them as doorstops. They had no idea that this was a symbol of enlightenment, a symbol of the awakened one. In that way, you don’t see that kind of thing anymore.

So we place an image of the Buddha at the top, or at the center if you have just a small area. In that way, some part of your vision is able to perceive the things on your altar while you’re meditating. In that way, your eyes light upon the traditional symbols of enlightenment. And something in you that very well transcends this activity that you’re performing as an American, something inside you has a connection to those long long time symbols of the Buddha.

Usually one has a picture of one’s teacher in their meditation area. The small object that…somebody at one of the teachings said, “What does that chest piece mean? Why do you have a chest piece there?” This is not a chest piece – this is a stupa. The stupa is a representation of the Buddha’s mind, of enlightened mind. I’m not going to go into it today, but there are eight different types of stupas and traditions, and literally how the Buddhist teachings are organized with the various levels and markings on the stupa. Those who are studying about stupas can buy a book and say, “This is the Four Noble Truths. This is the Eightfold Path. That’s the three levels; the ten bodhisattva levels. This is the sun and the moon.” And many many. It’s actually very interesting.

However, for purpose of our discussion here, you want to have a symbol of the Buddha’s mind. Some people have a photograph of the great stupa at Boudhanath and they may place that on their altar; a photograph of the modern stupa. Or the stupa in Sarnath, which is where Lord Buddha Shakyamuni gave his first teaching. There are many aspects to that. And again, you can do that with a photograph. You don’t need a three-dimensional object if it’s hard to obtain.

Then we have the seven traditional water bowls. They’re filled with pure water and it represents various types of offerings that were traditional offerings in the ancient world. For example, I may not do them in order because I’m not concerned with that, one would offer flowers, but here in the form of water. The position of the [[[water]]] bowl means that that is a flower offering. There would be a food offering, which would be very typical – food and flowers. Another one of the water bowls represents incense. Another one represents perfumed water, such as saffron or oils or literally perfume placed into water.

One of the bowls represents the traditional washing of the feet of an honored guest who would come. Imagine, at that time people who went barefoot and arrived dusty, and you arrive at a home and they want to pay homage and respect – strong welcoming. They would pour water over your feet so that it would cool you and clean your feet, as well as offering you water to drink.

And then also there is the offering of music. If you’ve obtained a dorje and bell, you can place it on the altar as well, representing the offering of music.

The ease of offering bowls of water can’t be overlooked, as opposed to obtaining the materials every day that are described. However, it comes like this…and then we actually have fruit and flowers and food and flowers and chocolates – [in] America you have to have chocolates. And juice, fruit juice.

Also light. One of the bowls represents light. There we go.

What you offer must be obtained ethically and legally. Are you with me? So for example, if you wanted to offer flowers on your altar, you wouldn’t go to your neighbor’s garden and steal them and put them on your altar because they don’t belong to you. So it has to be something in some way that, either by going out and working and getting the money or buying, or in some way, that object becomes in your possession. Or if you’re out in the wilderness and nobody owns it and you pluck wildflowers to put on your altar, this is OK too. So it has to be obtained in a clean manner.

In that way, it seems like it’s easy on the surface, and yet, for example, if you’re talking about chocolates that you may place on your altar; you go out to the store to buy things to put on your altar because it beautifies and it has meaning; and you look at these chocolates and you think, “Would I buy those chocolates for myself or will I buy them for offerings?” And then you say, “No, I’m going to buy them for offerings. I want to put something on the altar and make offerings.”

In that way, halfway home you regret that you were going to place those on the altar (laughter) and your mind has actually got the bag open and half your mind is inside the bag. In that way, once you reach a certain place you’ve already offered them to yourself, you might as well eat them (laughter). However, this is a little bit inauspicious for your process, shall I say (laughter).

Once you go and you’re buying things for offering, you need to keep a careful state of mind so you don’t attach…like those of you who took the twenty-four hour Mahayana vows this weekend, that you’re not grasping on to it. You have to hold that non-grasping. And I strongly suggest that you offer those things very quickly. Place them on your altar in the appropriate manner, which I’m going to explain in a while.

Student: It’s not a snack bar.

Rinpoche: No. That’s right. This is not your traveling snack bar.

And this brings out another benefit to offering water – so few people are attached to water that the fault of grasping after water can’t really accrue. You take the water from your tap if it’s drinkable water and you place it on the altar, and you don’t regret. So you don’t create a controversy for yourself by placing objects on your altar that you have the possibility of regretting, until you’re strong enough that the water offering comes very good like that.

Also, there is a traditional teaching that I’m not going to go into about the eight wonderful qualities of water and how it should be smooth and clear, and all of these types of qualities of water. Water is actually one of the best of offerings.

However, these represent the ancient tradition of the traditional offerings that have been done for, well, maybe more than 2,500 years. So we maintain the tradition. The tradition is that the bowls are placed in a line, and the distance between the bowls – really it’s all very technical – should be about the length of a barley seed, or we could say a grain of rice. [Senior students] will show you some time the correct method for filling the water bowls. And at the same time, for those of you who are able to, there is an offering mantra for each one of the bowls, offering the specific substance that is described in the ancient texts.

In that way, that begins the actual part of how one creates offerings. In your sadhana is a line – and I’m working very carefully, point-by-point is your sadhana so you understand what you’re saying – but if there are parts of the sadhana that you don’t understand, don’t worry. Because eventually it will come clear.

I present clouds of every type of offering, both actual and mentally transformed

Here we’re talking about clouds of offering, both in the actual. So these are objects that you’re placing on the altar. If you notice that the candy bowls are filled to overfilling. There should be an abundance, as if you could pour masses of pearls and rubies and chocolate bars and gold coins and…what other kinds of things would you do?

Student: Heaps of flowers.

Rinpoche: Like this. All piled together. I know Western they have little distinct things. We don’t actually mix our flowers in with it. But you may have packages of cookies. These little wrapped candies are very nice because they keep for quite a long time and it keeps them clean.

But this kind of abundance. The abundance is what I want you to get in this part of it, because in your meditation area, usually in front of your holy objects, you want to be able to look at it and you want to be able to go ahhhhhh. There is nothing more. “That bowl could not have held another candy. I can’t criticize what I have on there at all. It’s so beautiful. The dish that I’m placing on the altar is so beautiful.” The artist in you, the art appreciator in you, has a feeling like, “Well done.” It satisfies that level of your being. Why not? It pleases you to look at it and it pleases you to be in that environment.

Now, the offerings that are done that are the actual offerings are the ones that are here ([probably] points to heart). These are the ones that you are placing on your altar and these are the ones that you are offering on your altar. However, you’re not offering a piece of candy to a picture, isn’t that so? That’s reasonable. You can’t say like, “Eat eat eat” (laughter). In the Hindu they do this, you know. This is why they always have the rice coming out the mouths [of statues] and cindura. And they go like, “Now you eat.” We don’t do that in our tradition because it’s too solidified and it comes like play-acting. I don’t care what they do. We don’t do that in our tradition. We don’t see the Buddha as living here, requiring actual food.

Before we move into the mentally created part…we’re doing actually. Your meditation area and the objects that you place there are reflections of your mental efforts toward creating a beautiful space for you to do your meditation. So in that way, when you look at the pictures and the statue, then you are remembering something inside. You’re remembering something inside. It’s not the actual thing there, but it’s your mental capacity to understand that the living presence of the representations of those meditation area beings is something that is alive inside you.

So the careful caretaker will present beautiful offerings and will do so by realizing that what they are doing is, as I’ve told you about many events in your own life, it is a version of what is happening internal. You can make it strictly external.

There was one famous story about Geshe Chakawa, who always gets good stories told on him, who had his altar in a normal state of repair. Some things needed refreshing, maybe the flowers, who knows. You do the best you can. It’s not like every single day you’re putting fresh flowers there, although some people do. I know people who used to do that. And that’s good.

However, he heard that one of his benefactors was coming to visit him. So he busied himself in making his altar as beautiful as possible because he wanted to impress his benefactor. In that way, he dusted and he cleaned and he put fresh flowers and fresh fruit, and everything looked so beautiful. He polished his silver water bowls, or silver or tin or iron, whatever he had.

Then he stood back and looked at it, and he said, “Oh you rascal. You’re doing this with so poor motivation. You have no intention of beautifying the altar for the benefit of the actual purpose. But in fact you’re doing it to impress someone.” Like that, he went outside and got handfuls of dirt and through them all over his altar (laughs) to punish himself for having tried to impress…maybe it wound up looking everything a little bit dusty. This is in Tibet – a lot of dust in Tibet.

We invented dust, you know (laughter). There was hardly any dust anywhere in the world until we got started. We whipped up those winds so bad that there’s dust everywhere in the world now. Anyway.

And so his altar returned to the original look. It might have even been worse looking, so his benefactor was a little bit surprised when he came in. And yet he stuck by watching his own mind and how he had been reacting to that.

Like that, you have something that satisfies the caretaker, good. It satisfies you in your stability, in your meditation place so that you are feeling everything is prepared. Maybe that’s on a good day. I don’t know if you can get everything beautifully prepared. Anyway, you sit down and do the best you can.

One of the purposes of the water bowls is to allow a real practitioner to be able to do a practice by envisioning the mentally created offerings. In this way, this is one of the few places in your sadhana where you’re actually doing visualizations.

There are different levels of presenting offerings. Let’s do it this way. When you are placing the bowl of fruit or candy or juice, or whatever it is you’re going to be placing, you do so like this. You walk up to your altar as though you were approaching the king, I’m going to say. So you do so…it comes funny. I was going to go like this (bending over a little) and in my American I was going to go like this (straightening up). When you approach the king, we would go like this, bent over very very low. However, if you were going to approach the king, to be correct you would stand up very tall, wouldn’t you? Isn’t that interesting?

So we remain kind of half-bent over because we aren’t sure which way to go (laughter). We don’t bow as low as we should but then we’re not fully straightened up, so we don’t satisfy either system, do we? I get confused because of the cultural differences. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling uncomfortable when people are bending over, because in my mind I’m thinking that going up straight is more respectful. Maybe that has to do with some kind of shift that’s going on in my cultural conditioning. Anyway, that was my idea then.

You hold the offering in two hands and you approach the altar as though you are approaching the living presence interior is also approaching a kind of an altar with offerings, I’m going to say. If you have something in your hand that you’re offering, there should be something going on inside at the same time in your actual you, the real you interior. Otherwise it’s a hollow gesture and you might as well just sit down and eat the whole bag of chocolates. You want it to happen on the inside and the outside. You want it to be a complete action. This is some place that is very safe for you to be able to connect with your interior, by performing an activity that is meaningful on the inside and it’s meaningful on the outside.

Your interior needs to learn how to have an offering state of mind when working with inner guru. In that way, there has to be something that your inner process learns how to do so that your inner can go to inner guru very easily. In the same way, at the same time you are saying, “I am making these offerings to the enlightened ones.” You’re causing the same meaning to occur on your own interior as though on two different world-systems, but you’re both in the same place. But let’s just say…I love this word; you and your doppelganger (laughter). I had to say that.

You and your doppelganger are performing the identical movement at the same time. As though it was a coordinated movement. Now forget about doppelgangers and other world-systems. Let’s talk about the actual living part of you which has not moved in harmony. You have not moved in harmony with it, and it has not moved in harmony with you so many times that you don’t think that you have to. There should be a coordinated effort.

In every part of your life, you could be alive on the inside and alive on the outside. While you’re at work, while you’re taking a shower, while you are walking down the street, you could be alive on the inside and alive on the outside, meaning that your precious inner being has a much stronger method to be alive on the outside. And in that way, you feel really alive. Are you with me?

In that way, you are making the offering on the outside and this is a very safe method, in the privacy of your own space, to practice being with your inner being and performing activity that is beneficial for inner being on the inside while you are doing a beneficial action on the outside.

And so, you have an actual object in your hand. As you approach, you are making mental gestures toward your interior. Now you are making these offerings, you can even talk to your interior and say, “Now you make the inner offerings.” The inner offerings have to be made in an inner way and the outer offerings have to be made in an outer way. This is, according to the tradition, making inner and outer offerings, yes.

You are making the outer offerings. Your interior is making the inner offering. And when inner and outer offerings are made correctly, there comes a dynamic surge and you feel something while you are making the offerings because something is actually happening inside. You are practicing how to be alive. You are practicing how to be alive. Are you with me?

Making offerings every day allows you to practice this. When you my students come to visit me and you bring me a bar of soap or financials or whatever it is…I got some beautiful bars of soap today. I make sure that I allow you to practice understanding that you are making an outer offering, which is good, and that the actual offering, the inner offering, is where the transformative work happens. In that way, I’m giving you an opportunity to make that inner offering correctly. I know sometimes people get nervous [because] I hand them back the thing and I say, “Is that the thing? Is that the thing? Are you doing the thing?” And again they do.

Everyone can do it. In that way, since I am able to observe how you are doing it, it’s your chance to see [if you] are actually making an inner offering or if you are making an outer gesture with just a little flap of your, like that. No, it’s not correct. I let you practice. I’m not saying you’re perfect at it, but I let you practice that.

So you practice that. For those of you who don’t have water bowls, it comes very nice if you get a beautiful glass, like a goblet and fill it up. But you must fill it almost all the way up. Again, the generosity is where you want to have this abundance and all of this should be reflected in your inner offerings – this sense of abundance.

It’s not enough to just [say,] “Here,” like that. That’s not an inner offering. An inner offering is like fwoooo. It’s big. It’s big. At the beginning you could almost make it flamboyant. There is no top on that. Are you with me?

Student: Something that often comes to me through the meditation, and I don’t know if I’m just missing this, but what often comes when I’m thinking about offerings is just this overwhelming sense of appreciation and gratitude. Is that something that would be considered an appropriate offering? Or is it more that you need a representation of a material form of abundance?

Rinpoche: Hold that thought because it can be an offering, but only if you make it into an offering. So far, it is gratitude. It’s not offering.

You who are making the outer offering could be offering a bowlful of candy, and this comes as far as mentally transformed, you say, “Here it is a bowl of candy,” but like the story of Atisha, who offered the previous Buddha Kashyapa a bowlful of dust. And he envisioned it as gold. He was a little boy, so he didn’t have anything. He got some dust and put it in a bowl and he said, “Here, Buddha, this is gold.” It wouldn’t be appropriate for an adult to do that – please don’t anybody offer me a bowlful of dust (laughter).

But like that, his internal process, which was quite well developed at that time…remember we were talking about Maitreya Buddha a few days ago. Remember, he had the power to be part of the process, the high holy theater, to be one of those surrounding the Buddha of that time. So he already had quite a developed sense and his internal offering, which was himself…even as a small child, what did he offer? He offered himself inside. Is that a good idea? Do you understand what I’m saying?

Now going back to the caretaker and actual way of being, the actual you inside dynamic – what happens to your guru, to the previous Buddha, who’s not here but like that…what happens when you move toward the object of your offering? Would that be good? I’m not making myself clear here.

When you energetically offer yourself, it’s like going to guru inside, isn’t it? So what would happen when would do that while you’re making offerings, you’re making offerings on the outside, but inside you are going to inner guru. Are you with me? You’re not projecting your inner being at the statue outside. You’re not confused with that. But they are an inspiration for you to understand what’s going on inside. Inner offerings remain inner, outer offerings remain outer.

However, the outer offerings could have a mentally transformed component, such as what Atisha offered as gold. Or you could say, “These are only ordinary candies. May they be transformed into their actual nature.” May they be transformed into their actual nature. Which is what I call suchness. Which is touching on a part of the sadhana which I haven’t really given anything in the way of commentary up to this point, and it’s not necessary.

But the profound level from which all phenomena appear in their myriad forms – may this return, may this be instantly transformed into its actual nature. And then, may it be changed back into its ordinary form. In that way, you are doing what? You’re purifying the offerings that you are giving.

So from the classical point of view, it’s very important that the outer offerings that you are making have been purified in the correct manner. And the correct manner is by plunging them into emptiness. Can you do that? Well then you just say it. You just say it. You make an auspicious gesture. “May they be plunged into emptiness and return purified of all negativities and all accumulations. Here is what I’m offering now” on the outside. Are you with me? I don’t use [the word] emptiness. I use suchness. But I know people know this word emptiness. They’re not exactly interchangeable, but I’m saying like that.

So, that is placed on the altar correctly. Now you’ve purified it and you have also performed the inner and outer offering. Any questions?

Student: Rinpoche, I had previously understood mentally transformed also to mean, for instance, I don’t have rubies and gold but the candies remind me of rubies and gold. And so, may they be offered like that.

Rinpoche: That’s right. And that’s what I said, “May they be gold. May they be abundant.” Even more abundance. We’re not going to have time to cover so many subjects here because I can’t get into the classic Samantabhadra’s offerings and the vast types of offerings. I gave so many teachings on making offerings, there are many many elements here.

The mental offerings that you are making are useful to withdraw your mind from ordinary activities and draw your mind toward the activity that you are performing, or the activity that you want to perform next. So in other words we say that you are gathering your mind and placing it into a method. And the method, which is tried and true, you want to gain a result.

Many people do spiritual practice to feel good and to attain some kind of mind-calming or suppression of symptoms of distress, but that’s not the purpose of this kind of meditation. This kind of meditation is to gather these elements that you are working with and you place them into the technique or the method, such as offering. And in that way, you expect that your energy and the work that you are doing, along with the method, produces some kind of enhancement of your energy. Not only enhancement of your energy, but transformation of your existing energy.

In that way, it becomes a greater gathering of energy, which can then be placed into the next method. What is the next line in the sadhana?

Students: I confess all my negative actions [[[accumulated]]] since beginningless time.

Rinpoche: That is the next method. That is the next method, by which you are gathering your mind again. When you are gathering your mind, that means that you have to literally disengage from many of the areas where you are dabbling all of the time. Your mental energies are always over here, like this. “Car…car…car…what was that tick tick?…car…car” like that. And, “Cold…cold…I feel cold…I feel cold now…I’m too hot…I’m too hot.”

These kinds of pools of mental energy have to be emptied. Like when the sea goes out again and it washes all of this water on. You see various pools, what they call tidepools where fish are swimming around and crabs are moving and the water is sloshing, and then more water. But it always remains there. You always have water there. So these are like the ineffective methods by which you coral and tie up and imprison your energy, which can be freed up in order to do practice.

Who knows, maybe you’re famous from a previous life at being able to make incredible offerings. Your mental functions just wooooo, like this. A lot of creative people are like this. Visualizing perfect offerings, as Ngawang Pema, who is very famous for making offerings, is working hard at drawing away, vacuuming away the tidepools of tied up energy and placing them into the method…because it’s fun? Is it fun? Yeah, it’s fun.

And when you vacuum even a couple of these tide pools, suddenly, as you were describing, making offerings, but you’re creating a surge and a vibration and an enthusiasm is starting to come into your heart center. And you become adept at making these kinds of offerings. You can literally…(laughs). Anyway, Samantabhadra knew. Samantabhadra is the special, special form of a Buddha. One of his chief components was being able to make extensive, extensive offerings. In that way, he increased his energy, he emptied all of the useless energy, placed it into a method, and then kept multiplying and multiplying and multiplying and multiplying.

For example, he would envision a light. Imagine what this does to your internal. He envisions a light. It comes easier, for some of you who have glasses, if you take off your glasses you see little rays coming out? Maybe squint, for those of you who don’t need glasses. And on the end of each one of those little rays, it divides. And each one of those rays of light divides – without dimming the light – and each one of those rays divides, and each one of those rays divides. And on and on and on, until all of space is filled. All of space is filled with this light. Vast, vast forms of offerings. That’s all I’m going to talk like that.

This possibility of making exquisite mental offerings also trains your mind in a certain way to be able to control and be able to envision the object of your offering, as well as the object that you are offering, and to be able to maintain this. Somebody was describing walking across a shaky bridge. Like this, you’re not very good at it, but step by step you’re going to hold the object of your visualization until you get to the one that you’re envisioning.

Please now close your eyes. I just want to show you, and I want to a little bit watch you. You must do it in your mental. I want you to envision you are holding a perfect red rose. Visualize a perfect red rose. You’re visualizing it for the purpose of offering it. So you’re not going to smell it. You are creating it. It has due on it. It is perfect in every way.

Now I want you to create a white rose and place it with the red rose. You’re holding the roses together. Now take a yellow rose. Now you have red, white and yellow roses and each one is the most perfect rose possible. These are the most perfect roses possible.

Now you take a blue rose and place a blue rose. Now you take a green rose. These roses I want you to mentally come and place them on the altar, or place them in my lap or hand them to me, as you see fit. Do that now.

Open your eyes. Not everyone was able to do it – it’s OK. Now open your eyes. I have roses falling around my ears, I swear. Somebody offered so many roses, I saw them falling around my ears, all different colors. These are the five colors of the rainbow. In that way, being able to envision all of the colors, even colors that are not possible with a rose, allows you to mentally transform something that you have never seen, isn’t that so? Thank you for the flowers. The altar also has some additional flowers here.

When you are doing these mental offerings, there is a sense of having to be fully present. Isn’t that so? Especially when you’re trying to hold together a group. I was going to do just a single flower, but then I thought no, I’ll make you stretch. All of you were able to create several colors. Some of you were able to do the whole thing. All of you could get the flowers over here and in some way present them, so that’s very good (applauds). You did it great.

Mentally created opens up a vast storehouse of possibilities. You have an inner guru to whom you can offer these mentally created offerings. How you do it, you do it. If you want to envision that the bowl of candies that you are offering, or whatever the object is, is being presented on the altar, and somehow, through some miraculous process, that it is being transformed – this is like a faith – that it is being transformed into the form that your actual inner guru can receive something. That might be easy for some of you [[[Wikipedia:present|present]]] to look at it that way. Just think, “May the inner guru receive this offering that I am placing here on the altar, in the form that inner guru can perceive and receive it.”

And so, when you are doing it that way, especially the work that you’ve done on your practice, you can say, “I offer my practice, I give the results of my practice, the hard work that I’m doing, or the joyful work that I’m doing. And may inner guru receive that in the form which is the correct form. May it be transformed into the form by which the interior process will benefit. I offer it to my interior process,” which means the entire work that goes on.

What are some of the other non-apparent things that you would offer?

Student: I asked you this at retreat, and I said when other people do good things for us or give us things that we can then, not in gratitude, but offer those then as offerings?

Rinpoche: Are you saying if someone offered you a box of candy, could you put it on your altar?

Student: I’m thinking more of a good deed that someone does for you.

Rinpoche: No, don’t do that.

Student: What if someone gives you a really neat gift?

Rinpoche: Let’s work with the offerings with things that you are obtaining for offering.

Student: What about love or what about yourself or what about the possibilities or what about hope?

Rinpoche: Possibilities. It’s not one of the traditional. It comes a little bit interesting, but if you can make that into an offering…I don’t know what you’re offering when you’re offering hope. It’s a little hard for me. Someone else?

Student: I’m not particularly fond of candies or chocolates. Is it enough to believe that the guru is fond of them?

Rinpoche: That comes good. A lot of people put almonds. It doesn’t have to be candies. You can offer pancakes (laughs). You could offer fruit. Candies come nice because they’re wrapped and they kind of sparkle very nicely.

In general, we offer light-colored offerings. However, since chocolate seems to be an important thing that is offered, offering chocolate comes good. It has to be something that’s edible. You can’t put plastic fruit on your altar, it’s not suitable. It has to be something that’s able to be eaten. And then you guys eat it. When it comes time to take it off the altar, and like company comes over and you don’t have anything to offer them, remember, “Oh that’s right. I put a cake on my altar.” This is what we used to do in the mountains in my before. We’d go, “This is the perfect thing,” and run upstairs and take the cake off the altar.

When you do, you do it in a more ceremonial way. You don’t take it like you’re taking it off of a grocery store shelf. You say, “Now I’m removing these offerings” and a little bow and a nod to the presence that’s there. Remember, too, that this is your meditation area. This is your place where you come alive, so your meditation area kind of takes on a life of its own. You get kind of a holy respect for your own meditation cushion, isn’t that so? So your whole altar area becomes something very important.

Student: I thought you said too that if you made a special meal or something like that, to offer the part of that meal.

Rinpoche: The first portion.

Student: And that goes on the altar.

Rinpoche: Yes. Somebody else?

Student: Dedication of service.

Rinpoche: You can offer service, yes. If you can get it into a form that allows you to make it as an inner offering. I’m talking especially about the inner offerings now. You can visualize yourself doing…

Student: Is it inappropriate to offer your heart for service, or your heart as an inner?

Rinpoche: What you’re saying is to offer yourself, the actual you. Yes. Remember, too, that some of these things that you’re saying, you may not be able to get it configured to make an inner offering.

Student: Someone said possibilities. I was thinking like you can offer your practice, but it’s not perfected. Can you offer your eventual perfected practice?

Rinpoche: Oh now isn’t that interesting?

Student: That’s the possibility that comes to my mind.

Rinpoche: OK. No, don’t go there. That hurts my head to try to…(laughter). You offer your practice. It’s one of the traditional non-material offerings.

Student: Can you offer your effort?

Rinpoche: That’s correct. That really is what you’re offering when you’re offering your practice – you’re offering effort. But try to keep it a little bit more like practice.

Student: Say you’re traveling and you’re just going away for a weekend. Should you plan to pack something from your altar in your bag…say you’re going to stay in a hotel for a weekend and you want to create a space, but you’re not going to take a whole lot of offerings. Should you just mentally take things with you, or should you literally…

Rinpoche: It depends upon the person. If you travel a lot and you feel that’s where you live…

Student: Can you take a picture?

Rinpoche: Yes, why not. If you wish. You’re going to take your sadhana and a little framed picture. I think that comes very good. You might take one of the plastic glasses that are wrapped in paper and fill it with water and there’s your water offering. Instant meditation area, good idea.

I have a friend, he had beautiful thangkas and he traveled quite a lot. He had a friend take digital photos of his thangkas and reduce them down to about this size, maybe about half an inch, and he had maybe 10, 12, 15. He showed them to me one day, in my before when I was still living in upstate New York. He had all of these tiny tiny little photos and a special little case that snapped close and a tiny little pair of tweezers so he could pick up the thangkas and look at them (laughter). I thought it was amazing.

Student: Like a stamp collection.

Rinpoche: Yes, like a stamp collection, but these are his holy thangkas. Then he’d put them back with his tiny tweezers – he wouldn’t touch them with his fingers because they were so small. He showed me each one of them, and we’re enjoying them so much. And that’s what he travels with. Of course, he goes with the damaru and his bell and these types of things which are very important to him.

Creating offerings is important also to develop the perfection of generosity. The mind of generosity is one that is able to be transformed into one of limitless compassion. The mind of generosity, the heart of generosity, it’s very important while you’re making offerings that you feel good, that you feel generous, that you feel that something marvelous has been done. In that way, that marvelous feeling translates into an authentic joyful experience in the internal language. Joy and joy mean exactly the same thing. Whether your bank statement didn’t balance and you’re complaining interior and sending signals, that is not understood at all.

But joy and feelings of generosity allow your inner being to literally expand in its level of reality. You want this expansion. In your practice, it says this expansion, this vastness that you want to experience; the sense of overwhelming gathering of your interested mind away from all of the other distractions allows you to create offerings that are authentic. In that way, your practice becomes an authentic practice.

One more question.

Student: If…

Rinpoche: And that question will have to remain for the next time that I am here teaching. For auspiciousness purposes, since this is the last teaching in this series, by leaving a question unsaid and unanswered means that there is still more that you wish to know.