Reverend Gen Oikawa
Reverend of the Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose
San Jose, California
The altar at home, the gohonzon, is a branch of the temple. The people can practice even when they don’t go to the temple. They can still have a sacred time any time and any day. As a minister of the temple, I can pray at the temple during the day. I sit at my gohonzon in my house in the mornings and the evenings. I meditate, chant the Lotus Sutra, and chant Nam myoho renge-kyo, which is our main practice.
Phillip J. Rudko
Brooklyn, New York
My altar came from the Kalmuck Russian culture where I grew up thirty years ago, in southern New Jersey. The triads on my altar are Russian, and there is an image of Dojge Rolphe, the founder of the Lama Temples in Peking. The Mongols looked toward him for spiritual guidance. I am a warden of a tradition I admire. It is important to preserve cultures and traditions. The altar has been an important part of my life.
San Antonio, Texas
My altar is in my meditation room. The only thing I do there is meditate. It is a place of refuge. I have a three-tiered altar with offerings on the bottom row, pictures of my teachers on the second tier, and on the third row I have representations of the body, speech, and mind. Above the shrine, there is a tanka of Vajradhara, Dharmakaya, which represents the ultimate nature, Buddha-nature, of mind. To the left of the shrine, I have a photograph of my guru, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and to the left there is a Tibetan syllable, Hrih, which is the seed syllable for Vajrayogini. Then, above everything I have a photograph of His Holiness. I use the altar every morning and evening, and I do extended retreats in my home from two to four months in the room.
My altar reminds me of my practice and the things that are important to me. There is a buddha; a Jizo, the protector of children; and a Kwan Yin figure. These images remind me of my practice and also symbolize my family. If a friend dies, I put their name on the altar for 49 days, which is a traditional Buddhist way of observing a death. I also have a photograph of my mother, who has cancer. Maintaining and having an altar reminds us that we are a spiritual family in both the smaller and larger context. It is a way of extending ourselves to the world.
My altar is a reminder of my beliefs and a reminder to purify my body, speech, and mind. I have statues of the Buddha and Bodhisattva, and a picture of my guru. The altar is the connection with the universe. The altar is a representation of my inner self. When I travel the altar is inside of me. In the morning I sit in front of my altar chanting, doing visualization, cultivation, and clarification of my thoughts.
St. Petersburg, Florida
On my altar there are buddhas from Burma and Thailand, a stone one from Sri Lanka, and a wooden one that is crumbling. I also have an incense burner with beach sand, a bell, flowers, a shrine to my cat, Nova, who just died, and a quote about impermanence. I have always had an altar for two reasons: because I need that focal point and a visual reminder of the Buddha, and because it is important for me to have a place where I can make offerings.
New York, New York
Behind my altar I have a beautiful scroll written by Goto Zuigen Roshi; the scroll is Mumon’s commentary of the 19th koan. I have a little buddha, a cheap one from Chinatown. The buddha sits on a ceramic tile from the 15th century. I have a little hand-written book of the Quan Yin Sutra. I have a few Buddhist beads from all over. Also, I have a large bead of amber that a dear friend gave me, a photograph of a Chinese monk that I know, an incense burner, and a silk baroque cloth from Japan. All of it sits on a cardboard box that says champagne upside down. I bow to the altar every morning. It is special and ordinary at the same time.
San Francisco, California
The altar is like a well. It is important to not have energy track through it. I have it in a place that is cool, quiet, and still, which reflects the practice. It has a buddha that my parents had when I was a child. I also have a sculpture of a bodhisattva. My wife’s and my wedding mahala are on the altar and a phrase that says “Only you can know,” which Mitsu Suzuki wrote for me. The altar represents something in your life that is unassailably pristine, but even so it requires great care. Taking care of one thing allows for stability in one’s life.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
This is the first of your three free articles this month. Subscribe today to gain access to our award-winning publication plus all of our online offerings, including films, video dharma talks, e-books, and more.Subscribe Now
Already a subscriber? Log in.