Offerings & Merit

When we were in Sikkim last year, Khandro Kunzang Dechen Chodron said, "People don't have a money problem. They have a merit problem." In other words, if you have lots of merit, the money and other resources will be there, and the way to make the merit that results in wealth and resources is to practice generosity, and especially making offerings to the Three Jewels.

The idea of making generous and abundant offerings to the Three Jewels seems to be a hard one for non-Asian Buddhists to understand. If I think back to my childhood in the Christian Church, my family paid yearly dues and each Sunday we put some money in the collection plate. But we didn't grow up bringing offerings to the church. The candles and flowers on the altar just appeared every week, and I don't think we ever thought of them as "offerings." They were decorations. Actually, I don't think I ever really thought about why they were there other than I liked them.

In any case, in Buddhism and especially in Tibetan Buddhism, we are each encouraged to bing offerings to the temple or "center." If you've ever been to India, Nepal, Sikkim, or Bhutan, you've seen how the local Buddhists typically bring huge amounts of offerings in the form of foods, butter lamps, incense, flowers, etc. Here in the West, our offerings tend to pale by comparison, with some Western Buddhists even thinking that spending money on such offerings is a waste of resources that should better go for "good works" in the community. 

While we most definitely should also engage in such good works, we should never underestimate the benefit of making offerings to the Three Jewels for the sake of all sentient beings. Especially on powerful karmic multiplication days, such as the recent Lhabab Duchen, I encourage all Western Buddhists to step up our game and make lots and lots of offerings to the Three Jewels.

When we go to our local temple or center and see lots of butter lamps, flowers, fruits, incense, offering bowls, etc., if we personally didn't actually help make those offerings, then we are not the ones that are making in that merit. It's the persons who made those offerings and we are just by-standers. Sure, we are supposed to mentally imagine making such offerings and, sure, that does generate merit. But mentally generated offerings should be on top of and in addition to whatever we can afford to offer physically. 

Once the great Longchenpa was doing some puja and He only made mental offerings. He thought, I'm a great meditator. All I need to do is visualize and that's enough. But Ma Ekadzati, Protectress of Mantra and Atiyoga, came to Him and chastised Him for being stingy. She said that He needed to make both physical and mentally generated offerings. If the Omniscient Longchenpa was told that even He needed to make physical offerings, then how much more should we?

Further, after the offerings have sat on the altar for some time, they should not be eaten or taken back by the person who has offered them. They should be distributed to others, especially the needy, with the thought that, by eating or enjoying such offerings, may they form a connection with the Three Jewels that eventually leads them to full and complete Awakening. For instance, we can take food offerings to our local Food Share or community pantry or personally distribute them to the homeless. Or we can leave them outside for wild animals to eat. When we do, we gather merit from having made offerings to the Three Jewels and we make merit from further sharing with the needy.

In any case, the best way to solve a money problem is to generate more merit through the paramita of generosity.