Offering water on an altar is one of the most common material offerings in Buddhism. It is also known to be more powerful than precious gems and treasures, because water is plentiful, and can be relinquished easily by both the poor and rich, untainted by stinginess.
Every devotee can and should offer fresh water on your Buddhist altar. You can have any number of cups/bowls, less or more, even 100, or more; it is really up to what you can do. Normally, it is seven bowls for Tibetan Buddhism and just one cup of water for Mahayana Buddhism. With that said, the water that is used for offering should ideally be endowed with these eight qualities:
- Cool - The cooling effect of water symbolizes the purification from tainted illusion, and one's ability to uphold the Buddha's teachings.
- Tasty - The tastiness of water symbolizes that one will be privileged to savour a wide variety of delicacies.
- Light - The lightness of water symbolizes good physical and spiritual health.
- Soft - The softness water symbolizes the gentleness of one's thoughts.
- Clear - The clearness of water symbolizes one's thoughts are clear and pure.
- Odorless - The odourless water symbolizes one's thoughts are free from all obstacles.
- Soothing to the Throat - The water helps to sooth the throat, accomplishing one's coherence in speech.
- Harmless to the Stomach - The water helps to cleanse the stomach, even for those suffering from stomach ailments.
When one offers water, one's negative karma gets cleansed away. He/she accumulates merits by practicing generosity. The Buddha's compassion and mercy flows down to benefit all sentient beings, just like how water flows from higher grounds to lower grounds.
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