Meaning and Purpose of the 8 Auspicious Offering Bowls
The following was prepared by Ani Lucia Latimer:At the time of the Buddha in ancient India, it was the custom of the day for devoted Buddhist households to make offerings to the Buddha and his monks and nuns as they traveled. Typically they would be offered clean water for drinking and bathing, flowers, incense, light or a lamp, perfume or fragrance and music. These offerings eventually became known as the 8 Auspicious Offerings and symbolize the coming forth of the Buddha’s precious teachings into the world. These same offerings are still used today on Tibetan Buddhist altars as a way to express gratitude and respect for the Buddha.
Typically on a Tibetan Buddhist Altar there are seven offering bowls and one light. They are arranged on the altar in a straight line close together. The distance between each bowl is about the width of a grain of rice. The water bowls are filled left to right and filled full but not overflowing. The water is poured evenly and steadily with smooth, regular movement. If the offering is poured in the correct way then it is said that beneficial outcome occurs and obscurations are dispelled. The closing of the altar is done in reverse, from right to left.
Deeper symbolic meaning and purpose has arisen for these offerings that correspond to a significant Buddhist prayer called the Seven Limb Puja or Prayer. Below is a list of the traditional offerings and what they represent.
First Offering Bowl: WATER for drinking “ARGHAM”
Pure, clean water offered to the Buddha for drinking and to cleanse the mouth or face. “The purity of the water has 8 qualities: crystal clarity, coolness, sweetness, lightness, softness, freedom from impurities. It is soothing to the stomach and makes the throat clear and free”. This offering symbolizes the auspicious results of all virtuous causes and conditions. In the Seven Limb Puja, it represents Homage & Prostration.
Second Offering Bowl: WATER for bathing “PADHYAM”
Third Offering Bowl: FLOWERS “PUSHPE”
Fourth Offering Bowl: INCENSE “DHUPE”
Fifth Offering Bowl: LIGHT “ALOKHE”
Sixth Offering Bowl: PERFUME “GENDHE”
Seventh Offering Bowl: CELESTIAL FOOD “NEVIDHYA”
Eighth Offering Bowl: MUSIC “SHABTA”
The Stanzas of Offering Water from the Pure Vision, An Ocean of Blessings by Dudjom Rinpoche
The Significance of the Eight Offerings from a talk given by Khenpo Karthar in May, 1993 at Kunzang Palyul Choling