Altar (Butsudan) and Gong (Kane)
The Buddha statue is not worshipped as an idol, or bowed to as an act of obeisance to a god. The Buddha was an historical figure who is admired and respected for his accomplishment, but is not regarded as a deity. The statue is an artistic representation of the Zen ideal of the seated figure of a Buddha, or of the Buddha in one stage of his life, such as the baby Buddha, which is included in the Buddha’s birthday ceremony. The serene depiction of the Buddha in profound samadhi is an image of our original nature which is meant to inspire and encourage us.
The artistic expression of this can be seen in the altar. The Buddha sits silently in meditation. The serene figure is surrounded by golden flowers.
Incense slowly rises before it, and candles give it light. The gong echoes its sound at the beginning of the meditation. With their aid, we can see the oneness of the world and the nearness of enlightenment. We should be able to recognize ourselves in the image of the Buddha.
The statue should remind us of what we are and may become, and of the seed of Buddhahood within us. The flowers remind us that we have our roots in the mud of darkness and ignorance, but that if we rise above them, we can also see with the eyes of the Buddha. Just as the incense is worthless unless it is burned, we are reminded that the potential within is also worthless, unless it be developed. With the echoing sound of the gong, we remember that our life is fleeting with time that knows no stopping. We are reminded of the present moment and that it is in this present moment that we must begin our meditation, in order to rise above life and death. We know that it is in this moment when we must empty our minds and fulfill our potential to be a Buddha!
The unity of life is seen in the altar. We must think of ourselves and the world as being One. We must also not separate our inner feelings and attitudes from our outward behavior, nor think of ourselves as separate from the objects in the world surrounding us. We must perfect our lives — inner and outer — in order to live a life of an Enlightened One. An Enlightened One lives in Reality. Everyone is urged to continue their meditation in this spirit!