|January 9th of the lunar calendar is birthday of the celestial guardians. In folk religions such as Daoism, most consider heaven as the god controlling the universe, commonly known as the heavenly king. It is popular belief that the ninth day of the first lunar month is the birthday of the heavenly king, and people should prepare a feast as an offering to pray for blessings. In Buddhism, the Offering to Buddhas and Celestial Guardians Dharma Service is the major Dharma service of the Chinese New Year with the purpose of paying homage and making offerings to the Triple Gem, and at the same time, inviting the celestial guardians to share in the feast.|
Buddhists do not take refuge in celestial beings, however, we do pay our respect to them as most celestial guardians have taken refuge in the Buddha and have vowed to protect and prolong the Dharma. Therefore, in hopes for having a safe year, Buddhists not only pay sincere gratitude to the Triple Gems, they also pay remembrance to the protection received from the celestial guardians. That is why during January of the lunar calendar, most temples will hold an “Offering to Buddhas and Celestial Guardians Dharma Service” ceremony.
The Hsi Lai Temple will hold an “Offering to Buddhas and Celestial Guardians Dharma Service” Ceremmony on Feb. 24th and February 25th. This elaborate ceremony, is an opportunity to pray to the Triple Gems and celestial Guardians, hoping the come year will pass smoothly and safely, and the word will be peaceful, prosperous, and far from disaster.
Procedures for the Offering to Buddhas and Celestial Guardians Dharma Service:
- Purification of the Shrine – the ceremony takes about an hour to complete because the different offering tables must be purified while reciting the Great Compassion Dharani. The purification water must be sprinkled on the tables and chairs and into all four corners of the shrine with no place ignored. Afterwards, we pray for world peace and transfer the merits of the purification ceremony to the celestial guardians, all spirits and beings within the Three Realms, and the Sangha guardians.
- Inviting the Holy – devotees and the presiding monks pay homage with the sincerest minds, offering praise to the merit and virtues of the Triple Gem and the celestial guardians individually. At the same time, they are invited to their seats to accept offerings of fruit, delicacies, tea, and hand towels by the devotees. At the conclusion, all turn to chant and praise in front of the Buddha and transfer all merits.
- Offering of Food – only attendants, servers, and devotees should be in the shrine. Every move in serving the dishes should be according to signals, and conducted with the utmost caution. Six or eight dishes, rice, soup, chopsticks, and hand towels should be offered one at a time.
- Offering Ceremony – after chanting the praise, the liturgy for offering is recited followed by reciting twenty-one times the Dharani for Food Offering and numerous times the Dharani for Dew Water. The proclamation with names of devotees will be read and the verse for transfer of merits chanted. The offering ceremony concludes at this point.
- Farewell to the Holy – right after the merits transfer gatha, recite the Medicine Buddha’s name and the assembly will proceed to the burner to burn the proclamation, recite the Heart Sutra, Dharani, and Praise. On returning to the Main Shrine, devotees thank the presiding monk and other monastics. The Dharma service concludes. All offering items should be taken down and distributed to devotees to take home for sharing with their family members.