Since ancient times, to the Chinese whose nation was established on agriculture, heaven and earth have always embodied incomparable creative power and influence. 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 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.
While Buddhists do not take refuge in celestial beings, they pay respect to them because the heavenly beings take refuge in the Buddha, uphold the right Dharma, protect the teachings, cultivate all wholesome deeds, and refrain from unwholesome acts. According to The Sutra of Golden Light, the celestial beings in the Golden Light Assembly gave rise to the bodhi mind in front of the Buddha, and accepted the Dharma instruction of the Tathagatha to always protect people who uphold, recite, and transcribe The Sutra of Golden Light. Because the heavenly beings uphold the teachings of the Buddha by descending into the human world regularly to provide assistance to the virtuous with compassion, reward the benevolent, and punish the malevolent, people conduct the Offering to Buddhas and Celestial Guardians Dharma Service to recite sutras, repent, offer vegetarian food to the Triple Gem of the ten directions, celestial guardians, and their attendants.
Procedures for the Offering to Buddhas and Celestial Guardians Dharma Service:
1. Purification of the Shrine
2. Inviting the Holy
3. Offering of Food
4. Offering Ceremony
5. Farewell to the Holy
Buddha Gem — Completion of merits and virtues; Aspirations accomplished; Accumulation of infinite fortune; Realization of Buddhahood.
Dharma Gem — Growth of wisdom; Auspiciousness and fulfillment of wishes; Perfection and ease; Attainment of wondrous wisdom.
Dharma Gem — Harmonious relationships with family and associates; Obtaining fortune according to one’s wishes; Gaining eight kinds of benefits; Attainment of meditative concentration.
Laksmi — The resident of Gold Pennant Supreme Garden who can enable sentient beings to accomplish fortune and virtue.
Sarasvati — Accomplished in eloquence and a protector of the Dharma, benefiting all sentient beings.
Mahabrahman — Leader of beings in the Brahman Heaven who has a deep faith in the Dharma and helps the Buddha teach and liberate sentient beings.
Sakra Devanam Indra — Lord of the Trāyastrimśa Heaven who together with Mababrahman are the main guardians of Buddhism.
Dhrtarastra — Heavenly King of the East, the guardian of the country who supports and appeases sentient beings.
Virudhaka — Heavenly King of the South who subdues evil and helps sentient beings develop roots of benevolence.
Virupaksa — Heavenly King of the West who observes sentient with the Eye of Purity, rewarding benevolence, punishing evil, and inspiring aspirations for enlightenment.
Vaisravana — Heavenly Kings of the North who observes both benevolence and evil committed by sentient beings and bestows fortune accordingly, one of the seven celestial guardians of fortune.
Marici — A celestial being who protects sentient beings from wars and disassters.
Mahesvara — The lord of the Three Realms who has influence over the human world’s suffering, happiness, sorrow, and joy.
Guhyapati — This heavenly king holds a vajra and vows to safeguard the right Dharma.
Pancika — A celestial warrior who protects who uphold the right Dharma and liberates them from suffering.
Skanda — One of the Celestial Guardians of the South. A Dharma Protector who protects the eastern, western, and southern continents surrounding Mt. Sumeru.
Bodhidruma/Bodhi-vrksa — A celestial guardian who protects and helps sentient beings to cultivate roots of goodness.
Prthivi — Celestial Guardian of the earth who protects the Dharma.
Celestial Yaksha — One of Sixteen Yakshas who protects the Dharma and all lands.
Surya — A celestial guardian who eradicates darkness and ripens all that grows.
Candra — A celestial guardian who illuminates in the dark and eliminates the darkness of ignorance for sentient beings so they can progress towards benevolence.
Hariti — The celestial guardian who protects young children and pregnant women.
Sagara — The Great Naga King who controls the climate and weather of the world.
Celestial Guardian of Constellations — A celestial guardian who oversees people’s life and merits.
Yama-raja — The judge of sentient beings’ karmic retribution.
Kimnara — The celestial musician who oversees the karmic retribution and fortune of sentient beings.
Celestial General of Thunder — The guardian who safeguards sentient beings.
Celestial Attendants – Varjra warriors and attendants of the celestial guardians.