Buddha is not a God nor a Deity, but a guiding teacher. The various forms of prostrations and offerings are not made to worship an idol but they have more profound meanings — paying homage to the Buddha and as a way to subdue one’s inner egoism. The offering of incense is also to express our heartfelt respects, to remind ourselves to cultivate the precepts and meditation, and make sincere offerings to the triple gems.
Buddhism does not believe that there is an external God who manipulates all. Our destinies lie in our own hands. Through learning the Dharma, we are able to have a proper understanding of the world and the laws of life. We are then able to live better lives.
In karma, every sentient being is equal. Because the cause which each being create is different, hence the effect is also different. If judgement is merely on the effect and to use that only to determine fairness, it will be truly meaningless.
In any matter that arises, it cannot be perceived only by the few factors which are present. In fact, it happens as a result of numerous karmic factors. It is the same as our growth - what we have grown up to become, is actually the result of the past ten over years. This is the way with karma. Therefore, the most important aspect is to grasp the present cause and make the most of it.
Incense is a medium for expressing our respect, sincerity, gratitude and learnings towards the Bodhisattvas. Offering of incense is not a matter of the quantity nor size. Buddha rejoices when we uphold the purest and most sincere intentions in our hearts, like a petal of fragrance.
When offering incense, one can silently recite “May this pure fragrant scent of the incense cloud, reach the dwellings of the triple gems, sincerely I pray for great compassion, and the bestow of happiness on all sentient beings.”
There are no time restrictions as to when one can make offerings of the incense. The important factor is to understand why we are making offerings of incense.
Everyone makes offerings of incense and pay homages to the Buddha, but there are people who are superstitious, and there are people who are wisely in their believes. To be superstitious or not lies in one’s own heart and not with external factors. From “ignorance” to “enlightenment”, we will need to listen and contemplate, cultivate and practice.
To believe muddle-headedly is to be superstitious. When you truly understand, it will no longer be a superstition.
(Extracted from Venerable Master Xue Cheng 《Answers to Resolve Doubts and Dispel Delusions》)