Repository logo

Sanan Matvenov, How to Organize a Home Altar

Change log


Churyumov, Anton 


Sanan is an administrator at the Central Temple in Elista. He gives the following advice to the pious. Traditionally, an altar should face south. The altar at the Central Temple also faces south. This tradition originated in Tibet, because the place where Buddha attained enlightenment is situated south of Tibet. Should there be a possibility to do so, altars should face the direction of India. An altar should be set up in a respectable place in the house with its height being at the level of the chest of a grown-up person. Also, one should not sleep with his/her feet facing the altar. If there are furious deities, such as Mahakala, Okn Tengr, or Yamantaka, on the altar, people should avoid showing their naked bodies to these deities. If one lives in a one-bedroom flat, the altar could be separated with a curtain. The altar should be far from the toilet or the outer door. About the arrangement of statues. Today some people display statues of different Buddhas that belong to different members of their family. This is not a Kalmyk tradition but a Mongolian one. There should not be a distinction among Buddhas in terms of their suitability to certain individuals, because all Buddhas are suitable to all people irrespective of their year of birth etc. Some people contend that they have problems after having found statues or amulets. This assertion is also wrong, because no Buddha or a sacred text or an amulet can harm people. Such holy objects only bring positivity to those who find them. There is a myriad of Buddhas in the Buddhist pantheon responsible for health, wisdom etc. The Buddha Shakyamuni should be in the middle of any altar. If someone is ill, that person can have Amitayus on his/her altar. If someone is in a financial need, he/she can put Namsr on the altar. If people experience a lot of conflict and emotional problems, Green Tara is the answer. There are three Buddhas of health and longevity, including White Tara, Amitayus and Ushnishavidjaya that people can pray to both for themselves and others. But the optimal arrangement of one’s altar is as follows: the Buddha Shakyamuni in the middle, with Manjushri and Green Tara on either side. Another deity that should also be displayed on any altar is Tsagan Aav. In contrast to Buddhas who are enlightened beings, Tsagan Aav is not, but nonetheless he helps people. He should be placed below Buddhas or on their sides. Different Buddha require different rituals. A mantra is the shortest form of a prayer. There are short, medium and long texts dedicated to different Buddhas. For example, there is a special mantra, a short text, and a text of middle length (50 pages) dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine. The short text is read by lamas during individual appointments, and the longer one is chanted in extreme cases as when someone is about to have surgery. The Central Temple in Elista regularly carries out rituals for the Buddha of Medicine. Some lay people in Kalmykia keep religious texts (nom) at home, the most common being Khar Keln or Dorzh Dzhodva. Statues and depictions of Buddha represent the Buddha himself. By bowing to his images one can accumulate as much merit (buyan) as one would have done so by actually bowing to the Buddha himself. It is believed that the Buddha Shakyamuni gave his first teachings orally. Kindness that people feel when listening to his teachings is what Buddhism is all about. The Buddha should be perceived as a doctor. Imperfections (such as anger, greed, lust, stupidity etc.) that affect people are like illnesses. Buddha’s teachings are like medicine and the monks are medical personnel. With regard to offerings, there are 7 cups for this purpose that could be filled with water. According to Buddhism, giving away to the needy brings one material prosperity. Different Buddhas require different kinds of offerings. The offerings for the Buddha Shakyamuni, for example, include the following: 2 cups of water, a flower…



altar, Buddhism, deities

Is Part Of


Publisher DOI

Publisher URL

Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.