A family Buddha altar isn’t simply a place to enshrine and honor our family ancestors. The inside of the altar represents Mt. Sumeru, the world where Buddha resides, and Shakyamuni Buddha is the main image enshrined in the center of the altar. This means that a Buddha altar is a smaller version of the temple’s main hall (Hondo); it is, as it were, the temple within the family home. Recently, there has been an increase in modern forms of Buddha altars and altars in the form of furniture that is tailored to modern life and living arrangements.
The most significant aspect of worshipping at the Buddha altar is that it is the cornerstone of our actual life of practice and faith as Buddhists. The basis of the Sotoshu practice of faith is sitting upright, putting our hands in gassho, and bowing. By sitting with a quiet mind in front of Shakyamuni Buddha and bowing with our hands in gassho, we reflect on our daily life and it is here that the power to live and practice the Buddha’s teachings in our own lives is enhanced. This practice then combines with a feeling of peace in our minds and helps to cultivate a sincere attitude in our lives.
It can be said that by sitting in front of the altar and worshipping our ancestors, we practice the act of repaying our gratitude and sense of obligation for having received life and that we are nowhere experiencing life. This also brings about a deep feeling that our existence is not lived alone but is rather dependent on and brought about by many other forms of life.