Thai altars and offerings
I love creating altars. It’s a creative art of sacredness that keeps an ancient tradition alive and that reinforces my connection to the teachings of the Buddha and the spirit of Thailand. It also keeps me in a place of humility and gratitude with my Thai Massage practice as I’m paying respect to the Buddha, the Sangha, the Dharma, ancient teachers and present-day teachers, and my parents.
I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, but I resonate with Theravada Buddhism. I follow some of its ways in the form of prayers, mantras, offerings and altars, and that works for me. I don’t see these as acts of worship but as acknowledgments of the Buddhist teaching and as respect for the spirit of the Thai culture.
In Thailand, altars are approached with the head lowered in respect of the Buddha. One should never point their feet or fingers or wear hats. The Buddha is at the centre of the altar and the highest statue.
Shivago Kormapaj, The Father of Medicine, is usually just under the Buddha. Other deities from other branches of Buddhism or from India may be found, such as Green Tara or Ganesh. The altar should be organized in a symmetrical way and can be simple or intricate, including offerings. The offerings can take the form of flowers representing space, bowls of water for the water element, candle for the element of fire, fruits representing the earth, incense sticks for air. Five sticks of incense are for the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, ancient and present- day teachers, and parents.
My prayer usually ends with METTA GUNAM ARAHAM METTA, a chant for loving kindness. In the Thai tradition, practicing Metta is at the forefront.
To learn more about Thai altars and Thai Medicine, I recommend a book by Pierce Salguero entitled The Spiritual Healing of Traditional Thailand.