Many times, people have a misconception that if we make offerings to Lord Buddha, he might grant our wishes in reality. Well, I personally feel that bribing and flattering Lord Buddha will get us nowhere. In the eyes of Lord Buddha, everyone is equal. One does good deeds, one will reap good karma. One does bad deeds, one will reap bad karma.
Lord Buddha is not an almighty God nor creator God. He is more like a very wise teacher who developed profound and logical teachings based on universal loving-kindness and compassion for his devotees to learn and follow. Money does not fall down from the sky. So, a devotee praying to Lord Buddha for instant wealth is apparently a bit foolish as this does not happen in real life. In order to shape your destiny and future, use your minds and hands and put it to work. If Lord Buddha can really help devotees by granting them wealth, there will not be so many poor people in this world.
We make offerings not because Lord Buddha needs them. Since Lord Buddha is an enlightened being, he certainly does not need incense sticks to be happy! The purpose of making offerings is to create positive energy and develop good qualities such as giving with a respectful attitude and gratitude. Moreover, the offerings remind us of certain teachings of Lord Buddha.
Offering of Light (Lamp/Candle):
Light symbolizes wisdom. Light drives away darkness. Similarly, the light of wisdom dispels the darkness of ignorance.
Offering of Incense:
When incense is lit, its fragrance spreads. Incense symbolizes the fragrance of pure moral conduct. This reminds us to cultivate good conduct. Always bear in mind the 5, 8 and 10 precepts of Buddhism. Light 3 incense sticks for Lord Buddha as it symbolizes the Triple Gems (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha).
Offering of Water:
Water symbolizes purity, clarity and calmness. This reminds us to practice the Buddha's teachings, so as to cleanse our minds, which are full of desire, ill-will and ignorance, and to attain the state of purity. Always bear in mind the 5 Khandhas.
Offering of Fruit:
Fruit symbolizes the ultimate fruit of Enlightenment which is our goal. Fruit also reminds us that all actions will have their effect. Always bear in mind good and bad karma. One reap what one sow.
Offering of Flowers:
The freshness, fragrance and beauty of flowers are impermanent. Fresh and beautiful flowers will soon become withered, scentless and discoloured. This reminds us of the Buddha's teaching that all things are impermanent. We should value what we have now and live in the present. Best to offer a lotus flower to Lord Buddha. The most common flower seen in Buddhist shrines, or on the base of statues, are lotuses, as they represent the potential or actuality of Enlightenment. The lotus grows out of the mud and blossoms above the water surface, yet it is not dirtied by the mud from which it grows. Lord Buddha is likened to the lotus. Like a lotus that rises out of a muddy pond, Lord Buddha rose above the defilements and sufferings of life. We are right now surrounded by defilements and sufferings, just as the lotus seed is surrounded by dirt, mud and filth. We should rise above our defilements and sufferings, just like the lotus flower arising above the muddy water. This serves to remind us of our own potential Buddhahood. We may have defilements today, but we all have the potential of growing out of defilements and achieving wisdom like Lord Buddha.