Theravadin Home Altar

Hello friends! Any advice on how I could set up a Theravadin altar at home? I already have a small-ish Buddha statue and a joss stick holder, but this is pretty much it.

There may be differences between national traditions, e.g. I expect a Singhalese altar to be different from a Thai one, and I am sure there is enough room for personal preference, so it would be great if you could say what the general guidelines there are and what personal touch you have added to your altar.




Bhante Gunaratana’s book ‘Bhavana Vandana’ says the following.

Setting Up an Altar
The central figure on the altar is an image of the Buddha in sitting posture. If a suitable Bud- dha statue cannot be found, a picture of the Buddha may be used. Remember that the Bud- dha image is not alive, but only represents the Buddha’s perfected qualities of serenity, com- posure, peacefulness, and purity.
Attention directed towards these attributes of the Buddha during devotional practice gen- erates confidence and devotion towards the Buddha, calms the mind, and arouses inspira- tion to follow his path. Because reverence and dedication towards the Buddha are essential to the practice of the Dhamma, the Buddha image should be set up on a special table or stand reserved for it. It should be placed at a higher level than other articles of spiritual signifi- cance, such as images of great disciples and eminent teachers, bodhi leaves, scriptural texts, Dhamma wheels, and miniature stupas. The items on the altar should be high enough so that when you are kneeling, you can look up towards them at a gentle angle.
The altar table should be covered with a clean cloth of colors and designs conducive to contemplative states of mind. A soft mat or rug can be laid out in front of the Buddha image, to be used for kneeling during devotional practice and meditation.
No other image should be placed above the Buddha image. You should not sit with your feet pointing toward the image, remain sitting or standing with your back to it, or engage in worldly conversation in the shrine room. Bud- dha images should not be used as items of living room decoration.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re newish to devotional practice. It has lots of tips on chanting, routine etc. It is free a step a PDF or very nice in print format


Just one more thing to complete the look:




It all looks nice, let’s call it a Western-style Theravadin altar. I mean, sure, why not, but right now I would love to have something fancier :grinning:


I still use a hollow statue of Happy Ho Tai I got in Mexico about 18 years ago. It’s about the same level of physical accuracy as any other statue I’ve seen, while I appreciate the idea that it symbolizes a joyful tenderheartedness (something of an Asian Santa). He’s chillin’ with one foot on the ground, ready to stand up as needed.

(I say ‘use’, but it sits in a bedroom corner overlooking the bed, and that’s what it does, and what I do when near it.)

It’s on a small table from my grandfather’s estate, and wears a necklace from Egypt my mother gave me. There’s some other stuff around it with other meanings from my life, but this is the Buddhist portion.

I figure that the guidelines are the ones I make up; that’s what the first altar-folk did, so why not? I’m the one who has to look at it every day.


FYI , the posture doesn’t mean ready to stand up , instead symbolic of an adept , skillfully in dhamma training .


That’s a cool statue. And a cool altar, I like it. Whether or not one may call it Theravadin - I think not, but neither you nor I care. More importantly, you like it.

I am a different story. I am that guy who will go to the other end of the city to buy that exotic spice because the recipe says you need it. The chances are, not much if anything will change if you substitute fresh turmeric with turmeric powder, but I am a stickler when it comes to things like this. That’s who I am :expressionless:


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So, how does your shrine look up? How is it structured? What object do you have there? How do you build it? What is the personal element you added to your shrine?

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This is the shrine in my kuti. Lights, ‘flowers’, and incense. The candle isn’t the prettiest but it was a gift from my uncle when I became an anagarika. My brother was on the same wavelength and gave me the other half coconut! It’s a bowl which has various amulets and a few handmade cards from the nuns at Dhammasara. There’s a teeny tiny quan yin in a plastic sleeve in front of the Buddha. It sometimes lives in my pocket when I need extra compassion. The take away container is a gift from my dear friend who handmade tiny origami hearts with messages on them which I’m meant to lucky-dip when I’m feeling down.
It’s on the highest shelf in the room, which unfortunately has the circuit breakers behind it!

Here’s my makeshift shrine at my mums place when I was caring for her last year. I have dried or fake flowers due to allergies. I wish I could use fresh ones.


Well, this is a pic of our shrine at home. The Buddha statue is in the middle. It is raised. This is a mark of respect as well as giving a seat for the meditation. His Bhikkhu disciples are on either side. I suppose you could call them his chief disciples. I would have loved to have Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni. The green bottles and halo have been repurposed from a ornamental outlet. The singing bowl is a remnant from my days of running MBCT groups. Joss stick holder, aroma sticks and tea light holder, as an symbolic offering to the Buddha. The plaque is a award of appreciation for running groups at Thames Buddhist Vihara-6 years old now. It’s a collection of Buddhist objects, which is personally relevant but not just about me either. It’s a bit bigger than my needs, here, if that makes sense.

It’s a traditional and complex shrine in some ways but modern in having personal objects. It of course doesn’t have to be anything as complicated as this.

With metta


Hi Vstakan

This is a very pleasant thread to hang out in. :slight_smile:

So far, I’ve never had a neutral reaction to a shrine. I’ve either liked a shrine or disliked it! It’s always because of the feeling it gave me. I feel this subjectivity is what can cause a shrine to be such a potentially powerful tool.

Theravada shrines in my experience have at least one Buddha image placed higher up; a gesture that is always a reminder to me that I’m aspiring to something that I deeply respect; when I look up at the Buddha on the shrine, I always do so with the emotion of gratitude and love. For me, shrines I have liked have the ability to grow soft, “meditationally” useful qualities like this.

Theravada shrines, might have relics on them. Which only serve the emotional tone of your room or corner if you will let them; if you allow them to represent something sacred/still/silent, compassionate, wise, impermanent, empty…etc.

They might have candles and/or flowers and/or incense. Traditional Sri Lankan alters, from memory, have flowers picked off the stalks, placed in shallow bowls or plates or directly on the shrine, in front of the Buddha. They might have tall sticks of incense stuck in sand and small clay vessels, filled with oil and a small rolled up cotton wick to take the flame.

I don’t have flowers - or rarely. And we’ve both asthmatic tendencies so no incense and rarely will I light a candle, and only then if it’s something special (preferably not made of some nasty petroleum based substance!) But I never buy them; people keep giving them to me every now and then and so because I hardly ever use them, I never seem to be without beautiful candles!

I went through a phase of collecting beautiful stones in my youth - and I’m too lazy to change flowers on a regular basis or clean up after burning incense (aside from the issue with inhaling smoke and having breathing difficulties!!) - so the stones are a representation of beauty, which I offer to the Buddha and to a few of the pictures of the Sangha that I also have; of course, it’s not that they receive them, it’s what it does to my heart to have this intention there.

We’ve one solitary Buddha right at the top…solitary and surrounded by empty space. Then several others, but only because they were gifts, each inspiring somehow and each giving me a particular and beautiful feeling. I only ever bought one Buddha Rupa and it was a small plastic encased photo of the Shrine at Bodh Gaya - I found the feeling there so overwhelming that I snapped this up to always take me there when I looked at it.

I’ve almost always used what I had, and now having recently moved, with furniture not fitting properly where we thought it might, we’ve ended up with an old bookshelf made of up of 16 white boxes. One Buddha right on top, like I said, and the first two rows of cubes taken up with different images, gifts from friends, family and kind people we have met in our lives so far. It’s rather nice and I love the feeling in our little Shrine room. It makes me want to sit in kindness towards myself, however I am, and give myself the temporary, healing allowance to forget the rest of my life.

Thanks :slight_smile: :pray:t6:


As I said, it’s used for my purposes; symbols are mutable. That I’m incorrect about original meaning here is a sign of age, I think! It’s been a long time since those days…


Here’s a picture of our shrine “house.” When we bought or home, it came with an 11’×11’ tiny home that was fully insulated and wired for power and cable. At the time, we were not practicing Dhamma followers, and were going to turn it into a sort of read and relax space, but now it’s the perfect place to meditate. I still need to finish the exterior, but the altar is pretty much set. The statue in the middle is made of stone, and is the first one we acquired, and also or favorite. We use a small bowl filled with sand for the incense. The Buddha images sit atop a hand carved box my father in law got in Africa when he was in the navy, and the candle holders on either side were given to me by my mother. We keep extra candles and incense below in the glass cabinet, as well as two chanting books I printed out from the Abhayagiri website. On the bottom shelf are two small pillows which are used to place the chanting books upon, a small alarm clock, and a set of tingsha cymbals.

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Personally I prefer a completely empty room, nothing on the walls, no statues, no images, no hindrances, no baggage.

But if one wants something decorative, or inspiring AFAIK the EBT prohibited images of an anthropomorphic Buddha. Instead, the Buddha recommended, for spiritual inspiration, an image of his footprint or a Bodhi tree, both of which are very active injunctions to follow/do the 4NT and 8aam (noble eightfold path), and not mere idol worship.

That’s one thing the Muslims were able to do that Buddhists could not. There are no images of Allah.

Whatever standard Theravada altar protocol AFAIK is just later Theravada tradition, with differing lineages having different confusing details that are IMO annoying and impose arbitrary prohibitions. Gotta bow 3 times before entering, before leaving, can’t face your butt in the direction of the Buddha, can’t face your feet in that direction, can’t have this image placed higher on the wall than that, can’t do yoga in your altar room, blah blah blah.

Empty room, empty walls, problem solved. I can do yoga facing any direction I please without being badgered by the altar police.


What about kaabah ?
An iconic or symbol of homage !
Image do differ somehow !
The stone inside the kaabah an icon also ! Prostrate facing kiblat ?
circumambulating kaabah ?

I find these images incredibly inspiring:



If you have this in your altar room, serves as a great reminder every day. why am I a house holder voluntarily participating in all this dukkha? Why not go forth into the home free life, don the ochre robes, shave my head? Shed all these attachments and suffering?

I could be living the good life, instead of working for the man, slaving away, serving ungrateful children, accumulating junk that I can’t take with me when I die…


I didn’t have an altar for the first several years of my practice, nor did I want one. I just wanted the bare essentials – my mind and the instructions.

When my daughter was born, I felt that it would be useful for her to have more concrete, sensory objects to associate with Dhamma practice. So I designed and built this altar when she was very little. I built the structure out of cedar (which I stained) and the top is black granite. The Buddha statue is sitting on a platform so that, when we’re meditating, it is higher than we are.

There’s an incense holder in the front; the incense traditionally symbolizes the sweet fragrance of virtue. The flowers show impermanence as they go from fresh and bright to withered and dry over the course of a month. The candles symbolize the light of wisdom.

We used to change out the flowers every full moon uposatha, and I would use it as an opportunity to teach my daughter about impermanence (starting from the example of the flowers and moving to other examples, externally and internally). But the fresh flowers were bothering my wife’s allergies, so now we use fake ones (the impermanence aspect will take much longer to manifest now :sleeping:).

We only light the candles and burn incense on Visakha now.

We came into possession of an extra Buddha statue a few years ago, so I gave it to my daughter. We put it on the top of the bookshelf in her room and the two of us painted a little bodhi tree mural behind it. It serves as her own little altar.


What a beautiful altar you built and I love what you and your daughter did.