(2.12) I dry their bodies with matchless cloths
That are immaculately clean and scented.
Then I offer to the holy beings
Fragrant garments in magnificent colours.
(2.13) With various excellent raiments, fine and smooth,
And a multitude of supreme ornaments,
I adorn Arya Samantabhadra,
Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, and all the others.
(2.14) Just like polishing pure, refined gold,
I anoint the radiant bodies of all the Able Ones
With supreme perfumes whose fragrance pervades
Every part of the three thousand worlds.
I remember when I first read these descriptions in Meaningful to Behold. It actually made me quite upset and threw me into all sorts of confusion. I thought to myself, “surely the point of becoming a Buddha is to serve others, not to transform others into their doting slaves like out of some movie of ancient Rome. Surely a Buddha has no need for such things, so what is the point of doing this?” And we all know stories of religious cults where the followers shower the “guru” with luxurious gifts, the finest silks and cars, and erotic concubines. Is that what Buddhism is all about? If so, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.
Quite distraught, I then wrote Gen Lekma, my teacher at the time. She replied, quite simply, the Buddhas form there side have no need of these things, but we do have a need to offer such things. Buddhas receive our offerings with delight not because they are enjoying these objects, but because they know the good karma we are creating for ourselves. The more spectacularly pure our offering, the more pure karma we create for ourselves, laying the foundation for us going to the pure land ourselves. We do not want to attain the pure land so that we can enjoy these things for ourselves, rather we wish to get to the pure land because from there we can help everybody. The more magnificent and pure our offering, the better the karma we create.
From a practical point of view, what do the Buddhas do with our offerings? They put them to good use for the sake of all living beings. Since the sole motivation of a Buddha is to help all living beings, if you give something to a Buddha, they will turn around and use it to help everyone. In this way, an offering to a Buddha is like making an offering to all living beings. Rich people hire asset managers. They don’t have time to manage their money themselves, nor do they know how to put their assets to the highest and best use. So they hand over their money to asset managers and ask them to manage the funds for them. In the same way, when we offer things to the Buddhas, we do so because we know they will use them for the most beneficial purposes possible. Warren Buffet gave away virtually all of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. He was asked, “why did you do that instead of setting up your own philanthropic organization?” His answer was, “my goal is to bring the greatest benefit possible, so I want to give my money to those who are the best at using it well.” Too bad he didn’t know about the International Temples Project!
But why anoint the bodies of the holy beings? The reason is simple: Our minds are naturally drawn to pure things, and we naturally treat pure things with respect. By anointing the bodies of the holy beings, we create the causes for others to be drawn to them and to generate faith in them. With this faith, they then receive instructions and put them into practice. Further, anointing the bodies of the holy beings with all pure things creates the causes to obtain a pure body ourselves. A Buddha’s form body pervades all worlds and is able to spontaneously emanate whatever living beings need. We want all beings to enjoy only pure enjoyments which bestow upon them the realizations of bliss and emptiness.