The same question has often been asked:" How do I set up a proper Taoist Altar to pray to Chinese Deities?"
For a Chinese, setting up a Taoist Altar is easy.
For the Western Folks, they simply have no clue on how to set up a Taoist Altar.
This Article is written to teach the Western Folks on Setting Up A Taoist/Buddhist Altar, who are planning to start praying to Chinese Deities / Buddhist Deities /Buddha or already praying but not sure whether they have done the correct way.
Setting Up a simple Taoist/Buddhist Altar is really quite simple.....
Guan Yin Altar - Simple Yet Elegant
The typical Chinese Way of Setting Up a Taoist Altar:1) The Deity Statues MUST BE consecrated. Praying to Heavenly Deities must always be in Odd Numbers. 1 deity, 3 deities , 5 deities etc. Praying to Hell Deities, can be in Even Numbers, example: Tua Ya Peh and Di Yah Peh are always worshiped together. Place the Deity or Deities in the middle of Altar. If intend to pray to Heavenly Deities and also Hell Deities , separate them apart. The Heavenly Deities on Top and Hell Deities below the Altar or Hell Deities can also be on Your Right Hand Side.
2) Lighting Stands or Lamps(shape like candles) are placed on each end , left and right on the Altar. And should be switched on 24hrs every day. When home / office lights are switched off, the Lights from the Lamps on the Altar are still brightly shining.
3) Incense Urn will be placed right in front and middle of the altar. When You are facing the Altar, make sure the Incense Urn does not cover the bodies and faces of the Deity Statues. If the incense urn will cover the view of bodies and faces of Deity Statues, add a wooden block below the Deity Statue to lift up above the incense urn.
4) For praying to Deities in Taoist Way, using of joss sticks must be in odd numbers. 1 joss stick, 3 joss sticks , 5 joss sticks... 3 joss sticks are the norm. For Buddhist way, a small incense urn can be used to contain the circular shape incense sticks or incense cones.
How To Pray to Chinese Deities / Buddhist Deities / Buddha?1) Every morning and evening, light up incense sticks/ cones and then WALK TO THE WINDOW OR DOOR WHICH YOU CAN LOOK UP TO THE SKY and pay respect to GREAT JADE EMPEROR 1ST, after that then walk back to the altar and pray / pay respect and say Your wishes to the Deity or Deities on the Altar.
2) On the 1st and 15th of every Lunar Month, put 3 small Chinese Tea Cups and pour Chinese Tea into them and do offerings of 1 type of fruits or 3 type of fruits and pray to the Deity or Deities. You CAN EAT the fruits after the Prayer. After the incense sticks are almost finished burning, BURN some joss/paper money to the deity / deities.
3) Get hold of the specific Mantra/Mantras or specific chants in English ( if You don't know Chinese) of the particular diety or the deities and understand the teachings of the individual Deities. Recite the Mantra or read the teachings of the diety or deities when You have the time while facing the Deity/Deities. If You don't have the time or not interested in Chanting, at least You must know the teaching of the particular deity/dieties.
4) Find out the celebration day (Birthday / Day of Enlightenment / Day of Gaining Tao etc) of the individual diety or deities on the Altar You are praying to /worshiping . Do offerings and burn joss/paper money to the deity / deities like how You do on every 1st and 15th of every Lunar Month.
GUIDE FOR WESTERN FOLKS
You do not need to follow exactly how the Chinese pray to their Deities.The above is a general knowledge on how the Chinese do their prayers.
Example ... When Hindus pray to Chinese Deities, they will use burning lamp (Indian Style) and rotate around the Chinese Deity Statues and ring the bell while chanting with Hindu Mantra. When Chinese pray to Hindu Deities, they will use 3 joss sticks to pray to them.
In Taoism/Buddhism/Hinduism , what matter most is Your Heart, Mind and Soul in Your trust and believe that the deities have the power to protect You and bring Your prosperity and also understand the teachings of the individual Deities.
Most important is the Taoist Deity Statue or Statues MUST BE CONSECRATED or at least there is a TALISMAN to EMPOWER the ALTAR and an Incense Urn to burn Incense.
How You will like to decorate Your Altar is to Your own liking.
TAOISM never force anyone to follow exactly the "Standard Way Of Praying". Praying to Deities of different faith are allowed to be placed together and then blend into Your own Culture and pray the way You feel comfortable with.