Flower Offerings in Eastern traditions


Well-Known Member
Reaction score
This is dedicated to the good people of Burma, especially the Irawaddy Delta, and China's Sichuan province.

Flower offerings are literally thousands of years old, dating back to old Vedic devotional practices. Prayer/vocalizing intended to invoke the presence of G-d (Puja Archana) was often combined with a flower offering (Pushpanjali). From the Wiki: "In Sanskrit, pushpa means 'flower' and anjali means 'offering with folded hands.' So Pushpanjali means offering of flowers with folded hands."

The floral offering should not be a routine, humdrum gesture. It can be a devotional ritual that is done with a sense of dedication and reverence - not toward the flower itself but toward the cosmic/natural order of things of which it is a part.

Almost anything can be done religiously. But a flower offering seems so simple and straightforward. Even a single flower can be significant. After all, as Bhikkhu Nagasena said so succinctly, "The most effective offering is ultimately of ourselves to the practice....If our heart isn’t in it we might as well not do it at all."

In Hinduism, we look to G-d to free us from Ahankara and all forms of sin in order to attain the end of Samsara. The beauty of the flower and the gesture of the offering can evoke the spiritual emotion that sparks the motive force we associate with what it is to begin again with renewed commitment and dedication. It can conjure this imagery because it represents "the good that has blossomed in us," as Subhamoy Das puts it.

Like Buddhism, Jainism grew out of an attempt to reduce the amount of ritual that was part of the old Hindu ways whilst trying to preserve the spiritual core. Interestingly, Jainism kept the flower offerings as part of a devotional practice that highlights the importance of wholesome emotions and striving toward virtue.

"The flower symbolizes conduct. Our conduct should be like a flower, which provides fragrance and beauty to all living beings without discrimination. We should live our life like flowers full of love and compassion towards all living beings."

In Buddhism, we see that the significance of the floral offering is essentially doctrinal. The use of flowers in ritual serves to remind us of death. Their fragile presence illustrate that life is short and fleeting, illustrating impermanence and reinforcing the need to live in the present and the need to practice with commitment and dedication.

Compassion is strengthened by awakening to the fact that life is fragile. While Compassion may indeed include an emotional component like sympathy, as described in the wisdom literature it is fundamentally empathy and insight conducive to right intention and right action, which can be maintained or enhanced through mindfulness. A floral offering can be understood as a sacrifice ritual that can help affirm a heartfelt sense of spiritual obligation and reinforce ongoing striving toward virtue. The gesture of the flower offering reminds us of the selfish nature we must overcome in our allotted time in order to more effectively direct compassion to the world around us.

"Dāna (Sanskrit :दान) is a Sanskrit and Pali term meaning "generosity" or "giving". In Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the Perfections (paramitas): the Perfection of Giving (dana-paramita). This can be characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go." (Wiki)

The floral offering can be symbolic of a larger Dharma lifestyle that includes Dāna. With the offering, we are giving something we'd rather keep for ourselves because we value its beauty. In principle, the element of sacrifice may actually be essential.

We derive little value from making a sacrifice unless we're giving away something we personally value enough to where we'd rather keep it for ourselves. We all like money, so tithing is usually a sure thing as a sacrifice. There are other ways of being generous. People can be generous with their time, attention, and caring. You know who you are.

Painting by Glynis Smith: