As Buddhists, we usually keep an altar to help in our prayers and meditations. On the altar, we would place our Buddha statues, decorating the altar well, keeping it clean and usually we place our offering items in front of the Buddha statues. The various types of offerings have certain meanings and are there for a reason. The practice of having altars and making offerings is a custom started long ago, and not only Buddhists do this.
You must remember that the Buddha statue is not a god that we pray to. The statue is there just to remind us very forgetful people to think of our practice, remember to do our prayers and remember to practice what we learnt in Dharma class. When we make offerings and wish that other people and animals have enough and are well taken care of, we create merit and this merit can help us to purify bad things we had done in the past.
It certainly does not mean that the Buddha is hungry and thirsty and need a drink and snacks, or we need to make him happy by bribing him with pearls, or he is bored and needs some music. No he doesn’t need any of that and Buddha won’t starve if you don’t offer him food.
Then why offer at all? When we make offerings, we are practicing giving. This giving helps us to learn to be more generous. At first, we might feel the pinch, but after a while giving becomes easy. Of course we should not offer things we don’t want or things we want to throw away! That would be very bad because instead of becoming more generous, we are becoming more selfish.
Do offer the best things that you can afford, and things that you like. It is like saying to the Buddha,
Buddha, these are my favourite chocolates but I want to share them with you.
The Buddha won’t be eating them but will be happy that you have learnt to share.
Every time when we make any offerings, it is good to recite OM AH HUM at least three times.