Sensory offerings are a fundamental part of Tibetan Buddhism and are required in most Tibetan rituals, pujas and prayers. Some rituals require one set of sensory offerings; others require two or more. Each set consists of eight sensory offerings namely: two bowls of water, flowers, incense, light, perfume, food and music.
By offering light (candles, butterlamps), we hope to develop the ability to understand the Dharma and dispel ignorance. Offering water creates the karma and merits to attain wealth and purify our ordinary perceptions. Offering music relieves mental, physical and emotional sufferings. Incense and flowers provide an atmosphere for us to be liked. Food ensures that we do not go hungry and will always be provided for.
As enlightened Beings, the Buddhas do not want or need these things. When we make offerings on our altars, it is for our own benefit, to accumulate great merit and wisdom. The sensory offerings laid out should be clean and exquisitely arranged in order to develop a sense of joy.
The act of making sensory offerings represent offering up all the things that we are attached to collect merits to support our spiritual practice and aspirations. By making sensory offerings, we cut the negative karma that arises from our attachment to such things.