Nowadays some people who visit monks are worried when they have nothing to give them. They fear the monks’ criticism. As a result they have to keep on buying things for them. So it becomes an offering of worship. In the end the monks will form an attachment to material things.
If we go to the temple to practise in order to train our mind, that is the real Puja (worship) which gets close to the Triple Gem. This is considered to gain the highest merit.
Flowers, incense and candles are used for Puja with material things, not with the practice which the Buddha valued. So if we have nothing to offer we can still practise.
The person who is going to be ordained takes 5 or 8 precepts. After his ordination he becomes a monk and worships with practice. One who prostrates himself or herself in front of an image of the Buddha, offering rice, water and other articles with fragrance, who at the same time makes outer merit, is worshipping with material things. That person has not yet reached the higher level of practice, so it is not possible to get close to the Buddha.
To get close to the Buddha one must make a sacrifice of material things, but we should not put too much emphasis on these. Instead one should start to practise to train the mind to fight against thoughts, negative emotions and defilements. This can be called “Reaching the Core” which is worship with practice. If we achieve both types of worship, Joy will arise within our heart.
Some people cling to worship with materials and do not know how to practice. They will achieve nothing. They must do both. Consequently they will experience Joy and perfect Samadhi. This can be called ‘not using up old merit.’