There are many good material things that I could offer, but perhaps temple already has most of these things. It’s just like they will use the space to store excessive material things if not used.
Every year, the temple gets lots of toothpaste, toothbrushes etc. They tend to pile up. I even remember the head monk of the temple, where I practiced as a novice, getting afflicted and publicly announcing that we no longer needed dental supplies!
Similarly, we also get a lot of perishable food that we can’t consume before it spoils.
It should not stop the donors because we can always share them with the food pantries. After all, we are to be the happy field of blessings, aren’t we?
If you’re aren’t sure, you can ask the temple abbot or give money.
Please keep in mind that you should make the offerings with the mindset of deep respect and desire to provide necessities for the sanghans. For example, if you have the opportunity to cook something with your own hands and time, it would represent “100 flavors” food: it does not mean that you have to be extravagant. Nor does it mean that the sanghans have to like it.
Best quality means not stingy – it does not imply extravagance. The flip side is to check whether or not you fear spending money or have post giving dissonance (regret having giving that much!).
I actually sat through feasts during this time of the year when I was in Taiwan. Taiwanese donors often offered feasts on numerous occasions during the summer retreat. Personally, I was embarrassed to have to sit through these times, partly because I felt ashamed of my lack of merit & virtues; I certainly do not feel that feasting is appropriate, especially during hard economic times, when lots of people do not have enough food to nourish their families. On the other hand, I felt compelled to enjoy the food offerings with my colleagues; I did not want to appear unappreciative nor spoil their pleasure.
Some would offer a new set of robes, sashes and (sangha) sandals to the sanghans of the temple. This tradition dates back to times when sanghans did not have enough appropriate clothing – the gift of a robe would make their day.
If you expend time and effort to provide for the necessities of temple, that will suffice. With this intention, your ancestors will thus be provided for. That’s what Ullambana means to me personally; the opportunity to get things that we need for our practice also results in ample luxuries to your ancestors and living parents. Why luxuries to your elders? It’s because necessities to us are the equivalent of luxuries to lay people – It’s the greatest luxury to be able to continue to cultivate!
A final word of caution: if you’re getting afflicted by going through this exercise, you’re on the wrong track. It’s about devoting the time to give it your best shot. It’s just like looking for a gift for your mother on her birthday. Most mothers appreciate the thought and efforts behind the gift more than the gift itself. Similarly, your ancestors will obtain the corresponding blessings from your goodwill.
Stop obsessing on succeeding in your endeavors. Try your best and learn to be happy with that. It’s the intention of your kindness and filiality that moves heaven and earth, not the pleasure (or afflictions) of the sanghans!