Buddhist Philosophy

Why Light Offerings?

Why lights?  Isn’t that just a cultural tradition?  What is the benefit of making light offerings?  I’m a modern meditator!  Why should I make butter lamp offerings?  Because we are not accustomed to the practice, these doubts often arise.

Here, Phakchok Rinpoche explains the meaning of traditional butter lamp offerings.



Why lights? Light means understanding because light represents wisdom. And light removes and dispels misunderstanding. All of our sufferings come from not knowing and not seeing. Offering lights or butter lamps indirectly removes confusion. Moreover, to be successful in life we need to have clear ideas and a good understanding. And we should not just believe that success and good results are based on luck. Instead, when we have problems, we search for a clear understanding and wisdom to solve those problems.

Throughout the Buddhist world, in all traditions of Buddhist practice, devotees offer light. The life stories of accomplished men and women give examples of people beginning their path to liberation by offering light to an image or at a place of pilgrimage. We are lighting the way for ourselves and for other beings when we make the wish to dispel the darkness of ignorance!

Vast Offerings

Why light offerings? And why so many? For example, we hear about the big offerings of 100,000 butter lamps. How does this benefit? The effect of making large offerings is immense. Because of this, Rinpoche reminds us that we all should make big offerings. Vast offerings reduce obstacles and achieve big results. And the good news is that even large light offerings are relatively easy for us to arrange.

The traditional offerings are butter lamps, as in the photo on this page. But, we can also use candles and lanterns. Nowadays, especially inside buildings, we often use electric or battery-operated lights.

Correct Motivation

When we make light offerings, just as when we engage in any other virtuous activity, we begin by engendering the correct motivation. Therefore, we pause before we start our offerings to recall the vast attitude of bodhicitta.  To inspire you, here we include a beautiful aspiration prayer by Mipham Rinpoche. The Tibetan/English text for the prayer can be found at Chants for the Meditation Session at Lhasey Lotsawa.

Lamp Aspiration by Mipham Rinpoche

This illuminating lamp of original pure awareness

I offer to the maṇḍala deities of Vidyādhara Padmakara.

May all beings, my mothers, wherever awareness pervades,

attain the dharmakāya level of aware emptiness.

Related Teachings

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.