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Q&A 47. The number of candles and oil lamps on a Buddhist altar

Q: Dear Master Lu, how many candles and oil lamps should be placed on the Buddhist altar as offerings to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas?  Also, can we offer electric lotus lamps or candle lights? Can we leave them on 24 hours a day?

A: 

  • If possible, the number of oil lamps should match the number of statues/images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the Buddhist altar. If this is not possible, you may offer a pair of oil lamps or a single oil lamp for the entire altar.
  • If you have one statue/image of Bodhisattva on the Buddhist altar, you can offer one oil lamp. Offering two oil lamps is fine as well.
  • Practitioners following Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door usually pray to the following six Bodhisattvas: Guan Yin Bodhisattva, Nanjing Bodhisattva, Tai Sui Bodhisattva, Guan Di Bodhisattva, Zhou Tsang Bodhisattva and Guan Ping Bodhisattva. It is best to have 4 oil lamps (one for Guan Yin Bodhisattva, one for Nanjing Bodhisattva, one for Tai Sui Bodhisattva, and a shared one for Guan Di Bodhisattva, Zhou Tsang Bodhisattva and Guan Ping Bodhisattva. If possible, it would be best to have 6 oil lamps (Offer separate oil lamps for Zhou Tsang Bodhisattva and Guan Ping Bodhisattva. If this is not possible, then you should only put one or two oil lamps for the entire altar.
  • If you have four or six oil lamps on the Buddhist altar, the order of lighting the oil lamps is as follows:
    While facing the Buddhist altar, light the left oil lamp in the middle of the Buddhist altar first, then light the oil lamp on the left of the previous one, and then light the one located at the furthest left. Afterwards, light the right oil lamp in the middle of the Buddhist altar, then light the oil lamp on the right of the previous one and finally light the one located at the furthest right. The same order can also be used to put out the oil lamps.
  • Candle offerings are generally not made.  If you have already done so, it is best to offer a pair of red candles.
  • You can put out the oil lamps after you finish making prostrations, or before the incense has finished burning. Avoid leaving oil lamps burning while there is no burning incense, as this tends to attract foreign spirits.
  • You may use electric lotus lamps, provided that you are offering oil lamps at the same time.  Note that they must not be left on all day (24 hours).
  • In general, when you make incense offerings and perform prostrations, you can first turn on the electric lotus lamps and then light oil lamps. Before the incense has finished burning, you need to first put out the oil lamps, and then switch off the electric lotus lamps.
  • When you extinguish oil lamps, you must never use your mouth to blow them out.  You can use a lid, snuffer or other suitable instruments to put out the flame.
  • Leaving electric lotus lamps on for an extended period of time without offering incense tends to attract foreign spirits.
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