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The Use and Symbolism of Candles in Buddhism
“A thousand candles can be lit from one candle and the life of the candle never diminishes. Sharing joy never diminishes.” Buddha
Candles are an old traditional part of Buddhist rituals. In combination with incense and flowers, they are placed in front of Buddhist temples or statues and Buddha images as a sign of respect. They are often accompanied by offerings of food and drink. The light of a burning candle flame represents the light of the Buddha’s teachings. Candles and incense also create a state of impermanence and transformation. His light can also be said to symbolize the Buddha’s enlightenment.
Thailand Buddhist Candle Festival
“As a candle cannot burn without fire, man cannot live without spiritual life.” Buddha
Buddhist Lent Day in Thailand, a heavily Buddhist country, occurs annually in July and is mainly practiced by established monks. The day before Lent begins, Thais celebrate the Candle Festival. The festival is celebrated all over the country, but is especially celebrated in Ubon Ratchathani, North-Eastern Thailand (Isan).
According to tradition, the Buddhist Lent Day began when villagers complained to the Buddha. It is said that a group of ordained monks were making merits (tents) and walked through wet rice fields. At this time the paddy fields were at their peak of growth and by walking into them they destroyed the crop. As a result, legend has it that the Buddha asked all monks to practice virtue within the confines of their temples. Buddhist Lent nowadays dictates that all monks must remain confined to their temples for a period of 3 months during the rainy season, beginning on the first day of the eighth waning moon.
Thai people offer many basic items to their monks and this offering also includes candles and of course the famous Candle Festival. In earlier times most temples did not have electricity and so candles were of more symbolic importance for ceremonies but more practically for illumination in everyday use. Moreover they are said to represent knowledge as divine light; Buddhist communities practice their beliefs by offering large and often extravagantly decorated candles to monks during the candle festival.
Celebrate the Candle Festival: “There are two ways to spread light: a candle or a mirror that reflects.” Edith Wharton
On the day before Lent, large groups of people gather with their beautifully decorated candles and march with them in elaborate and beautiful parades. The rich, luxurious sculptural decorations on these beautiful works of art depict the will, unity and faith of that community. The candlelight parade involves the broadest sections of society in their finest attire. Ubon Ratchathani also includes several groups of local Isan artists, musicians and dancers who parade through the town with candles. There is also a popular beauty pageant to choose Miss Candle (known as the most beautiful woman in that society).
Menbatti festival is celebrated all over the country. Regardless of the weather in Thailand people have fun and express their faith on July 8, the beginning of Buddhism.
“How far that little candle throws its rays! So shines a good deed in a mischievous world.” William Shakespeare
Sit in a quiet room and light a candle. It can be any color but some like blue or white. Now look deeply into the burning candle flame and focus on it. Don’t let the candle flame cloud your vision. Gazing at the burning flame will fill your mind with the sounds of daily thoughts, worries and petty worries. It should just start to go away and after a while, you may receive images and thoughts that are not coming from you. Take them as your spiritual guides and try to interpret them.
Keep looking at the burning flame, do not get distracted and try to interpret the visions you receive. A common example is ‘seeing’ a peeled onion. At first this may seem meaningless but this example may indicate that as we move forward on our life’s path, layers are being peeled back allowing us to see and experience the ultimate core of our being.
As you progress through your candle meditation try to trust your own analysis and understanding of the thoughts the candle brings to your mind. Thus this form of meditation works as a powerful way to focus your concentration.
Try increasing your experience of candlelight meditation from 5 minutes to 20 minutes a day and do this over several months. Your eyes will need to adjust to the dim light and over time, you will be able to distinguish between which thoughts are your own and which may be acting as your spiritual guide.
“Better to light a candle than curse the darkness” Chinese proverb
“Like a white candle in a holy place, is the beauty of an aged face” Joseph Campbell
Where is the world’s largest candle?
“We say that God and imagination are one and the same… How high that candle shines in the darkness.” Wallace Stevens
Deviating slightly from the use of candles in Buddhism in my research I turned to see what the human imagination could bring to the world of candles – this is what I found.
“A good teacher is like a candle – he uses himself to light the way for others.” Anon
There are many contenders and the search for the world’s largest candle has a long history. The first contender for the world’s largest candle is the USA – Warm Glow Candle outlet in Centerville, Indiana where they claim to have the world’s largest candle. However, at the Stockholm Exhibition of 1897, what is described as the world’s largest candle was exhibited on record. This magnificent candle is said to have been eighty feet high and eight and a half feet in diameter.
The long-established firm of Ajello Candles is another contender for the historic title of world’s largest candle. In 1921 he created the Enrico Caruso Memorial Candle. This candlestick measured five feet in circumference and 18 inches at the top. The candle stood 18 feet tall and once burning, the company claimed it could continue for 1,800 years, burning one day each year on the anniversary of Enrico Caruso’s death.
In 2005 in Jerusalem he made the world’s largest Hanukkah candle. This magnificent candlestick was more than eight and a half meters high and 85 cm wide. It was at Pisgah Mall in the city. These are just a few examples of what the world’s largest candles claim to be or were.
“Nirvana is not blowing out the candle. It is blowing out the candle flame because the day has come.” Rabindranath Tago
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