Nowadays there are three new personal assistants that everybody is hiring, and they all have one of the same names–Alexa, Siri, and Google. You just summon one of them and voila!
That’s probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think of lights huh? It’s okay. It’s common. Tonight’s the last full moon of the lunar year, I hear there’s some crazy moon going on too. Unfortunately, it’s too cloudy on my side of town so the moon isn’t all that bright tonight. Most of the temples around the SGV are probably doing some sort of closing ceremony to dedicate all the efforts and merits accumulated from the previous year’s worth of practice. This is probably more common with temples that offer lamp offerings for the whole year, thus you will probably hear the term yuan deng or 圓燈, a term most likely coined by FGS to better name the occassion.
So what’s special about light? We pay a monthly fee to light up our showers so we don’t get soap up our noses, light up the oven to watch our cakes rise and puff up, light up the road so we don’t run into each other, and the electricity that powers light powers our wifi connections, charge our phones, and ignite our TVs so that we can watch the Rams win the Super Bowl right? Well, 2500+ years ago light came from burning a wick from a vessel of oil, then you wrap a paper mask around it, and you have a lantern.
If you were in a room, and the lights all of a sudden went off, how you would you feel? Would you feel worried? Scared? Agitated? Unsecure? Not sure where anything is at? Not sure if your nose is still on your face? You feel you’ve lost a little confidence about yourself too, right? When the light’s come back, you get the opposite–you feel safe, confident, comfortable, etc.
When we offer light, we are offering those qualities to all beings. The Buddha told Sariputra the many benefits of offering light in “The Merits of Giving Light Sutra” (T16n0702 if you want the Sutra reference in the Taisho Canon). Giving light doesn’t have to always be in the form of offering candles or oil lamps, light bulbs and other alternatives aren’t too bad either. Though, I still think there’s something special candles and oil lamps bring that I can’t really describe. Of course, safety is always first.
At the temple this afternoon I joined in an offering ceremony where everyone held an electric candle and sang the lamp offering song:
There’s also something special about when the room is darkened and everyone’s candles still on and then in formation in front of the altar, that’s something Siri can’t help you with for sure. It’s a peaceful feeling I think, something really helpful as we face what’s ahead this upcoming year.