Candles for clarity

The Practice of Butterlamp Offerings

2 May 2009 - 8:39am 2 Comments

As we travel along the path to Enlightenment, we need a great amount of wisdom to understand the Dharma, absorb it and apply it to our lives. It is such an important part of our spiritual journey, that one of the preliminary practices connects directly towards the attainment of wisdom.

Butterlamp offerings – representing light – is a direct way to create the karmic cause for eliminating ignorance and gaining wisdom. Just as the single flicker of a candle lights up a dark room, every spark of wisdom lights up our minds and brings us greater wisdom.

H.E. Tsem Rinpoche constantly encourages his students to make as many abundant offerings as possible, to create a deep connection with the Enlightened body, speech and mind.

This article offers a short introduction to the practice of butterlamp offerings, its benefits and how to engage in a butterlamp retreat.

H.E. Tsem Rinpoche’s 100,000 Butterlamp Offering Retreat

At Tsem Ladrang, Kathmandu

His Eminence is currently engaging in a retreat to complete 100,000 butterlamp offerings. Every single day, in Tsem Ladrang, Kathmandu, 550 butterlamps are prepared and lit as part of this retreat, which Rinpoche is dedicating to the success of all Kechara activities in Nepal and Malaysia.

Read the full story about this retreat here here.

The benefits of light offerings

The second chapter of Heruka Chakrasamvara’s root tantra advises that, “If you want sublime realisations, offer hundreds of lights.”

As well as that, by making light offerings, we gain the following benefits:

  1. You become a light in the world.
  2. You achieve (when born human) the clairvoyance of the pure flesh eye.
  3. You achieve the devas’ eye.
  4. You receive the wisdom of knowing what is virtue and what is non-virtue.
  5. You are able to eliminate the darkness of ignorance; the concept of inherent existence.
  6. You receive the illumination of wisdom; even in samsara, you never experience darkness.
  7. You receive much wealth and enjoyment.
  8. You are reborn in the deva or human realm.
  9. You quickly become liberated.
  10. You quickly attain Enlightenment.

Engaging in your own Butterlamp Offering Retreat

Traditionally, engaging in a butterlamp offering retreat would comprise preparing and lighting a minimum of 100,000 light offerings.

There are two methods for doing this retreat, one of which is specially tailored to suit busy, modern lifestyles, as advised by H.E. Tsem Rinpoche.

Whichever method we choose to engage in, we should enter the retreat with full faith in the Three Jewels. It would be good to have an altar – as well made as we can afford within our means – in the offering area.

For Kechara House, Rinpoche always advises us to place a central image of Vajrayogini. We visualise that all our Lamas, Yidams, Buddhas, Dharma protectors, dakas and dakinis dissolve into Vajrayogini as we recite prayers and make our offerings.

We should think that we are making offerings not just to one statue of Vajrayogini, but to all the Enlightened Beings. By this, we make a direct connection to the Enlightened body, speech and mind of these Beings, thus creating the karmic cause for us to get closer and achieve these same highly exalted, attained states.

The Traditional Retreat.

The procedure is as follows:

  1. Wash your hands and clean your mouth.
  2. Sweep and clean your working area very well. As the retreat is an offering to the Three Jewels, we should make the area as clean, tidy and beautiful as possible, as we visualise that the deities will come to bless us during our retreat and prayers.
  3. Clean the butterlamp holders very well and prepare the butterlamps. This includes preparing the candle wicks, melting the ghee and pouring it into the containers.
  4. Purify all the butterlamps with incense, while reciting OM AH HUM. It is important to purify all offerings this way. If offerings are not properly purified, we may experience strong obstacles to our Dharma practice or disturbing spirit interferences.
  5. Recite prayers such as
    • Lama Chopa (up until just before the Tsok offering. Instead of doing a tsok offering, we light the butterlamps instead).
    • Light Offering Prayer, by Lama Atisha.
  6. Light the butterlamps while reciting migtsema.
  7. After lighting all the butterlamps, purify the lit lamps with incense again, and recite OM AH HUM.
  8. Recite concluding prayers such as:
    • “Reviewing the stages of the path” until dedication verses of Lama Chopa.
    • Light Offering Prayer, by Lama Atisha.
  9. Recite dedication prayers.

We can offer as many butterlamps as we wish each day. The more the better!

Through the course of completing the 100,000 butterlamp retreat, we should not skip even one day of making the offerings. If we are physically unable to due to travel or sickness, we should offer at least one butterlamp a day, with the prayers, to maintain the continuity.

If we miss even one day, we have to start the retreat from the beginning again.

An alternative, modern retreat

With our many commitments, responsibilities and activities in the modern world, it may be difficult for many of us to engage fully in a butterlamp retreat as outlined above.

H.E. Tsem Rinpoche has advised us that instead of physically doing the retreat, we can also sponsor a retreat or hire people to do the physical preparation of the butterlamps instead.

This benefits both parties:

  • The person who sponsors the full cost of the retreat benefits because he directs the money he earns from hard work and effort towards the virtuous act of making offerings.
  • The person who physically prepares, makes and lights the butterlamps also benefits because he is doing work in relation to The Three Jewels. Instead of earning money in an ordinary job on the outside, he is engaging in good Dharma work instead.

If we wish to sponsor a butterlamp retreat, the money we put towards it should come from a clean source i.e. we should not have obtained the money through negative means, such as from a slaughter-house business, drug trafficking, robbery etc). We offer the money towards the retreat with a good, strong motivation that this retreat is for us to gain wisdom, skilful means and attainments that can benefit others.

If you would like to start your butterlamp lamp retreat by sponsoring butterlamp offerings at Tsem Ladrang, Kathmandu, please contact Ladrang Liaison Beng Kooi on

2 Responses to Candles for clarity

  1. Hello,

    I would like to have info about the butterlamp offering; I know you have retreats doing this and you may send me info about it and please tell me what can I do if I need to offer 4000 butterlamps. I live in Mexico and I´m not able to go there.

    Thanks so much!

    Yours in Dharma


    • Gerardo, thanks so much for your enquiry! Basically yes, we do make butterlamp offerings on a regular basis. However, with an offering of that size, and depending on the urgency of your request, it may be more convenient to do the butterlamp offerings in our Nepal ladrang. With your permission, I’d like to forward your enquiry to the relevant people so they can provide you with more information on how you can offer 4000 butterlamps. Is this okay with you?