QUESTION: Dear Anandapanyo Bhikkhu,
When I go to a temple I notice that incenses are burnt and placed in a cup near the alter, and I have seen many people who burn incenses and place them in front of a Buddha statue or some images of deceased parents (family).  What is the purpose of burning, how is it to be done correctly, is it considered a ritual (something in the literature say that to gain stream winner that rituals have to be done away with), what is done with all those burnt incenses when they fill up the cup?  Thank you for your time.


ANSWER: Dear Pen,

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions.

The proper way to burn incense or candles depends on the group and traditions you belong to. There is no definitive correct or incorrect way of lighting candles or incense. This is because burning incense or candles are old traditions used by various groups with varying belief systems. The Buddha himself knew of candle burning and incense, but did not yeah or promote it.

They were mainly Brahmanistic traditions that were carried through to Buddhist practice. The Buddha saw that there were no major detriments to lighting candles and incense and therefore did not expressly prohibit it. It was the people's way of showing respect and reverence. However, in his absence, a lot more mysticism, magic and supernatural meaning has been attributed to these formalities. Previously, these things were done as a small part of ceremonies. But now, they are integral.

The leftover inscense that was burnt up is often just thrown away.

To do it properly, one must ask "experts" of the group you are practicing the tradition with in order to make sure you do not offend. However, internally, you must try to refrain from placing too much importance on these rituals and traditions.

I hope I have answered your questions.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Anandapanyo Bhikkhu,
I am practicing within Theravada Buddhism.  Can you please tell me how to do it correctly at home and when visiting a temple?
-I may not have a Buddha statue or any photos of loved ones, and so far all I have are joss sticks.
Thank you,

Dear Pen,

Typically what I see at temples:

2 candles (left and right)
3 incense sticks (between the candles)

The candles are meant to present:

1. Dhamma (the teachings)
2. Vinaya (the rules/discipline)

The three incense sticks represent:

1. Buddha
2. Dhamma
3. Sangha

Typically you light them right before a ceremony or chanting session.


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Anandapanyo Bhikkhu


I can answer questions about Buddhist practice, Buddhist understanding and how to apply Buddhism to daily life. I can help analyze Buddhist sayings and teachings. In addition, I can help with questions Buddhism stories, fables and Vinaya(rules). I have meditated for over 10 years and can help you start with meditation. In addition, I can help provide insight into what to do when you feel that you have hit a wall with your meditation. My main area of expertise is how to think in accordance with Sammaditthi (the right view - and number 1 in the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. If I cannot answer your question, I have many able teachers with over 20 years experience to help me, so chances are I will be able to find an answer for you.


I have been practicing Buddhism since I was born, but as a serious practice since 2003. I started studying under various famous Thai Theravada masters. Finally, I met and studied under Phra Acariya Thoon Khippapanyo who has recently passed away on Nov 11, 2008 and is widely accepted as a great Arahant (fully enlightened) teacher of our time. In addition, I have personally read and studied much of the Buddhist scriptures and popular literature available. I have recently undertaken the ordination vows and have become a Buddhist monk in the theravada forest monk tradition. I reside at a temple with many dedicated practitioners and great teachers. I have been practicing training my mind to be aligned with right view (sammaditthi) for over 10 years. I have also been meditating for over 10 years. In my time spent with Acariya Thoon, I learned many things and was able to incorporate them into my life. In addition to practicing Buddhism within temples and my home, I used to own two restaurants and managed commercial real estate. I had to deal with many different and problems. I learned how to use Buddhism to fix my problems, both externally (my environment) and internally (within me).

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