Why Light Three Sticks of Incense Instead of Four?

In traditional culture, the proper way of offering incense is of great significance. The following article explores the correct way to perform this ritual.

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Why is Lighting Three Sticks of Incense Usually Enough?

When visiting a temple, offering incense is an important ritual. Many of us, however, do not fully understand the rules of this ceremony.

The most important aspect of paying respect to the Buddha is having a sincere and reverent mindset. True devotion is not demonstrated by spending money on elaborate offerings or rituals.

Three Sticks of Incense Represent Discipline, Concentration, and Wisdom

Similarly, when it comes to offering incense, lighting three sticks is sufficient. Lighting incense is considered a form of spiritual communication between humans and the Buddha.

The three sticks of incense symbolize Discipline, Concentration, and Wisdom, which are the three branches of Buddhist learning. In the sutras, they are referred to as the “threefold training” that helps practitioners break free from the bonds of afflictions and defilements, achieving a state of pure, lucid, calm, free, and liberated mind.

Why is Lighting Four Sticks of Incense Considered Wrong?

The number of incense sticks lit carries different meanings:

Lighting one stick of incense expresses the wish for the gods and Buddha to protect and bring peace and smooth sailing in one’s endeavors.

Lighting three sticks of incense signifies sincerity in one’s heart, adherence to the teachings of the Buddha and ancestors (Discipline), and unwavering devotion (Concentration).

The ancients said, “Three for the gods, four for the demons,” indicating that offering three sticks of incense is the proper way to pay respect to the deities, while four sticks are used when worshipping demons.

Lighting five sticks of incense is known as the “heaven and earth five elements incense.” Typically, within a clan or lineage, five sticks of incense are lit during significant events, symbolizing the clan’s sincerity and requesting heaven and earth as witnesses.

Lighting four sticks of incense is incorrect. The ancients said, “Three for the gods, four for the demons,” indicating that offering three sticks of incense is the proper way to pay respect to the deities, while four sticks are used when worshipping demons. In temples, the appropriate amount of incense to offer is usually one or three sticks. Offering more may be considered inappropriate.

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