A Poor Woman’s Light Offering

During the Buddha's time, in the city of Sravasti there lived a poor woman named Nantuo. The only possessions she had were the clothes on her back, and in order to survive she relied on begging for food or spare change. One day, in the midst of a fiercely cold wind, using her weak, trembling hands, she begged for an entire day, finally receiving one small coin. With this coin she could afford to buy a small morsel of food to support her life.

At this moment, she heard news about people going to make a light offering to the Buddha. She observed all of the city's residents devoutly purchasing numerous kinds of exquisite perfumed oils and candles to give as offerings to the Buddha. Seeing this, she couldn’t help but joyously praised all the devotees as the wish to make an offering to the Buddha arose in her mind. She thought, “The manifestation of the Buddha in this world is so rare and precious, I should really take hold of this opportunity to make an offering to the Buddha. But because in my past I did not cultivate any merit, so in this life I am poor and miserable. Even if I would really like to make an offering, I don't have anything special to offer, which is so shameful!” As she looked at the lone coin sitting in her hand, she knew that if she didn't spend it on food for herself she would have to pass another long, endless night in hunger and cold. And yet, her vow to make a light offering to the Buddha remained strong and resolute.

Using that one small coin, she could only afford to buy the smallest amount of the crudest oil, but her sincerity was much brighter than the light emitted from any lamps. When the shopkeeper who was selling the oil saw how Nantou was willing to suffer through another long, cold night in order to make an offering to the Buddha, he became so moved that he couldn't resist giving her several times more oil than what she had paid for, to help her achieve her dream. As dark descended upon the city, all the townsfolk, from the lords up in the imperial palace down to the commoners on the streets, with their hearts full of sincerity, illuminated their lamps for the Buddha. The lamps dazzled like a sparkling river, and lit up the entire city of Sravasti. The penniless Nantuo was in the midst of that crowd, respectfully lighting her oil lamp.

When this very ordinary oil lamp of hers became lit up in the middle of the night, it was as if her own low and insignificant life was also being lit up. At this moment Nantuo experienced an extraordinary feeling of richness and happiness. As she knelt down to give her offering to the Buddha, Nantuo reflected back not only on her life, full of destitution and suffering, but also thought about all the sentient beings wandering about in the endless darkness of the birth and death cycle. Because of this, she made a great wish: “I wish that this light may pervade through the ten directions, guiding every sentient creature out of the miserable sea of birth and death, to the path of supreme peace and happiness.

With the arrival of dawn, an unimaginable thing happened! All the oil lamps, no matter how precious, were extinguished from burning through the night, or were blown out by Maudgalyayana, who was in charge of keeping watch on the lamps. But the lamp of the poor Nantuo was still shining brightly. Even after exhausting every type of method for extinguishing the light, Maudgalyayana, who had the greatest supernatural powers out of all Buddha's disciples, still could not put it out. He was astonished: “Whose lamp is this that is still burning? Even with my supernatural powers, I cannot put it out!”

The Buddha, who was present at the time, pointed to the lamp of the poor girl, and with a smile relieved Maudgalyayana's uncertainty. “Maudgalyayana, the person who offered this lamp made a great vow to save all sentient beings. Even if you used all the water in the four great oceans, you would still not be able to extinguish this lamp. This candle was lit using a great, compassionate vow, and because she was full of sincerity, the light radiating from this lamp is inexhaustible.”

At this moment, Nantuo once again came to the temple, and devoutly paid her respects by prostrating to the Buddha. The Buddha received her and spoke the Dharma to her: “Twenty kalpas from now, you will become a Buddha who would guide an immeasurable number of sentient beings. Your name would be Lamplight Buddha.” With tears of gratitude falling down from the corners of her eyes, thinking about how rare it is to be able to encounter a Buddha in this world, the poor girl knelt down and brought her palms together, requesting permission to leave home and enter the monastic life. After becoming a nun, she thoroughly dedicated herself to progressing on the path, and was deeply respected for her diligence and high moral conduct.

The author of this story is unknown and greatly appreciated!

What is the Spiritual Moral / Message of the “A Poor Woman's Light Offering” Story?

In the heart of every adversity lies the seed of opportunity, waiting patiently to bloom. Through the story of Nantuo, we are reminded that true richness transcends material wealth; it emanates from the depth of one's sincerity and devotion. Despite her impoverished circumstances, Nantuo's unwavering commitment to making an offering to the Buddha illuminates the transformative power of faith and intention. In the darkest of nights, her lone oil lamp shines as a beacon of hope, symbolizing the radiant light that emerges when we align our actions with the noblest aspirations of our hearts.

At its core, Nantuo's story embodies the essence of selflessness and compassion. Despite her own desperate need for sustenance, she willingly sacrifices her meager resources to honor the Buddha. In doing so, she transcends the boundaries of her own suffering and extends her compassion to all sentient beings trapped in the cycle of birth and death. Her simple act of generosity serves as a profound reminder of the interconnectedness of all life and the transformative potential of altruistic deeds. In the radiant glow of her lamp, we witness the boundless power of love to dispel even the deepest shadows of despair.

The miraculous endurance of Nantuo's lamp throughout the night serves as a testament to the potency of heartfelt vows and intentions. Despite the efforts of Maudgalyayana, the lamp remains steadfast, fueled by the purity of Nantuo's devotion. In the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, her unwavering faith serves as a source of inspiration and wonder. Through her steadfast resolve, Nantuo demonstrates the timeless truth that sincerity and conviction are the true sources of strength and resilience in the face of adversity.

The Buddha's recognition of Nantuo's boundless compassion and sincerity underscores the profound spiritual significance of her humble offering. In bestowing upon her the prophecy of her future enlightenment as the Lamplight Buddha, the Buddha affirms the transformative power of even the most modest acts of kindness and devotion. Through her unwavering commitment to the path of awakening, Nantuo embodies the timeless wisdom that true spiritual wealth arises not from external possessions, but from the boundless depths of the human heart.

In Nantuo's decision to renounce the worldly life and enter the monastic order, we witness the culmination of her spiritual journey and the beginning of her ascent towards enlightenment. Through her dedication to the path of liberation, she exemplifies the transformative power of spiritual practice and selfless service. In embracing the monastic life, she relinquishes the trappings of worldly wealth and status in pursuit of a higher truth. Through her humility and devotion, she becomes a living embodiment of the Buddha's teachings, inspiring countless beings to follow in her footsteps towards the path of liberation.

In the story of Nantuo, we find a timeless parable of the transformative power of faith, compassion, and devotion. Through her unwavering commitment to the path of awakening, she transcends the limitations of her own suffering and becomes a beacon of light for all sentient beings. In her humble offering to the Buddha, she discovers the boundless riches of the human heart and sets forth on a journey towards enlightenment that will illuminate the world for countless generations to come.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflect on a time when you felt inspired by someone's selfless act. How did their sincerity and devotion impact you, and did it influence your own actions or beliefs in any way?
  2. Consider the significance of Nantuo's unwavering commitment to making an offering to the Buddha, despite her impoverished circumstances. How does her story challenge conventional notions of wealth and abundance?
  3. Nantuo's humble offering of the smallest amount of oil demonstrates the transformative power of sincerity and intention. How do you cultivate sincerity and intention in your own life, and how do these qualities shape your actions and decisions?
  4. Explore the symbolism of light in Nantuo's story, particularly her oil lamp that continues to shine brightly even as others are extinguished. What does this symbolize in terms of spiritual illumination and resilience?
  5. Reflect on Nantuo's wish for the light of her lamp to guide all sentient beings to the path of peace and happiness. How does her altruistic intention resonate with your own aspirations for the greater good?
  6. Consider the role of compassion in Nantuo's journey towards enlightenment, as demonstrated by the Buddha's recognition of her boundless compassion and sincerity. How does compassion inspire and inform your own spiritual practice?
  7. Reflect on the significance of Nantuo's decision to enter the monastic life and dedicate herself to the path of liberation. How does her story inspire you to deepen your own spiritual journey and commitment to self-transformation?
  8. Explore the theme of resilience in Nantuo's story, particularly in the face of adversity and hardship. How does her unwavering resolve and determination to make an offering to the Buddha inspire you to persevere in the face of challenges?
  9. Consider the transformative power of Nantuo's humble offering and its lasting impact on the world. How do small acts of kindness and generosity have the potential to create ripple effects of compassion and goodwill?
  10. Reflect on the timeless wisdom embodied in Nantuo's story and its relevance to your own life journey. What insights or lessons can you draw from her example, and how can you apply them to cultivate greater meaning and purpose in your life?