“There isn’t enough darkness in all the world to snuff out the light of one little candle.”

Myoshin, of the Salt lake Buddhist Fellowship, was suspicious of this one: “There isn’t enough darkness in all the world to snuff out the light of one little candle.”

It’s certainly not the Buddha.

It’s also found as “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”

That version (with “small candle”)  is mostly attributed to “Robert Alden,” who is most likely the Robert L. Alden (January 14, 1836 – May 6, 1911) who wrote a series of commentaries on the Psalms. Alden was Professor of Old Testament at Denver Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out which of his works this saying appears in, if indeed it’s his.

Bartlett’s Unfamiliar Quotations, published in 1971, certainly seemed confident enough to put his name to the quote. There it was in the form, “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”

According to Wikipedia, Alden “was one of the many real people upon whom Laura Ingalls Wilder based a character in the Little House on the Prairie series of books.”

The quote is found in a more extended form as “All the darkness in the universe can not dim nor put out the light of a candle, but the light of a candle as far as it reaches puts out darkness.”

This third version is the oldest I’ve confirmed so far. It appears in a 1903 collection of Christian tracts published in Kansas, Missouri, by the Unity Tract Society. The publication is called “Unity, Vol. XVIII. It’s in an essay called “Spiritual Consciousness and How to Attain It,” by Mrs. E.  R. Hunter, who I know nothing about.

There is a version that’s considerably older, but more wordy: “Perhaps you say, beloved, that the darkness is very thick around you; that it is pitch dark—well! be it so—but all the darkness that ever overspread the world, even though it were as bad as that which wrapped the land of Egypt in gloom, cannot put out the tiniest night light.” This is from “Scripture Night Lights,” written by the Reverend Philip Bennett Power in 1861. Power was an Irishman who became a vicar in the Church of England.

To the best of my knowledge the Buddha was unfamiliar with candles. Oil lamps seem to have been the standard form of illumination in India at that time. They are mentioned many times in the scriptures. Sometimes it’s specified that they are oil lamps, fueled by sesame oil (tela, although that word can be used for various types of oil).

It’s often claimed that the Buddha instructed his disciples to be “lamps” unto themselves, but this seems to be a mis-translation. It’s clear from context that he was asking people to be “islands” unto themselves — an island being a refuge in a flood. Both refuges and floods were important metaphors for him.

Darkness and lamps were however standard images. In Dhammapada verse 146 he said, “Enveloped in darkness, don’t you look for a lamp?”

A standard passage (pericope) has people who have listened to the Buddha teaching exclaiming:

Magnificent, Master Gotama [Gotama being the Buddha’s family name]! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or were to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Gotama — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma [teachings/truth] clear.

Whatever form our questionable quote takes, it’s certainly not from the Buddha.

9 thoughts on ““There isn’t enough darkness in all the world to snuff out the light of one little candle.””

  1. “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle,” is often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. But even that is debatable.

    1. I’m virtually 100% sure it’s not St Francis. The quote must be of recent coinage, since it doesn’t appear in books until the late 20th century.

      1. And it’s everywhere – including countless Roman Catholic sites. But there appears to be no valid/viable source.

        Sidebar: I fairly regularly come to your site to verify quotes, and nearly every time my suspicions are confirmed (of course, who knows how many times I don’t suspect something when I should!). Thanks for providing such an amazing resource.

    1. Hi, Hector.

      The problem is that what you heard was probably wrong. If you find this quote in the writings of St. Francis, please let me know.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

  2. My grandfather was given a handwritten note with this quote on it by his mother, when he left for war in 1943. So it’s older than that, at the very least.

    1. Thanks, Brett. Your comment prompted me to look into this quote further, and I’ve substantially re-written the article.

  3. The fact people are saying the truth about this quote, is like the quote itself. It would be cool if Francis of Assisi said it, but just as cool that it probably came a from a 19th Century US religion guy, maybe the fact it is anonymous makes it more amazing, as it lets the quote stand out there on its own. Its still a powerful quote whoever thought it up. Great quotes can come from anywhere, Francis of Asisisi, or Fast and Furious

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