8 Reasons for Burning Incense: Chandra Prakash

 

It’s generous. It connects you to the elements. It sparks appreciation. It is healthy. It brings you back. It joins heaven and earth. It offers a lesson. It makes you prepare.

Those who never or rarely use incense often think of it as merely an air freshener or an odor eater and are unaware of the many benefits of incense to the mind and body. Even many incense fans who use it regularly may not fully appreciate all its physical and psychological benefits.

The list below will make it clear why just about every religion since the beginning of time has used incense for its spiritual powers, why tribal healers and physicians throughout history have used incense for its healing powers, why monks have used incense for thousands of years for its concentration powers, and why artists use incense to inspire creativity.

1. It’s generous. Ritual is an important part of living, even small rituals that may seem inconsequential. The insignificance of offering a stick of incense is key. It doesn’t move you any closer to stated goals. It doesn’t seem to address your current concerns, whether they are about personal relationships or world hunger. Yet, offering — without expectation of something in return for your gesture — is training in generosity, the act of letting go.

2. It connects you to the elements. Incense has to be lit. It requires fire to ignite and oxygen to burn. We need oxygen to breath and fire to live. It is a truism to say that to survive, we need a relationship to our world, our elemental world, the world of our senses. By striking a match, lighting and sensing a stick of incense, you have reignited a relationship with the world that sustains you.

3. It sparks appreciation. It takes time to find incense that appeals to you. Japanese varieties can be delicate and floral. Tibetan incense evokes a warm, earthy quality. There are many subtle differences and endless varieties. But you will offer incense that pleases you. What do you like? Do you know? Another way of putting this is: what makes you happy? By enjoying incense in the context of practice, you set a positive tone for your session. Practice is about appealing to the part of you that is able to relax, slow down and appreciate. Cultivating appreciation is the ground of discipline.

4. It is healthy. Incense enhances concentration & focus, prevents infections, relieves headaches, fights depression, reduces anxiety & tension, aids insomnia.

5. It brings you back. When you sit down to practice, the smoke from your incense joins you. Some even select the length of their incense stick to time their practice session. You may be lost in thought when, suddenly, you are brought back to the moment by the scent from a plume of incense wafting by. At this moment, you can recall the intention to practice that prompted you at the time you offered the incense and gently return to your discipline.

6. It joins heaven and earth. Smoke moves in space. Space extends everywhere. When you light incense you can invoke space. You can do this by letting the smoke go where it wants. Who would try to tell smoke where to go? At the same time, space is a reminder of earth. Eventually, after enjoying the space of heaven, smoke will settle into dust and land on earth. We can’t forget to enjoy the space of heaven in our practice. Practice takes effort –fire—but it can be lighthearted. It doesn’t have to be so serious. It is natural to enjoy space. It is natural to settle on the earth.

7. It offers a lesson. The incense stick begins at a full length and then grows shorter as it burns. There is no way to repair or retrieve a stick that has burnt. At first the scent is strong, soon the stick is gone and the scent will be faint. Sometimes the ash sits on top of the stick, like a memory of past glories, before toppling off into the incense bowl. The smoke may rise slowly like white ink from the stroke of an invisible brush or may disperse, fanned by hidden currents of air. All experience is fleeting — like the smoke from a stick of incense. This is a true lesson.

8. It makes you prepare. To offer incense, you need incense, matches, a bowl. You need to think about this before your practice session. To practice, you need time, a place, and intention. You have to work to gather what you need for practice. You have to plan and organize your life so you can sustain a practice. Your time and your space have value. They are the very commodities of existence and essential resources for practice. Always in short supply, they can be squandered or not. Prepare well and your practice will go well.

Chandra Prakash, Boulder, CA

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2 Comments

  • By MeggoSexxx, July 12, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

    vrotmnenogi

Links to this Post

  1. How Incense Sticks are Being Made | Article Jump — March 3, 2009 @ 12:22 am

    [...] Burning incense in many places is a religious as well as a purification rite. The practice has been followed for hundreds of years and continues to thrive even today. Incense burning is simply the burning of aromatic materials with the release of odor or fragrance. Some incense is burned for medicinal purposes while others simply are for aesthetic values. [...]

  2. Incense Sticks Burning | Tantric Yoga Techniques — March 3, 2009 @ 12:25 am

    [...] Burning incense in many places is a religious as well as a purification rite. The practice has been followed for hundreds of years and continues to thrive even today. Incense burning is simply the burning of aromatic materials with the release of odor or fragrance. Some incense is burned for medicinal purposes while others simply are for aesthetic values. [...]

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  6. How to Burn Incense Sticks — July 13, 2012 @ 10:20 am

    [...] Burning incense in many places is a religious as well as a purification rite. The practice has been followed for hundreds of years and continues to thrive even today. Incense burning is simply the burning of aromatic materials with the release of odor or fragrance. Some incense is burned for medicinal purposes while others simply are for aesthetic values. Today, with advanced technology, incense burning has taken a different turn and the reasons for incense burning have changed. This has largely been influenced by the underlying cultural of roots of the people as well as the diversity of cultures. Whatever the reasons, it seems that incense burning has picked up in recent years.
    Incense burning today is very diverse with many materials being used. Oils, solids and other things that have a fragrance are being used. The large diversity means the need for appropriate incense burners is necessary. A solid can be held on the same incense burner as a liquid, like frankincense.
    Some liquid aromatics are added a charcoal powder base that is then placed on the incense burner. Others use synthesized materials. All these substances thus require their own incense burners.
    There are varying types of incense classified by the mode and degree of burning. The common groups are direct and indirect burning. One of the best known examples of materials that use indirect burning is myrrh and frankincense. Frankincense in the European context alludes to virtually any form or forms of incense. When placed on an appropriate incense burner, the frankincense material in its raw unprocessed form is burnt directly by having it placed on an incense burner that has coal embers. In direct burning, the combustible incense is placed on an incense burner and lit directly. Once the flame has been removed, the material will continue to smolder away burning the entire incense without the need to put a flame in again. The incense substance must therefore be made of a moldable substance that has to be finely grounded or even in liquid form. Frankincense coils can be burnt directly or by suspending them on an incense burner so that it burns completely in a coil-like fashion. Some incense sticks have a bamboo core for support while for loose powder, wood ash incense burners are used. When burning powder directly, it first has to be enclosed under another material before placing it on the incense stick and lighting it up. Other forms of direct burning use cored sticks, solid sticks and incense blanks. In incense blanks, scented dust is used as the fragrance substance. Incense burners come in virtually all shapes and sizes. Whether buying incense burners or aroma lamps, burners can be classified in countless ways. There are incense burners that look like mythical gods and goddesses, celestial burners, pentagrams, animal and miscellaneous incense burners. You can find all the pictures of these burners online before making a purchase. [...]

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