Hello all 🙂
Several people asked me weeks ago to order incense and it has arrived. Much of this comes from Nepal, made by hand by the monks, and the rest from Japan, and has been on back order. I was going to just post this, but in offering my own incense this morning, of course I started thinking about random things and off on the boat ride of my stream of consciousness we go.
Most people who come here for sessions walk in, take a deep breath and comment on the distinctive scent of the space. That is the result of high quality ritual incense. Incense has been burned for centuries as part of ritual offering to the Divine. True incense is made from aromatic resins or herbs, and can be used for prayer, offerings, medicine and healing. The incense I use for meditation is a Japanese incense and is burned in Zen temples all over the world. I also use Tibetan incenses for healing and meditation at times. For the ancients, who didn’t have a watch or iphone with a ginormous clock on it, incense was also used as a meditation timer. So most incense sticks are 20 minutes, some are 45 minutes. The one I generally use here are 20 minutes and are gently aromatic.
Incense used as part of ritual has been noted in every spiritual tradition. In Psalm 141, David prays,
Oh Lord, I call to You, come to me quickly. Hear my voice when I call to You. May my prayers be set before you like incense, may the lifting of my hands be like an evening sacrifice…
Numerous studies have concluded that the use of ritual has a deep impact on the brain and behavior of humans and animals. The truth is that we all have rituals…how you decide to take time in the morning, rituals around mealtimes and grooming, around holidays and all the expectations about that. Ritual used with intention creates sacred space and is good for body and soul, and this is part of why good incense is used for prayer and meditation. I suspect this use of ritual is why people who have a spiritual tradition or faith practice they utilize regularly tend to be healthier in general and live longer than non participants. Volumes of research have shown repeatedly that oxygen saturation levels increase, hormone levels change, the stress hormones decrease, while there are numerous brain changes that move into the delta state, which is a brain wave normally associated with deep sleep and relaxation.
As with everything though, intention matters: Some studies have shown that the use of pornography changes the brain and body for the negative more than the use of heroin. Sacred ritual is meant to be different than bad habits, but the truth is that the brain will strengthen the neuro-nets of whatever we practice regularly. So offering ritual incense is different than just random rituals that are really just habits or burning incense to change the smell of the room.
Here is a piece on the offering of incense in the Zen tradition. Translation: Gassho is the term for the prayer position of the hands in most traditions, hands together and fingers pointed up.
In Zen, the offering of incense at the Temple altar is of the highest significance. Offering the incense is an unselfish act in which we express our conviction of the Oneness of all things and the transient nature of all existence.
In the incense, we see the potential that is in ourselves, just as the Incense itself is worthless until it is put to the flame. We know that our lives are useless, too, unless our potentials are fulfilled. In the incense, we recognize, too, that our lives are just as fleeting as its sweet smoke. In offering incense, we should walk in a dignified manner to the altar, bow in gassho before it, place our offering in the plate, and then take a pinch of the granulated incense, placing it on the burning part of the charcoal. After placing the incense on the smoldering fire, gassho again in a graceful manner, and return to your seat.
The gassho used during the incense offering symbolizes the Unity of ourselves, the Buddha, and the world. Our one hand is ourselves, and it is placed, palm to palm, with the hand symbolizing the Buddha. Our slight bow at the time of the gassho is a sign of the respect we feel for the benevolence of the Universe with which we are One. In the act of offering incense, the true nature of ourselves is expressed.
For those of you who are trying to find a meditation practice, incense is a powerful tool for that discipline. If you would like to try some incense to see if you like it, let me know and you can try it at home. If you would like to buy some or create a practice at home, let me know if you would like suggestions.
Have a great day! 🙂