Proper way of offering incense

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  • Daiyo
    Member
    • Jul 2014
    • 819

    Proper way of offering incense

    Hi all, I've observed in the local zendo that there is a specific way and gestures to handle and offer the incense stick.
    Can you describe it or point me in the right direction?

    Thanks.

    Gassho,
    Walter

    #SatToday
    Gassho,Walter
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39270

    #2
    Hi Walter,

    Incense is a powerful, ancient practice found in many religions serving to bring the olfactory sense into the sacredness of the moment, much as the sounds of chanting, sights of ritual and an altar invite the other senses. I very much recommend such as a practice if it calls to one's heart (and nose!).

    That does not mean that everyone should or need offer incense, of course. Seated Zazen is the one Practice that holds all Practices, and in a moment of sitting all the sights, sounds, tastes, touches, scents and thoughts are held and manifest. Nothing more is needed. However, of course, that is the case whether one does not chant and light an incense stick ... or does chant and light and incense stick ... so feel free to chant and light! If chanting and lighting are also undertaken with a clear and sincere heart, as "the one Practice that holds all Practices", then each incense stick is Zazen too! (Got how that works!?)

    I light incense for our Zazenkai, but I have cut down in small rooms with poor ventilation because, well, the particles are not unlike second hand cigarette smoke. It may be a carcinogen, and some folks are allergic too. (Of course, most scientific studies have been in Chinese temples, where the Incense is really a cloud ...)



    ... and the way they use incense there is quite something ...



    Cough cough.

    Incense can be lovely, so follow your nose on incense and enjoy. There are other options too:

    How about the invisible incense, seen clearly with only the mind's eye?

    Or how about the unlit incense stick, which burns brightly in the heart?

    Or how about lighting the stick briefly, then putting the lit end down into the sand ... thereby letting just a touch of smoke fill the room?

    I do all of the above from time to time.

    However, if one wishes to offer an incense stick in one's room, it is best that it is the short Japanese type (about 15cm / 6 inches long), not the very long Chinese type. It is best to be a mild sandalwood scent, not strawberry, vanilla or something like that.

    So long as one offers the incense with a sincere heart, the specific content of the procedure does not matter. However, I would suggest placing the incense in front or near what one has as one's "Buddha Statue" (which, by the way, does not need to be a "Buddha Statue" as such ... but can be about anything which brings stillness to the heart ... a stone, a flower, an empty space). Gassho Bow, light a candle, and (if right handed) pick up the incense stick with the thumb, index and middle finger (representing perhaps Buddha Dharma Sangha). With left hand still in Gassho, light incense tip with candle and make sure it is glowing (One can also light directly from a lighter). Give a light shake or gentle touch to extinguish any flame at incense tip. Raise and touch the stick to one's forehead once or three times (again, for Buddha Dharma Sangha), place in a sturdy holder filled with non-flammable sand where it will not fall over and the ashes will fall neatly ... something like this ...



    Extinquish the candle. Gassho Bow again. Back away respectfully.

    If burning a candle, I recommend to extinguish it ... especially if one has cats or the like which may knock it over.

    On the other hand, any respectful way is fine. Please make your own ritual.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - We had a related discussion of what is a "Buddhist Altar" ... and I am also of the opinion that there is no one right way, follow the heart. An empty space filled with Emptiness is fine.

    Last edited by Jundo; 06-15-2015, 03:03 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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    • Daiyo
      Member
      • Jul 2014
      • 819

      #3
      Thanks Jundo!

      I'd noticed in the local zendo the taking of the incense to the forehead, and that made me ask for all the procedure.
      I've also seen that when one takes the stick they use both hands like one covering the other with the three fingers grabbing the stick.
      I was invited to do it once, and I broke the stick!


      Thanaks again.

      Gassho,
      Walter

      #SatToday
      Gassho,Walter

      Comment

      • Ongen
        Member
        • Jan 2014
        • 786

        #4
        Hi Walter,

        That's a very nice question!
        I also break the stick many times Then I have two sticks and twice as much smoke! In our local zendo they always light the sticks with a candle or a match, never with a lighter. Also the candle used is never blown out but 'waved' out by hand. No idea why. Usually they hold the lit stick between the two middle fingers in gassho position and bow once. Again, no idea why. I will ask tonight!

        I like offering incense before I sit, many times I don't because only minutes after my morning sit the room will be filled with kids and wife having breakfast. And some breakfast tastes don't go well with incense

        Gassho
        Vincent
        Ongen (音源) - Sound Source

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        • Daiyo
          Member
          • Jul 2014
          • 819

          #5
          Originally posted by vanMeerdervoort
          Hi Walter,

          That's a very nice question!
          I also break the stick many times Then I have two sticks and twice as much smoke! In our local zendo they always light the sticks with a candle or a match, never with a lighter. Also the candle used is never blown out but 'waved' out by hand. No idea why. Usually they hold the lit stick between the two middle fingers in gassho position and bow once. Again, no idea why. I will ask tonight!

          I like offering incense before I sit, many times I don't because only minutes after my morning sit the room will be filled with kids and wife having breakfast. And some breakfast tastes don't go well with incense

          Gassho
          Vincent
          Hi Vince, now that you mention it, I seem to rememer that here they also hold the stick with the two middle fingers like a cigarette, but vertical, in the moment of putting it in the ash holder. Before they would have taken it with three fingers as Jundo explained, covering the right hand with the left one in a similar position.

          I like incense very much for sitting, specially the Nag Champa fragrance, but I have the same issue as you, I sit early in the morning and then my family wakes up and the room is filled with fumes. My wife complains that gives her headache, so I've stopped using it in the morning.

          Gassho,
          Walter

          #SatToday
          Gassho,Walter

          Comment

          • Jundo
            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
            • Apr 2006
            • 39270

            #6
            When in Rome offer incense as the Romans do. Please do not be too concerned about the orthodox way. A Soto Priest, if in full formal style, would have a much more elaborate ritual anyway, including the offering of powdered incense in addition to the stick ... as seen at the 2:00 mark here ...

            En ceremonia oficiada por Densho Quintero Sensei, cinco miembros de la Comunidad recibieron los preceptos budistas. Noviembre 27 de 2010


            But in Zen, ultimately, please offer the incense with no hands.

            Gassho, J
            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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            • Myosha
              Member
              • Mar 2013
              • 2974

              #7
              Hello,

              " . . .please offer the incense with no hands.

              Gassho, J"

              Thank you for the lesson.


              Gassho,
              Myosha sat today
              "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

              Comment

              • Daiyo
                Member
                • Jul 2014
                • 819

                #8
                Originally posted by Jundo
                But in Zen, ultimately, please offer the incense with no hands.
                Gassho, J
                No hands?

                The celebrating priest is Densho Quintero sensei.
                The sensei in the local zendo, last month went to a retreat in Brasil with two more members of the sangha and Densho Quintero was there too. I saw him in the photos.

                Gassho,
                Walter

                #SatToday
                Gassho,Walter

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                • Josan
                  Member
                  • Aug 2013
                  • 137

                  #9
                  As an alternative to incense sticks, I use a few drops of essential oils (e.g. sandalwood) on a oil burner. The adding of the oil and lighting of the small candle add to the ritual, plus there are some nice medicinal benefits depending on the oil chosen.
                  Gassho,
                  David

                  sat today
                  If you miss the moment, you miss your life - John Daido Loori

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                  • Kyonin
                    Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
                    • Oct 2010
                    • 6739

                    #10
                    Hi all,

                    I really like incense, but my girlfriend is allergic, so I get to use it rarely. However, I do use virtual incense everyday

                    It's smoke free, hypoallergenic and you can light thousands of sticks at the same time!

                    But seriously, I do offer a stick of "mind" incense everyday. In Zazenkai and when I really want to offer it to someone or the Buddha, I use a really nice Indian incense I got a few months ago.

                    I walk slowly to my little altar, I take the stick with both hands, light it, put it to my forehead 3 times for Buddha-Dharma-Sangha and place it in the censer. I bow again and then I chant the Heart Sutra. Then I'm ready for zazen!

                    Like Jundo says, as long as you offer incense sincerely, I think it's fine to develop our personal ritual for it.

                    Gassho,

                    Kyonin
                    Hondō Kyōnin
                    奔道 協忍

                    Comment

                    • Jundo
                      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                      • Apr 2006
                      • 39270

                      #11
                      Originally posted by walter
                      No hands?
                      Yes, no hands ... yes, countless hands ...

                      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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                      • Joyo

                        #12
                        Hello, as an alternative you can burn a beeswax candle. I have a lotus flower candle holder on my alter. This is where I burn beeswax candles.

                        Gassho,
                        Joyo
                        sat today

                        Comment

                        • Jundo
                          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                          • Apr 2006
                          • 39270

                          #13
                          Also good to remember a quote from Dogen Zenji's Teacher, Master Rujing, which Dogen recorded in the Hokyoki, his diary of his travels in China, and repeated in his Bendowa ...

                          “According to the unmistakenly handed down tradition, the straightforward buddha-dharma that has been simply transmitted is supreme among the supreme. From the time you begin practicing with a teacher, the practices of incense burning, bowing, nembutsu [reciting the names of the Buddhas], repentance, and reading sutras are not at all essential; just sit dropping off body and mind.”
                          Of course, that does not mean that Dogen and Rujing, like almost all Buddhist monks, did not engage in endless hours of incense burning, bowing, nembutsu, repentance, and reading sutras besides ... and as each themself a manifestation of ... Zazen. They did! After all, one has to do something to fill the time, and one cannot simply sit around all day. As two of the most prominent Dogen historians note ...

                          In this groundbreaking collection of essays edited by Steven Heine, leading scholars of Buddhism from both sides of the Pacific explore the life and thought of Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253), the founder of the Japanese Soto sect. Through both textual and historical analysis, the volume shows Dogen in context of the Chinese Chan tradition that influenced him and demonstrates the tremendous, lasting impact he had on Buddhist thought and culture in Japan. The essays provide critical new insight into Dogen's writings. Special attention is given to the Shobogenzo and several of its fascicles, which express Dogen's views on such practices and rituals as using supranormal powers (jinzu), reading the sutras (kankin), diligent training in zazen meditation (shikan taza), and the koan realized in everyday life (genjokoan). Dogen: Textual and Historical Studies also analyzes the historical significance of this seminal figure: for instance, Dogen's methods of appropriating Chan sources and his role relative to that of his Japanese Zen predecessor Eisai, considered the founder of the Rinzai sect, who preceded Dogen in traveling to China. This book is a crucial contribution to the advancement of specialized studies of Dogen, as well as to the Chan/Zen school in the context of East Asian religions and their social and historical trends.


                          This chapter is based on a close reading of passages in the Shōbōgenzō
                          and elsewhere on sutra reading, which is one of the practices that
                          Dōgen says is unnecessary in the oft-quoted passage attributed to his
                          mentor Rujing, cited in Bendōwa (also found in Hōkyōki and “Gyōji”):
                          “You can only succeed by just sitting, without a need to make use of
                          burning incense, prostration, recitation of buddha names, repentance
                          ceremonies, reading scriptures, or ritual incantations.” Based on the
                          ritual practices that he followed, it is shown that Dōgen did not mean to
                          reject literally any of those standard Buddhist training methods. Why,
                          then, does he disparage them? The answer is actually simple and clear,
                          and is well illustrated in “Kankin”: one should engage in all practices,
                          ideally without attachment to them, but even with attachment if one
                          has not figured out yet what nonattachment really is. Nonattachment
                          for Dōgen is insight into the emptiness of dharmas, which in plain
                          English means the ultimately false (albeit useful) nature of all conceptual
                          categories, starting with the category of “thing.” From that point of view,
                          all practices (including zazen or sitting meditation) are rejected because,
                          after all, there is no such thing as “practice”—it is just a conventional
                          category—and yet all practices are also accepted and endorsed.
                          Zen guys often speak (and act) out of both sides of their no sided mouth!

                          Gassho, J

                          SatToday
                          Last edited by Jundo; 11-27-2014, 03:09 AM.
                          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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                          • julie
                            Member
                            • May 2015
                            • 14

                            #14
                            I realize this is an old thread, but I stumbled across it while finding my way through the forums. I have a special fondness for Japanese incense and wanted to mention that there are 'smokeless' incenses available should one wish to use it and if smoke be of issue. I use Daigen-Koh rosewood for sitting (an open window is also available where I sit), and before I took up practice I would use it for grounding and centering. It is a very mild scent with very little actual smoke. Also, to my nose it is the scent of the "Kwan Yin room" at the Nelson-Atkins art museum in Kansas City, which is so beautiful. I did not know of specific handling rituals, I just lit with a lighter and began to sit and as the scent came it would ease me into 'here and now.' To be fair, it is a long stick, 90 minutes' worth, so I break it. But it is inexpensive and contributes to the sense that "this is meditation time" and for a green beginner that is of so much help. Perhaps one day I will use it for aesthetic alone. But for now I will incorporate ritual handling as well and see if that will become part of my practice.

                            Gassho
                            sat today
                            Last edited by julie; 05-10-2015, 09:41 PM.

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                            • Kyousui
                              Member
                              • Feb 2017
                              • 357

                              #15
                              Had to resurrect this thread from the archives as I've been enjoying using incense, especially with the incense gift from Jundo Roshi on his Omaha stop and put it in the smalll heart sutra cup he gave me. When I do my little ceremony, I touch my forehead, mouth and heart and then wave the stick in the 10 directions.

                              Sat Today LAH

                              Kyousui - strong waters 強 水

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