The magic of an incense stick

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Thu Dec 09, 2010 4:12 pm

Most of us have altars at home.Some have them in special rooms to keep their practice private and some have their altars in an open area in the house (like mine).The relationship with the images or statues or Buddhas on our altars is important.
I have been seeing people lighting incense sticks or joss sticks on their altars all my life.Once I asked my Vajraguru what happens when we light an incense stick on our altars. He said that all the images and statues on the altar start giving out light as soon as the incense stick is placed on the altar. The whole altar is lit with holy light and when the incense stick dies out, the light switches off too.The light is not visible to ordinary human eyes.My crazy question exposed me to something very interesting that I had never known before.
Since then I have started lighting incense sticks as soon as I get up, every time I leave my house and every time I return and of course before and after meditation.As long as I am at home, I've got into the habit of keeping the incense stick lit one after the other. The number of incense sticks we light at one time has to be odd in number. This is one of the ways in which I keep my relationship close with the Buddhas on my altar.So what else can be done to have a better and more meaningful relationship with our Buddhas at home though they require nothing from us? Please share.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby catmoon » Thu Dec 09, 2010 8:48 pm

From time to time I will light an incense stick outdoors, but within sight of my shrine. I let the scent drift away as a blessing and an offering to everyone, similar to prayer flags.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby Blue Garuda » Thu Dec 09, 2010 9:57 pm

I make incense offerings as part of my daily practice.

I also offer it outdoors as well as on my indoor shrine.

At other times I burn it for my own pleasure. Of course, I don't inhale! LOL :)
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Fri Dec 10, 2010 4:16 am

Another thing that I have been advised to do is to put a bowl of rice(uncooked) and a bowl of water outside the compound of my house just before I start my meditation.This is an offering to the spiritual world and an attempt to avoid any spiritual disturbance during meditation.Before I put the rice and water outside, I stand in front of my altar and say, "Lords, please bless this rice and water which is for the sentient beings outside my compound. Kindly bless this rice and water so that their suffering would end, their wisdom would open up and so that they may get enlightened before me." Then I visualize holy light coming from the Buddhas onto the rice and water.After that I place the bowls outside. Then in the morning birds come to eat the rice and drink the water.A big party outside my house every morning. ;)
I have been also told that the Buddhas love flowers above anything else(of course without any attachment).In fact,They come down to earth in the smell of flowers, not the strong smelling flowers but the ones with the light scent.Fresh flowers don't last so it's better to change them every week.
Coming back to the altar, I light an incense stick before leaving the house telling the Buddhas where I'm going and do that again when I return thanking them for being home safely.In this way the relationship is better and more meaningful.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby plwk » Fri Dec 10, 2010 6:01 am

In fact...

The verifiable one or the 'I think so' one? :jumping:
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Fri Dec 10, 2010 2:17 pm

plwk wrote:
In fact...

The verifiable one or the 'I think so' one? :jumping:


Are words from an Enlightened Guru verifiable? If so, they are verifiable and if not they are not verifiable but surely not the 'I think so' stuff.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby tamdrin » Fri Dec 10, 2010 9:59 pm

Thanks for sharing nirmal sounds like a nice ritual i may try myself..
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Sat Dec 11, 2010 3:16 pm

Hi Tamdrin,

Putting a bowl of rice outside also shows our compassion towards sentient beings.And feeding birds is learning to give. It's better to start practicing giving now as one day we will have to give everything away,even our body.
Having a good relationship with your home shrine will cause the Buddhas to come closer to you and even show you their holy appearance in meditation.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby tamdrin » Sun Dec 12, 2010 1:44 am

I have some really nice Japanese incense going now it is sandalwood and its smell is so sweet you can't get enough of it. Also some incense i have enjoyed is made by Zamla and it is a higher quality (this one is Vajrakilaya but they all have different types such as medicine buddha or green tara) I have been burning about a stick a day for 3 months and it is still not run out of one box at $20usd per box so its not a bad deal considering sometimes you spend 10 or 15 bux for a box with only 10-30 sticks in it...
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Sun Dec 12, 2010 3:08 pm

Offering of a certain quality are important.Even Amitabha Buddha made 48 vows and the 23rd is a wish that offerings be made to all other Buddhas in the 10 directions..By repeating the three vajra mantras OM AH HOM many times, offerings become purified..Every offering has its own mantra or incantation and its own symbolic meaning.Water represents Dana or giving, rubbed incense represests Ksanti or patience under insult, incense signifies Virya or zeal and progress, food represents Dhyana or meditation and light represents Prajna or wisdom.

Every offering arranged on the altar to Buddha is returned with blessings. If the offerer is greedy and moved by selfishness, he always keeps the offerings for himself and therefore a fire sacrifice is needed.Everything put into the fire is burned and all that remains is the poverty of the spirit and only this is returned as pure bliss.The fire offering is one offering from which it is very easy to get inspirations

I too use sandalwood incense as the Buddhas love sandlewood.If we use cheap incense which is perfumed, then the spirits will come to take the smoke as food.This is true. Just unnecessary trouble.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby spiritnoname » Sun Dec 12, 2010 8:57 pm

Buddhist offerings should be done with proper understanding, intention, and protocol with regard to customs. You don't have to but it is good to work in accordance with these three things.

This means that we must understand the object we offer to (triple refuge, yidams, support deities, etc.), the various ways benefit comes from this activity (these are numerous and circumstantial), if we are doing particular offerings then we understand the instructions.

We need the right intention which is entirely tied to our understanding of the results, if we understand the object and method correctly, we will only have a good intention and there won't be any doubts.

We need to follow protocol with regard to customs, this means we keep others in mind. If you put offerings outside after they are offered and wild dogs come often, you don't put outside any chocolates which kill dogs. Uncooked rice may harm birds, I'm not sure. Maybe you have a neighbor that is effected by the incense, you keep that in mind. If you are in a particular temple with a particular way of offering, you follow there way with respect to protocols. Maybe in a Tibetan temple you wash your hands, maybe haha, but in a American temple you have to be clean and dressed properly.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Tue Dec 14, 2010 6:31 pm

You are right in a way too but I offer with zero intentions,zero desires, zero understanding and zero protocol.The offerings are from my heart to the Buddhas.How could that go wrong? Keeping others in mind is always there.Whatever is going to be mine will surely come my way.Uncooked rice doesn't harm birds in any way.The birds are healthy and fat fat and getting to be very tame. ;)
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Tue Dec 14, 2010 6:56 pm

A monk taught me to wave the incense smoke over the all of the other offerings to purify them and then place the stick in the very front of all of the offerings. So for me it's part of the offerings ritual. As spiritnoname mentioned it is done with pure intention and correct understanding of the offering process/reasoning. I'm not sure if you'll find guidance for that on the Internet though ;)

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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Tue Dec 14, 2010 7:54 pm

Spiritnoname is right and you are right too.I used to do what you mentioned and after that visualize the Buddhas coming down to eat and enjoy the offerings that I multiplied and then going back to their respective places.It was very meaningful.But somehow I stopped doing that over the past few months for reasons unknown to me.Even pouring water into the seven cups was a step by step process chanting OM AH HOM before pouring water into the first cup which is for the Heaven of Desire which contain all the precious wishing gems, gems of food, silks,diamond and gold and offering them to the Buddhas.Then going on to the second cup which is for the Heaven of Forms and so on and so forth till the last cup which is for the Buddha himself. I did talk to my Vajraguru about this change in me and he smiled and said "Things become simpler as time goes by." There is a good video on this posted by Individual at this site recently.Now it seems like the offerings are all from my heart to the Buddhas presented to them in a very simplified way.Sometimes I feel that something is wrong in my head.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby catmoon » Wed Dec 15, 2010 4:10 am

Wrong in the head? The spirit in which you make offerings is as good as any I've seen, and the direction you have taken is a direct course towards Buddhahood. Whether you make it this lifetime or not, I find it difficult to see how you could possibly avoid making anything but good progress.

I like what your teacher said. As time passes, understanding increases and things become simpler. Any offering or religious activity undertaken in the spirit of generosity, kindness and compassion is time well spent.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Wed Dec 15, 2010 5:44 pm

catmoon wrote:Any offering or religious activity undertaken in the spirit of generosity, kindness and compassion is time well spent.

:namaste:
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Thu Dec 16, 2010 7:27 pm

catmoon wrote:Wrong in the head? The spirit in which you make offerings is as good as any I've seen, and the direction you have taken is a direct course towards Buddhahood. Whether you make it this lifetime or not, I find it difficult to see how you could possibly avoid making anything but good progress.

I like what your teacher said. As time passes, understanding increases and things become simpler. Any offering or religious activity undertaken in the spirit of generosity, kindness and compassion is time well spent.

:bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow:

I see those wise men
Who know their own mind
Without any knowledge
The plain truth they find.
The Dharma is so plain
With neither goal nor vain
There is view without sight,
But never view it as light.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby nirmal » Fri Dec 17, 2010 6:13 pm

Once some bees started building a hive in my garage.The hive doubled in size on the following day. I was advised to use three incense sticks and make a polite request to ask the bees to leave and build their hive somewhere far away from human beings.I did that and then placed the three incense sticks in a tin of sand on a stool which was placed on a table about four feet below the hive.The hive was abandoned the following day.Till today I still don't know if it was the polite request or the smoke from the incense sticks that made the bees away.Both ways the incense sticks surely had a part in it.
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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby zengammon » Sat Mar 12, 2011 10:11 am

Thanks for this thread. I hadn't really thought about how I use the incense.

It is interesting how things evolve in the course of practice. Until two years ago my wife and I did not have an altar. We had a very small apartment at that time; and I think that I probably had no interest in what I might have considered--at that time--as unnecessary, overly religious practices and accessories. We were involved in many buddhist activities and with many people--but had no ritual at home.

But many things really do change in the course of practice, over time or suddenly. Two years ago we moved into a house with large open rooms. And some of these things began to change. First, I thought the energy of the place was a little odd, which is not something I usually think about. And when our teacher visited to see the place, he felt the need to write some sanskrit mantras and place them in each room in particular places.

Then, immediately, we were given a large, floor to ceiling thanka wall hanging of the Buddha. We hung it. Then later we moved a low table in front of it. Then later still we put our kinda large bell on it, (which we somewhat 'inherited' when a visiting monk left it with us to hold until such time as he returns, if ever), added a candle and started lighting incense and the candle for meditation. And then one day I started ringing the bell for ten minutes prior to our one-hour morning sit, which has been a really good way of entering into the meditation, perhaps partly because of time spent at temples where the bell rings for morning and evening ceremony.

We have a lot of nice incense that has been given to us over the years: It's interesting to me that in fact All of these things were given to us.

So now our personal at home practice has a particular formality and ritual that it did not have in the past and is more fully... inclusive. Things seem to naturally deepen and expand over time, just by putting one foot in front of the other. And I also notice that my sense of gratitude just continues to grow.

Now I'll also think about exactly how I am using the incense in this process. Thanks. It's not 'obvious' until it is, I guess.

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Re: The magic of an incense stick

Postby Madeliaette » Sat Mar 12, 2011 4:47 pm

I use incense for relaxation as well as an offering. I am experimenting with which scents are best - but as mentioned above, sandalwood definitely stands out as a positive aroma, now I know why!
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