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Brief Background on Incense offering

Since the time immemorial, people all over the world use incense products in some form. It is used either fir religious or traditional purposes.

While the use of incense in Bhutan has been mostly associated with religious offering in the past, today it is used for aromatic purpose as well.

It is important to note the process of producing incense is totally different from production of things for commercial purpose.


The Origin of Incense Offerings

“With the best butter lamps and excellent burning incense, make offerings to the victors;

With most of the burning incense transform into smoky canopies,

And radiating vast rays from the array of burning incense substances,

And by spreading varieties of incense all over, make offerings to the great beings, the Buddha’s with their sons”.


Raw materials for Incense

The basic raw material used in manufacturing incense is Juniper wood powder. This juniper wood power is mixed with varieties of other natural materials such as the six excellent ingredients, white and red sandalwood, saffron, camphor and varieties of other medical plants found in the exalted holy sites of Bhutan.

The traditional incense manufacturing guidelines states that the ingredients for manufacturing incense has to be of highest quality. The unworthy offerings such as that material, which are of poor quality, expired, rotten, tampered, rejected and those infested by insects etc.; are to be avoided from using in the production. In addition to good quality material, the production has to be undertake with request, sincerity and honesty to merit an offering rather than mere focus on commercial gains. Because incense are generally meant for offerings to the three jewels, it is important that the incense sticks are evenly sized, coloured, and packaged to render beautiful visual presentation to compliment fine ingredients.


Types of Incense

There are two types of incense – the natural and the compounded. The Natural incense refers to those plants and herbs, which have very strong natural aromatic properties. The examples of natural incense includes white and red sandal wood, White incense, Nard, Frankincense, Black and White aloe wood, Kashmiri saffron, etc. On the other hand, the Compounded incense, as explained in Tibetan medical textbooks, refers to that incense produced by mixing the six excellent ingredients and other medicinal substances such as camphor etc. There are several varieties of compounded, which are:

  • Choegyud – This incense is used for general rites and rituals purposes. It is the most common form of incense and it is normally reddish in color.
  • Jagyud – This incense is used for fasting rituals, Tara puja, Medicine Buddha rituals, Buddha Aksobhya liturgies, and One thousand – offerings to Vijaya and in Nagas and Earth soirits rituals. It is normally yellowish in color.
  • Riwo sangchoe (kar sur) – is manufactured by adding the three whites, three sweets, tealeaves, various grains, various plants and silk. This incense is generally used in the mornings.
  • Rowo sangchoe (mar-sur) – is manufactured by adding Sacred Medicine, goat fat, and bone marrows to the ingredients of kar sure. This incense is generally used in the evenings.
  • Poi nag (black incense) – is used only during the ritual ceremonies for the three Mahakali Brothers and Sisters, the Dharma protectors of the Mahakal families, and Ekajati of the Nyingma tradition. It cannot be offered to other Dharma protectors. As the name suggest, it is black color.

In both the Jagyud and choegyud incense, adding precious material such as gold, silver, etc. is recommended.


Who do we offer incense to?

Like any other offerings, incense id offered to the so-called four Guests. The four guests are:

  • The Guests of respect (three jewels) – are the Buddha’s. Bodhisattvas, Lamas, Meditational Deities, the Deities of the mandalas of the Four and Six classes of Tantras, Viras and Dakinis, residing in the vast Pure fields of the ten direction. Offering incense of one and other sentient beings thus leading to accumulation of merit and wisdom for accomplishing common and supreme attainments.

  • The Guests of good Qualities (Protector) – are the assembly of ocean of Samya holders such as the male protectors, Female Devi protectors, Ancestral protectors such as the Eight classes of arrogant Spirits, the Five patron Gods, the nine protecting Gods and the Seventy five Glorious Protectors etc. who had taken an oath from Buddha’s and Guru Rinpoche for protecting and preserving the precious teachings of Buddha’s. By pleasing them with incense offerings, all of us, one self and others, will be protected from entire outer, inner and secret obstacles, the unfavorable adverse conditions for practicing the noble Dharma. It is said that the Dharma protectors follow us day and night like the shadows of the body, giving us protection and company and by the power of which favorable prosperity and well being such as long life, good merits, strength and luck etc. will progress higher and this help us in accomplishing all the mundane and Dharma wishes.

  • The guests of compassion (six classes of living being)- are the six classes of sentient beings or the living beings of the Five continuous paths, the sentient beings include in the four modes of births and those in the intermediate existence living on odour. By satisfying them with incense offering they will be negative actions. Also enjoying the abundant sensory pleasures, these guests will gradually reach the noble state of Buddhahood though good births as gods and human beings.

  • The Guests of Karmic debts (harmful Spirits) – are the Eighty thousand families of Harmful Spirits such as Vinayaka, the king of harmful spirits etc., and the eight classes of gods and demons etc. By satisfying them with incense offerings, our karmic debts such as short lifespan from killing; sickness from harming others; Poverty from robbing others properties; and so forth shall be whipped out and ultimately they will help us in fulfilling our wishes.


How to dedicate incense offering, as advised by second Dhdrubchen

In the presence of the Four Guests – the assembly of deities of the fields of accumulations (of merits) visualized with pure altruistic motivation – start reciting either elaborated or summarized versions of taking refuge and generating bodhichitta. And visualize oneself as ones personal Meditational Deity. There from the state of emptiness arise the syllables OM! AH! HUNG! Which dissolves into light that transforms into incense, SAANG and SUR smoke rays. From the tips of each smoke rays immeasurable Goddesses of offerings emanate holding, in their hands, offering articles of sensual Pleasures and possessions such as the eight Auspicious signs, Seven Royal Possessions, Eight Auspicious Substances and Five Sense Objects. And this visual keeps multiplying filling the entire world and the universe one could imagine. Because of this immeasurable scale of offering, all the fields of offerings (the Four Guests) are satisfied and pleased.

However, for those people who are not able to visualize in the above stated manner can choose to make the offering with genuine sincerity thinking that Buddha is right in front of oneself. The blessings received through this visualization is considered no less than the earlier dedication as it is mentions in the Sutras that “ Whoever has the faith, The Buddha appears in front of him/her; all phenomenon are conditional; success, therefore, depends upon ones interest; for anyone who has faith. Padmakara is present just over one’s crown which is an integral part of oneself.” So knowing that the Three Jewels (the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) are omnipresent, one needs to make offerings to the images of Buddha, Scriptures and Stupas with wholehearted faith, respect and devotion.


The Benefits of offering Incense

In the Sutra that praises the qualities of the Buddha it was mentioned “even by making a small offering to the Sughata, one shall achieve that state of happiness of gods and humans and accomplish supreme immorality.” Similarly another Sutra explains that “that degree of merits achieved is same for a person who made an offering to the Buddha when he was alive and for someone who makes an offering to the Buddha after his Parnirvanna, so long as the intensity and quality of faith are same “.

Guru Rinpoche wrote “ Oh! The attractive Devi Mandharava, listen to me, The future generations, who haven’t met me, whoever offers the five incense to the images of Padma Kara, that person will live in a clean place and will be free from stains; And whoever offers sweet scents to the Images of Padma Kara, Dangerous diseases will be pacified and a nectar of good life will be acquired; And whoever offers incense to Buddha, that person will be worthy of looking at she/he will achieve large wealth.” Therefore, as this scent offering is un-surpassing and a noble offering to the Buddha’s of three times, great benefits are achieved even by offering a single stick. If any person, great or ordinary, could put an effort in offering incense in this life, he/she will be attractive and be a subject of happiness to others.


Benefits of offering SAANG and SUR

When Trisong Dhuetsen – the Dharma king of Tibet was building the Samye Monastery, the evil gods and demons disrupted by destroying it at night. It was only then when Guru Rinpoche rewarded the evil gods and demons with SAANG offerings they were pleased and rejoiced pacifying all the grudges, jealousy, and malicious thoughts. Thereafter the evil gods and demons helped in building by working at night and their work outputs were far greater than what the humans did during the day. Also, when Trisong Dheutsen fell sick leading to deterioration in his body, speech and mind due to defiling and impurities of spiritual health, Guru Rinpoche instructed to perform SAANG offerings assuring that it is like a diamond is destroying all the defilements and impurities. Therefore, if all, great and small, can make an effort in offering incense, all kinds of defilements and impurities shall be purified. Even when travelling far, if one commences ones journey by making incense offering all the wishes will be fulfilled and leading to spontaneous accomplishment of prosperity and well being. According to the instructions of the noble masters, since all the three types of generosities – the generosity of giving away materials; the generosity of giving protections against fears; and the generosity of delivering teachings – are present in the incense offerings, and thus the benefits are immense.

In the world today, being overpowered by the five poisonous defilements, people with fallacious thoughts and actions, for selfish motives, desecrate temples, monasteries and stupas, which are built for subduing evils and protecting virtuous. The sacred Images, Scriptures and stupas so uncovered are then sold for profit. It has also become quite common for people to throw abuses against the Noble Masters from whom they have received Empowerments, Oral Transformations and Vows. The Sangha assembly is no more respected. The Vajra brothers and sisters have lost respect and kindness for each other. The scared vows of monastic communities are ignored indicating and advent of degenerated age in its full force. The cause of wars and fighting amongst people of different countries, races, religion, etc. today could be attributed to loss of values in people.

Also as a preventive measures for all the natural disasters, Guru Rinpoche, the embodiment of primordial wisdom Rainbow body, instructed many Liturgies like that of the Riowo Sangchoe offering and the smoke-offering of King Gesar to local deities to dispel contaminations and defilements in the area. Likewise, if we can make an effort in performing as many SANG, SUR and SERKIM offering rituals, revealed by the Treasure Revealers, all unfavorable conditions will be granted and undoubtedly the glory of peace, happiness and joy will arise spontaneously.

At the time when we are born as humans beings, knowing ourselves better than anyone else as a result of the accumulations of merits in the past lives, we should engaged ourselves, as mush as possible, in performing incense offering rituals for the benefit of others sentient and self.

Source: Nado Poizokhang




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