September 23, 2010 on 11:00 am
Dear Spiritual Explorer: Is there a difference between using Japanese incense or Hindu incense to meditate with? John F., Pittsburgh, PA
Tendan Sandalwood Incense
Dear Joanne: I have always loved Japanese incense because it feels more subtle than Hindu incense and in some ways that epitomizes the difference between Japanese ritual and Hindu ritual. An example of a particular heavenly-scented incense is Tendan Sandalwood, a “stick” incense of high quality. The word “tendan” actually means “heavenly” and was particularly created because of its aromatic qualities for a Japanese emperor.
“Koh” (incense) ceremonies are equivalent to tea ceremonies and flower arranging in that they are highly ritualistic, extremely disciplined and well-mastered. Like the tea ceremony and flower arranging, the ko ceremony requires many years of discipline and protocol to carry out. This is not to say that Hindu ceremonies are not as ritualistic, but they are certainly full of more drama and panoply than a Japanese ceremony. While the colors are more muted and elegant in the Japanese ceremony, they are bright and greatly expressive in the Hindu ceremony. In fact, as you know, while the Japanese might play soft, muted music to accompany their ceremony, there is great ringing of bells, drums and shouts of Swaha and Ki Jai! (Victory to all) in Hindu worship. I personally love and use Satya Sai Baba Sandalwood Incense, which is my favorite incense to go deeply into meditation. For me, it’s like coming home to a familiar relative.
Satya Sai Baba Sandalwood Incense
Japanese incense just feels more ethereal and Hindu incense is more full-bodied. It’s probably the difference between a nice sake and a good shot of scotch, although if one were to imbibe enough of either of them, the results might be the same. Humor aside, I think like everything else, it is a matter of preference rather than quality.
Both Japanese and Hindu incense have long been a traditional part of every culture. It’s most likely that with the discovery of fire, when scraps of wood were added to the flame, the fragrance that was emitted brought about a mystical reverence and silence. Even around the campfire, as the smoke rose, all became calm and safe.
I thought it would be interesting to list the ten virtues of incense believed to have been authored by a Zen monk of the 6th century:
- Incense brings communication and the transcendent.
- Incense purifies mind and body.
- Incense removes uncleanliness.
- Incense brings alertness.
- Incense is a companion to solitude.
- In the midst of activity, incense brings a moment of peace.
- When there is plenty of incense, one never tires of it.
- When there is little of incense, still one is satisfied.
- Age does not change the efficacy of incense.
- Used every day, incense does no harm.
So, John, in short, you can do no wrong in choosing the incense you prefer. Pick one that is particularly pleasing to you, and the lighting of it will always invite you to your meditative practice. Thanks for writing.
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