Incense is pretty ancient – like prehistoric Egypt ancient! People have been using it across cultures for simple pleasure, ceremonies, religious practices, meditation, medicinally, to repel insects & purify the atmosphere, and more.
Like a lot of Americans, I associated incense with churches, temples, or hippie smoke shops. I didn’t think much about it until I had a job at a shop in Philadelphia that sold “textiles, ceramics, objects and artifacts from the East”. The shop carried Indian, Japanese, and Tibetan incense, and over time, I learned about and grew to love burning incense myself. At first, my husband didn’t like my burning it at home because it “reminded him of a temple”, but he slowly began to enjoy it too!
In Japan, the traditional art of appreciating incense is called kōdō, meaning “the Way of Fragrance”. Incense, along with the tea ceremony and flower arranging, is one of the three classical arts of Japan. Burning incense was very much a part of court culture and eventually, the art spread from the elite to the townspeople. They even created a game out of trying to guess the ingredients of complex scents.
Here is a traditional list (from Wikipedia) describing the benefits of incense:
“Ten Virtues of Kō”, (香の十徳, kōnojūtoku)
- 感格鬼神 : Sharpens the senses
- 清浄心身 : Purifies the body and the spirit
- 能払汚穢 : Eliminates pollutants
- 能覚睡眠 : Awakens the spirit
- 静中成友 : Heals loneliness
- 塵裏愉閑 : Calms in turbulent times
- 多而不厭 : Is not unpleasant, even in abundance
- 募而知足 : Even in small amounts is sufficient
- 久蔵不朽 : Does not break down after a very long time
- 常用無障 : A common use is not harmful
What’s not to love about this practice? Incense and its history is fascinating to me!
If you’re interested in experiencing some of the pleasures of incense, please drop by the Lotus Shop. We carry the Shoyeido brand of Japanese incense, and we also have some burners or gift sets to get you started if you’re a newbie, or to help you stock up if you’re already an enthusiast.