Dharma Discussion: Incense (August 30, 2020)

Click here to read about incense offering etiquette in the Jodo Shinshu school, as well as other schools of Japanese Buddhism

Discussion Questions

  1. What is a fragrance that brings you peace of mind?
  2. Have you ever encountered someone who you felt was “adorned with the fragrance of light”?

Further Reading

From the Hymns of the Pure Land, Hymns on Mahasthamaprapta


“When sentient beings think on Amida
Just as a child thinks of its mother,
They indeed see the Tathagata – who is never distant –
Both in the present and in the future.”


“Such beings are like people who, imbued with incense,
Bear its fragrance on their bodies;
They may be called
Those adorned with the fragrance of light.”

Fragrance of light: refers to the nembutsu, which is wisdom.

(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 357)

Lighting Incense

From Tips on how to Rest Yourself for Those Who Work Hard in Vain (Jibun wo chotto yasemeru kotsu『自分をちょっと休めるコツ』) by Rev. Myōkei Kawamura

Lighting incense is one of my favorite ways to refresh myself.

I love incense so much that I wind up going to incense shops almost every week.

I always carry incense and small incense stand in my bag.  When I get tired, I light some incense and take time to just sit and enjoy it.

Of course, the smell of the incense is enjoyable, but just seeing the smoke relaxes me.

The smoke will not go where I expect it to.  It naturally flows with the currents of the air.

Watching that flow of nature, I am reminded that our lives also have a “flow.”

Moreover, every place into which the fragrance drifts, is equally filled with the goodness of the incense.

Here I would like to introduce one of Shinran Shonin’s teachings concerning incense. 

In his teachings there is a passage that refers to “people who, imbued with incense, / Bear its fragrance on their bodies.”   

This teaching tells us, “A pleasant aroma drifts from a person who is imbued with fragrance, but one can’t just suddenly change and become a good person.  In this human life, we become imbued with fragrance day by day according to our way of living.”

People say to me, “Your robes smell like incense.”  This is because my robes have been imbued with the fragrance of the incense I light every day.

Please light incense or enjoy aromatherapy from time to time and recall this teaching.

(Jibun wo chotto yasemeru kotsu『自分をちょっと休めるコツ』, translation by H Adams, p. 65-66)