Incense Offerings

In Zen, the offering of incense at the temple altar is of the highest significance. Offering the incense is an unselfish act in which we express our conviction of the oneness of all things and the transient nature of all existance.

In the incense, we see the potential that is in ourselves, just as the incense itself is worthless until it is put to the flame. We know that our lives are useless too, unless our potentials are fulfilled. In the incense we also recognize that our lives are just as fleeting as its sweet smoke.

The gassho used during the incense offering symbolizes the unity of ourselves, the Buddha and the world. Our one hand is ourself, and it is placed palm to palm with the other hand, symbolizing the Buddha. Our slight bow at the time of gassho is a sign of the respect we feel for the benevolence of the Universe with which we are one. In the act of offering incense, the true nature of ourselves is expressed.

In offering incense, we should in a dignified manner to the altar, bow in gassho before it, place our offering in the plate, and then take a pinch of the granulated incense, placing it on the burning part of the charcoal. After placing the incense on the smouldering fire, gassho again in a graceful manner, and return to your cushion. (If the priest or disciple is standing near the altar, it is proper to gassho respectfully to him/her with the same attitude as you did before offering incense.)