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Thread: Incense/Ceremony

  1. #1
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Incense/Ceremony

    Hello,

    I was wondering if there is a particular way or set of movements (Bows, hand placement etc.) involved in lighting incense before zazen?

    Thank You,

    Ron

  2. #2
    Friend of Treeleaf Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Hi Ron,
    This is the way I do it (in the San Fancisco Zen Centre style, as copyied from SFZC's Abbot ... The way he lit incense on Sesshin):
    First bow
    then light incense
    Touch incense to forehead (the lower end of the lit stick touches head; left hand is held aloft in a kind of one handed gassho)
    Then place incense on incense stand
    now step back and gassho once
    another step back & gassho again
    final step back and final gassho

    that's how I do it anyhow Ron. Hope this is of some help. Jundo or Taigu might have other directions. Whatever way you do it, it certainly creates a frame of mind ready for zazen.
    Gassho,
    Soen

  3. #3

    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Hi,

    That is basically how I go about it, although I do not have much room in our little Zendo for that "step back". I was looking for a clear video to show you, and this is the best I found. Look at about the first 90 seconds of this ceremony with Norman Fischer. He is holding a Hossu (a traditional Fly Whisk), so he is not really offering Gassho while lighting the incense.

    http://vimeo.com/12960581

    If you look about 1 minute 15 seconds into this other video, you can see the priest light incense. However, he is burning powdered incense, not the stick incense.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwb5lOOBCMk[/video]]

    But in these matters, for folks at home, I often say to follow your own heart and "make your own ceremony" (which can follow tradition as you wish). It is the sincerity that is most important.

    Gassho, J

    Quote Originally Posted by soendoshin
    Hi Ron,
    This is the way I do it (in the San Fancisco Zen Centre style, as copyied from SFZC's Abbot ... The way he lit incense on Sesshin):
    First bow
    then light incense
    Touch incense to forehead (the lower end of the lit stick touches head; left hand is held aloft in a kind of one handed gassho)
    Then place incense on incense stand
    now step back and gassho once
    another step back & gassho again
    final step back and final gassho

    that's how I do it anyhow Ron. Hope this is of some help. Jundo or Taigu might have other directions. Whatever way you do it, it certainly creates a frame of mind ready for zazen.
    Gassho,
    Soen

  4. #4
    Treeleaf Unsui Kyrillos's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Nice bonus of the Shukke Tokudo ceremony. Who are these guys? Where is Samish Island...must be somewhere in the States or Canada (by the accent). Very nicely done though.

    Gassho,

    Seishin Kyrill

  5. #5
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Thank you all for the replies.

    Ron

  6. #6
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Hi Ron,

    This is my take on it, very traditional and not necessarily what you should adopt ( by the way, Fisher's way is so untraditional but very beautiful and natural):

    go at the head of the bowing mat with encens lit. Put it to your forhead. Do gassho. Hold encens in gassho. three lateral steps to the left, go to the altar, three lateral steps to the right, don't face the Buddha but stand slightly to the left and do gassho and plant the stick in the encens bowl, right at the center of the bowl and straight. Do gassho again, three lateral steps to the right, go back to the head of bowing mat, and facing the altar three lateral steps to the left and gassho. You may do sanpai then.
    When finish, go to your cushion.


    I hope this helps


    Gassho

    Taigu

  7. #7

    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Hello friends,

    This is really interesting! Is there perhaps a book or video that goes over the "correct" and "traditional" ways to maintain and open/close an altar?

    Metta,

    Perry

  8. #8

    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Hellos to all posting here

    In my various places of training there are slight variations to these things

    let me add to the above comments what surfaces as appropriate:

    1) when setting up the butsudan, candle(s) may be lit with a match, but the incense stick is not lit with a match, the incense stick is lit from the already lit candle.

    2) you take up the incense stick from where you have placed it on the butsudan, holding it in one hand, (the right), the left hand in one-handed gassho, you light the incense from the candle you have placed on the butsudan

    3) I have seen use of the left hand to run swiftly up the length of the incense stick to put out the flame
    I have also seen the incense stick to be swiftly waved in the air so that the flame at the tip is extinguised

    4) the gashhos are part of lighting and puting the lit incense in its place in the incense bowl

    (as a side note: the lateral movements described by Taigu above were done are done for a reason
    I am assuming, as I have seen in other places I have practiced it is because right in front of the butsudan is the zabuton and zafu of the head priest presiding over the sitting/service

    the priest is standing in front of the butsudan with the zabuton and zafu directly in front of him/her and between him/her and the butsudan

    the priest is not going to step on or over the zabuton/zafu to get to the butsudan, they must walk around it:

    thus the lateral movements to the side, the movements forward, and the lateral movements back to center,
    the priest is now in the same position they were before in relation to the butsudan, only now they are on the other side of the zabuton/zafu

    In other words the side steps aren't a 'do the hokey-pokey, and turn yourself around' there is actually a practical pragmatic logistical situation involved here: how to get to the butsudan without jumping over or stepping on the cushions.


    Me? I have made the butsudan ready (placed flowers on the butsudan and have lit the candles--Candles: I light one candle and place the spent match in small ceramic receptacle used for that purpose, and I then use the lit candle to light the other candle by holding the unlit candle to the lit one) The candles are on either side of the buddha statue on the butsudan. I gassho, and take up the incense stick from the small vase which serves to hold the incense on the butsudan. I extend the incense stick tip into the flame of one of the candles. Sometimes I wave the incense stick to extinquish the flame at the tip (the movement is like shaking down an old fashioned mercury thermometer: one quick movement) Sometimes I run the fingers of my left hand quickly along the the incense stick to the tip to extinguish the flame--this actually flows nicely into the next gashho: the tip now extinguised by the left hand which now cups the glowing tip, palm of left hand facing you. Both left and right hands in unison bring the lit incense stick toward your face, and you move your upper body toward the lit incense stick, (I can feel the heat of the glowing tip with my forehead and with the palm of my left hand. As the hands draw the incense stick toward you, this bending toward the incense (and toward the butsudan) is the second gassho.
    The body then is moved in upright position and at the same time of straightening the posture, the left hand moves from cupping the tip of the incense into one hand gassho position. The right hand is adjusted to a slightly lower position while this happens. The right hand then places the unlit bottom of the incense into the incense burner.
    Both hands are now placed together and this is the third gassho, I then go and sit. (and you already know about the bows for sitting...)


    You know, I could not remember this simple formality without going to the butsudan and lighting a stick of incense to be able to write down the steps.
    Yet, my body doesn't even 'think' about it--just simple ritual 'lighting the incense'

  9. #9

    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Hello,
    in OBC we do it much like the above, angle to Buddha, bows etc, but we touch the incense to the forehead thre times reciting the three treasures as we do so. This is also done when putting solid incense onto a burner, (before it gets hot of course). :wink:

    Gassho

    Joe

  10. #10
    Treeleaf Unsui rculver's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Thank you again for all the information.

    Ron

  11. #11
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Incense is actually quite unhealthy. There are many articles that discuss a paper published in a journal a couple of years ago. Here's one:

    http://www.nowpublic.com/health/hippies ... ancer-risk

    I like the smell, but I only let it burn for a minute or so.

  12. #12
    Senior Member murasaki's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Keishin,

    I like your description, but don't quite understand all of it...would you consider posting a video clip for us?

    gassho
    Julia

  13. #13

    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Quote Originally Posted by murasaki
    Keishin,

    I like your description, but don't quite understand all of it...would you consider posting a video clip for us?

    gassho
    Julia
    Hi Julia,

    The Norman Fischer video (about the first minute or so) seems rather close to Keishin's description, which is also the way I offer incense during our Zazenkai's here.

    viewtopic.php?p=43145#p43145

    You may notice that Norman offers both a stick of incense, and sprinkles powdered incense at the end. It is not necessary to do both.

    Gassho, J

  14. #14

    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    I keep it pretty simple at home. I get up pretty early, I like to sit when it's not quite light out. (And since the Army, I'm usually up before the Sun anyway.) What I like to do is get up and go in and light the candle, place a stick of incense, then leave the room. (Butsudan's in the living room.) Walk the dog, have a cup of tea, breathe, wake up a little. Give the living room a chance to become a Zendo (to me.) When I'm ready, I'll stay in the hall, take a few breaths, fold my hands and then enter, slowly, (left foot first, of course.) I approach, gassho, perform a prostration, gassho, light the incense, gassho with it, light the incense from the candle while holding a single hand in gassho, place the incense, gassho one more time, then go to my cushion, sit properly, and have my morning sit. It sounds like a bunch, definitely seems like more than it is when I see it typed out like this... but it really just takes a minute, and while I don't hold much stock in ritual for its own sake and I'm not superstitious, it definitely gives a little formality and reverence to the space (to me) so that now, for this moment, it's not my living room, but a sacred and special place, which helps me to be mindful.
    And it beats the hell out of turning on the mindless entertainment we call "morning news" in this country and zoning out with coffee and a pop-tart, which is what I USED to do with my mornings.
    And naturally, I'm sure it entertains the dog no end.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    The more I worry about ceremony, the more I am disconnected with the actual action.

  16. #16

    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Hellos to those posting here

    Julia, I do not know how to post a video clip! I am sure it is easy, but have never done one.
    My guess: if you were to write down the instructions of what to do first, second, third, etc, it would end up sounding a lot like what I wrote above!!!

    Really, what Kvon wrote--
    just observe what you, yourself, do
    when you are making the different movements, isn't there a first, second, and third movement? And aren't they practical in nature? For example, you wouldn't put the incense stick in the incense bowl before you light it!
    I think of hockey players putting on their gear: there is a ritual (if not a ceremony, Amelia) about doing certain kinds of repetitive tasks. Ritual allows you to pay attention without struggle: you are doing the same things, and can attend carefully to each of them: pilots going over their pre-flight checks, dental assistants with all the shiny implements...you know where each thing is. Each time they perform these tasks, it is as if it is for the first time.
    If you visit/sit with a group sometime, you may have the opportunity to see how they go about the practical matters of setting up the butsudan, lighting the candles, placing the flowers, offering the incense. In your own home, you are going to set about doing what is practical for you. It is simple and straightforward. There is a simple beauty and an elegance in economy of motion, in minimum of fuss.
    I like Kvon's description: the living room becoming a zendo.
    With a few simple attentive gestures a corner transformed!

    Kirk's information about the unhealthful nature of incense is good to know: some people are extremely sensitive. Happily, I am not one...

  17. #17
    Senior Member murasaki's Avatar
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    Re: Incense/Ceremony

    Thank you, Jundo and Keishin, for the clarifications. It was difficult for me to picture the middle part of it (one-hand gassho and incense simultaneously) just from the description. I'll get the hang of it...

    My zendo really is my living room, and my bedroom as well because it's a studio apartment Since I don't have a separate space for my altar, I appreciate the ceremony aspect even more because that space seems to have more sacredness to it via the ritual gestures.

    gassho
    Julia

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