Commentary on Incense Offering to Dorje Shugden

Incense is traditionally offered on Buddhist shrines to propitiate the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The fragrant scent of incense is said to resemble and remind us of the perfection of morality. This is because monks who hold their vows perfectly are said to emit a fragrant scent reminiscent of the fragrance of incense.

Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen and Lama Tsongkapa are historical monks who are noted to have attained this perfection. Thus, when we offer incense to the Three Jewels, we aspire to create the necessary merit to hold our vows and commitments perfectly, just like these holy and pure monks. The perfection of morality is one of the 6 paramitas (perfections) that form the Bodhisattva path, leading towards becoming a fully enlightened Buddha. Therefore, the offering of incense has grown to be an integral part of formal Buddhist practice.

Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen was renowned to have kept his vows so well that he was said to have emitted a fragrant scent

In the Tibetan tradition, incense offering or Sangsol is an outdoor ceremony performed by lay and ordained monks to mark important religious and social occasions. It can be performed individually or in groups during notable events such as Losar (Tibetan New Year), marriages, birthdays and other important occasions.

The offering of incense has a long history and has two references in ancient Indian texts. The first reference is found in Buddha’s life story when he was invited by Bhadri of Magadha to visit her home. To welcome the Buddha, she made offerings of incense smoke to him from the roof of her house. The second reference is found in the Guhyasamaja Tantra, which states that one should know about the three kinds of fragrances.

According to historians, incense offering was first carried out in early Tibet when the ancient Bön master, Tonpa Sherab, first came from Zhang Zhung (Afghanistan/Tajikistan) to spread what would eventually be known as the Bön doctrine.

The earliest incense offering text dates to the period of the 8th Century when Indian master Padmasambhava came to Tibet and established the first Buddhist monastery, Samye. Hidden and rediscovered several centuries later, this text has become the basis for similar incense offering texts composed by many other Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya lamas.

The incense offering text composed by Yeshe Wangpo, a Gelugpa lama, was written during the period of the Third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso. Later, subsequent incense offering ritual texts were written by the 4th Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662) and another by the Fifth Dalai Lama as well. On the other hand, the notable lama Serkong Dorje Chang composed an incense offering ritual to Dorje Shugden, which will be discussed here.

 

Preparations

One begins by ensuring that the incense to be offered has not been trampled upon by people or animals. By tradition, the incense is then place in a large urn-shaped burner called a Sangpur, which is usually placed on an elevated site, either on top of a hill or a house and in places believed to be inhabited by local deities and nagas.

Incense usually comprises of the fragrant leaves and wood of plants such as ferns, juniper, coniferous tree, rhododendron and red/white sandalwood. In addition, tsampa (barley flour), butter, sugar, and other medicinal herbs that are free from alcohol, onion and garlic are often mixed with the incense and burned.

A large Sangpur – outdoor Tibetan incense burner

 

Performing the Incense Offering Ritual

One begin the incense offering ritual by setting the intention that the merits from offering incense to the lineage Lamas, Yidams (meditational deities) and host of Dharma Protectors are dedicated towards all sentient beings. Specific requests such as prayers for longevity or the removal of obstacles to the spreading of the Dharma can be made at this point. In the Sangsol (incense offering) prayer, it says that we are purifying the deities with incense. In actual fact, we are not purifying the deities themselves but instead are purifying our karma through the deities.

Next, one takes refuge by reciting the refuge formula, contemplating on the Four Immeasurables and for those who have received Tantric initiation, to visualize themselves as the yidam/deity. The incense is then blessed with the recitation of the Sangsol prayer and the mantras OM AH HUM, three times. While reciting the prayer, one asks the deities to forgive and purify any transgressions of samaya, and to fulfill one’s spiritual and worldly endeavors. The deities are then requested to return to their respective abodes and auspicious verses are then recited to conclude the sangsol ritual.

If the Sangsol is performed by a group or during a festival, a handful of tsampa or roasted barley flour is thrown into the air after the ritual is completed. This is usually a happy celebration and a folk dance normally ensues right after. It is common practice for Tibetans to offer sangsol during mountaintop picnics along with the hanging of prayer flags on trees and tall poles. This is usually performed on the third day of Losar or on other auspicious days.

H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche and other high lamas tossing tsampa into the air after a Sangsol offering in Switzerland

 

Incense Offering Prayer

At the time of wanting to make a bsang offering, collect the incense substances; repeat the refuge and bodhi mind generation verses three times. Below is the Dorje Shugden Sangsol offering written by Serkong Dorje Chang:

HUM, visualising myself as the yidam, from the heart,
Light emanates clearing all faults from incense,
Scent having the five desirable qualities complete in perfection,
Granting uncontaminated bliss fills the extent of awareness.

OM AH HUM (repeat as many times to bless)

HUM, Root and lineage gurus, Three Jewels,
Dakas, Dakinis and Dharma Protectors,
Especially Dorje Shugden and retinue,
By boundless magical power come here.

Also, birth, warrior and patron deities,
Local deities, spirits and guardians with the eight classes,
Assembly of guests worthy of offering please come here.

Each happily dwelling on their seats
For the sake of fulfilling the yogi’s entrusted activities,
Outer, inner clouds of offerings, commitment substances and presents,
Accept these and accomplish the entrusted activities.

KYE! Agar, sandalwood, six medicinal ingredients and plants,
By the smoke cloud from the burning wisdom fire
Completely filling the sky,
Purifies the root and lineage Lamas, Yidams and Three Jewels.
Purifies the Dakas, Dakinis and Dharma Protectors.

Purifies especially the Chief Dharma Protector of Conqueror Manjunatha
Dorje Shugden and four cardinal emanations.
Purifies birth, war and five patron gods.
Purifies local deities, spirits, guardians and the eight classes.

By the power of offering incense to worthy guests
May all obscurations of quarrel and samaya be purified.
May lifespan, merit and power all increase.
Pacify all diseases to humans and animals, famine, war and dispute.

May the crops be good and the rain be timely.
Conquer classes of demons of the dark side, increase the positive,
And having befriended spontaneously and effortlessly,
Attain all goals just as wished.

KI KI SO SO, LHA GYEL LO!

HUM! Being pleased and satisfied, guests return to their abodes,
Returning again upon request for activities.
By this virtue may I myself and all mother beings
Have perpetual auspiciousness of happiness and benefit.

This Sang offering bestowing excellence was composed by the yellow hat lineage holder bearing the reincarnation name Ganden Serkong.

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10 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Many claim that rituals are ceremonious and a “waste of time”. However, one will only make such a claim because one does not understand that significance behind the ritual.

    Every is created and lasts through the test of time because there is substance to support its “survival”. Thank you DS.COM team for sharing the significance of incense offering.

    It is also beneficial to understand “why we don something?” so that each effort brings the maximum impact.

    I would also like to use this opportunity to share the article about food offering: http://www.dorjeshugden.com/all-articles/dharma-readings/food-offering-prayer/

  2. I’ve seen purification evidence from sang offering. Everyone should offer if they can.

  3. Thank you so much.

  4. Sangsol offering to the Three Jewels,Dakas, Dakinis and Dharma Protectors,
    especially Dorje Shugden and retinue is a very quick and powerful practice. It is not superstition . When done sincerely and correctly, requests made will be fulfilled . These ancient practices are so rare and precious. We are very blessed to have access to such a practice.

  5. every ritual that exist in Buddhist practice especially Tibetan Buddhism are time tested and are receive and composed by High Lama’s who have direct visions of the Buddha’s, even with this Incense Offering is the same. How wonderful that we are able to receive and practice this wonderful practice to purify our karma and generate more merits in our Dhama practice.

    Thank You admin for the explanation and the Incense offering prayers.

  6. Thought of properly and concentrate on rituals for Buddhist practice is a form offering to the Buddhas and to practice generosity and graciousness.

    With grace, all rituals are meritorious and we generate great amount of merits for us to continue to do virtues actions to purify our samsaric negativities.

    Personally I relate incense offering as a form of purification of space and my mind to receive blessings from Buddhas. A beautiful form of giving.

  7. Incense offering could be done daily in the morning as offering to the local deities or natural elements to appease them and asking for their assistance for remove of obstacles before our hectic city life or done outside of our house before our daily sadhana session. Though in Buddhism we don’t take refuge in them, but it could never go wrong if we had good diplomatic ties with them and seeking for their help to achieve our mundane success to aid the more important spiritual goal.

  8. Sang or incense offering is mentioned in the Kangyur, the 84000 teachings from Buddha Shakyamuni. It is a practice done more then 2000 years ago and is still being practiced diligently till today. It brings a lot of benefit to all beings.

  9. I like to make incense offering to the Buddha, it’s one of the most simple and effective way to pay respect to the Buddhas. By offering incense, it create the causes for us to hold our vows. It said that people who hold the vows greatly often emitting sandalwood scent from their body.

  10. The fragrant scent of incense is said to resemble and remind us of the perfection of morality. We aspire to create the necessary merit to hold our vows and commitments perfectly, just like these holy and pure monks. Morality is one of the 6 paramitas (perfections) that form the Bodhisattva path, leading towards becoming a fully enlightened Buddha.

    Adding tsampa (barley flour), butter, sugar to incense offerings is new to me. I will make an effort to add these to the daily offerings from now.

    Thank for the information and explanation on the offering of incense to the Buddhas and the environment.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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