Travel Guide

Origins and legends of Tibetan Incense

Tibetan incense, a golden treasure in the Buddhist incense heritage, was originated in the prosperous period of primitive Buddhism in India, evolved during the period of Buddhism when Buddhism was spread to China as the early stage of Tibetan Buddhism, and till today, it has developed and formed a set of spiritual system with unique characteristics.

Tibetan incense legends:
It is said that in early eighth century, the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen vigorously promoted Buddhism, who vowed to build a temple to spread the beliefs of Buddhism. However, because of Tubo ghosts’ destruction, parts built in the day would collapse during the night: rocks rolled from mountains into the valley, stones in the valley flew to mountains instead, wood and grass for construction of the temple were all burned out, and even more serious was that various epidemic diseases emerged. Thereupon, the king sent someone to invite the powerful Guru Rinpoche from India. People all thought that Padmasambhava would fight against demons and ghosts at the moment. Nevertheless, none of them had expected that Padmasambhava didn’t do like they thought. Instead, he collected the best five kinds of sweet dew as offerings including linden, white sandalwood, wild Artemisia, frankincense and selaginella etc. as well as some delicious food and good-looking things. At night, the guru burned these things together, chanting mantras at the same time. He consecrated these demons, gods and ghosts with a sacred heart and finally pleased them. So, these demons and ghosts also dedicated to assist the construction of temples and unexpectedly, the temple was completed earlier in the end. This temple is exactly the first temple in Tibet-the Samye Monastery. Since then, there appeared the real temple that united Buddha, Dharma and monks together and also the culture of burning incense emerged.
But actually, the one who created incense is one of the “Seven Sages of Tubo Period”-Master Tumi Sabza. When he was young, he was sent to India and other areas to learn by King Songtsen Gampo. After coming back, in addition to the creation of the Tibetan language, the translation of Buddhist scriptures, he also invented the first generation of incense that can be dated back to more than 1300 years ago. Except for Buddhist scripture, a great number of Tibetan ancient books all have a detailed description and record of Tibetan incense’s formula, mode of production and usage.
After Master Tumi Sabza had invented Tibetan incense, the unique incense was developed into abundance and matureness under the joint efforts of generations of monks and secular Tibetans. There appeared assorted kinds of incense that varies in its usage, including drug incense, smoke incense and water incense as well. Till the Yuan Dynasty, the Tibetan incense production technology has been very advanced. It is said that people has already been able to produce a variety of incense that can create smokes with auspicious symbols after burning and they can also effectively control the lifting of smoke. There was a sort of incense that can only drift onto people’s nose and would stop rising, which was truly wonderful. However, these incense production techniques have been lost in ages.
Due to Tibetan Buddhism and the medical function of Tibetan incense, Tibetan local government in the past had a very strict management on the incense production organizations. These organizations were not able to produce incense arbitrarily. Some specialized agencies are set to in charge of this and there was an annual inspection on the workshop and quality of the incense. Moreover, the range of its application became more clearly since then. In various religious rituals related to Dalai Lama, local government and all kinds of temples as well as large-scale religious and secular activities, the application of incense all set clear classification and standard, produced a corresponding hierarchy, etiquette and complete incense culture. With the unceasing development of Tibetan incense, comprehensive incense tools also came into being with its earliest start was in thousands of years ago. Tibetan incense tool, in the beginning, were only brick-and-earth censer, which then gradually developed into ceramic incense burner and eventually evolved into the censers made of gold, silver, copper, iron, wood and porcelain etc.
The earliest documented outdoor censer was appeared in the regime of Trisong Detsen, meanwhile, “the world’s incense festival” also rooted from this period, which indicated that the incense culture at that time had been already developed. So far, there have been countless varieties of censer, among which the most featured are those made of gold, silver, copper and pottery. History is the past and inheritance is hard. People of today should develop pleasant virtue through incense.
After 8th or 9th century, foreign invasion violently conquered ancient India. Thereupon, Indian Buddhism began to decline. Fortunately, since the late 3rd century, Indian Buddhism has begun spread outside of the ancient India and gradually developed into a cosmopolitan religion. After six centuries, its broad and generous spirits system of Buddhism has spread worldwide which brought India back the embrace of Buddhism. At the end of nineteenth century, believers all over the world returned to Gaya to revive the holy land, created some Buddhist research institutions in different places. Buddhists from China even contributed more to its construction for they not only restored many Indian holy lands and temples but also recovered the cultural inheritance of Mahayana Buddhism Period.
Meanwhile, Tibetan incense, as one of the very characteristic cultures in Tibet returned to India. Tibetan incense should have conformed to the habits of India, but it deeply attracted Indian believers together with believers in India from various countries with its Tibetan vegetation flavor. Long-term affected by Tibetan Buddhism customs of making offerings, holy watchers and pilgrims of the holy land gradually adapted to and even loved on Tibetan incense. Gaya Bodhi, naturally, also became the holy city for Tibetan incense.
Tsurphu Incense, the experience of nearly a thousand years’ pure inheritance and history precipitation endowed the incense more unique and profound spiritual connotation and time inspiring capacity as well. At the same time, in the process of making Tsurphu Incense, a lot of Tibetan medical experts, famous eminent monks, specialists have given directions and recognition to it.