My incense was so incensed!

For some time I had a box of Tibetan incense sticks in the drawer of the small table I normally sit in front of when meditating. I’m sure you have a drawer like this, full of Buddhist paraphernalia – candles, bells, incense, booklets, hairy boiled sweets dropped in there by the kids etc.

Anyway, this particular Tibetan incense was eye watering stuff and I had been avoiding it. I decided it was time for a little outdoor sitting so I could set fire to it and enjoy it’s aroma with plenty of fresh air. After struggling a bit with a lighter to get the whole bunch of incense sticks going I blew out the flames to let it smoulder in the usual way.

It was, to be fair, producing a prodigious and unholy amount of smoke. I stuck it upright into some sand in front of me and started some silent sitting. A gentle breeze was blowing, and as my eyes started to close I became aware that the incense had burst back into flames.

Watch that heat!I watched it for a few moments, and bent forward to blow it out – only to find it soon burst into flames again. The collective heat of the sticks had created enough energy to ignite the vapours being given off. I spread the sticks apart a bit to prevent them re-igniting, and tried to clear my mind (my mistake) only to find the same thought popping up again and again.

Before I had this experience I had been listening to a news story about the latest atrocities committed in the name of God by religious extremists.

I kept visualising the incense sticks as angry extremists. The heat within each incense stick was like their prejudice, and the fuming smoke was like their acrid words. It kept making me think of the teaching of the Four Nutriments, first mentioned (I believe) in the Pali Puttamansa Sutta – which in English this means A Son’s Flesh. It is a somewhat grizzly sutra, but is intended to make a very strong point. In essence, you are what you eat, drink, see, hear, touch, smell, taste, think, say and do – and if you do any of these things in a forgetful way, you are more likely to create the conditions for suffering to arise.

Transgression!When we surround ourselves with people who are prejudiced, for example, then we consume their words and actions. If we have a strong seed of prejudice in us then it will be watered by the others, and will grow into our conscious mind. We become aware of our views and soon find they have transformed into speech. When we are surrounded by prejudiced people like this it is likely that our views become so strong that we will act.

This is like the incense sticks that alone might smoulder and give off smoke, but when wrapped tightly together create enough heat and smoke to burst into flames – action and transformation!

It then reminded me of the importance of Sangha, one of the three refuges of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In the Sangha we support each other, watering our beneficial seeds and those in others to help create a peaceful community. For most lay practitioners (myself included) practicing alone can often be difficult, and can lead to sporadic meditation or giving up the precepts altogether.

Like the combined heat of the incense sticks, or in this case the combined loving kindness of the Sangha, it helps to nurture our desire to end suffering. Encouraging each other, and offering support we are more likely to transform our ignorance, bringing about transformation and healing.

Why didn’t I originally see the incense sticks as an analogue of Sangha? Perhaps because immediately before meditating my mind was still troubled from the radio broadcast. Or perhaps I still have a lot of prejudice in me. I like to think its not the latter, but then that’s my ego talking, and you know what you should think of anything your ego tells you!

6 Responses to My incense was so incensed!

  1. Sabistarian August 31, 2015 at 12:33 am #

    What a great post and website in general!
    I’ve only read random posts, the first time a couple of months ago.
    It seems you’ve stopped, I hope you’re well.
    I’ll try to get in touch with you via your contact page!
    All the very best,
    S.

    • steve September 12, 2015 at 8:16 am #

      Thanks for getting on touch Sabistarian. If possible, I much prefer replying to comments here than in private email – it’s always more interesting to see other people’s points of view to our own :)

  2. Bodhi Rolf February 11, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

    Hi Steve
    Thank you for a great article illuminating the importance of the Sangha, one of the three refuges of Buddhism… The incense sticks in a bundle provide a great way to vision the power of group dynamics.You provide an absolutely refreshing Zen-like point of view in speaking from your own every-day home spun experience from which you humbly reveal the essence and universal truths of Buddhist thought and philosophy. I am a yoga instructor and like to tell my students that all doing is awakening within them ‘right’, natural ways to move their bodies and minds,in a simple, universal process that they can utilize in the most organic ways immediately upon exiting the class. It was through yoga that I awakened to Buddhism, and I believe that on the highest level there is no difference in the achievement of the awakening our boundless nature.

    • steve February 11, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

      I’m definitely home spun, Rolf! I could certainly do with more mindfulness of the body – although I exercise, I don’t spend enough time stretching and remaining supple – so perhaps, through Buddhism I might awaken to yoga! Thank you for your kind comments.

  3. Bodhi Rolf February 13, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for your reply!
    I am starting my day today with a cup of tea(not green, but orange pekoe which seems to be hard to come by here in the USA) and looking for some inspirational reading that that will ring my Buddha-gong(no SGI pun intended), and help wake me up this morning, so here I am.
    What I so like and look forward to in your posts and articles is that I really do feel and have a sense of sitting and having a cup of tea with a good friend discussing the ins and outs and ups and downs of Life, AND Buddhist insights and revaluations(and not just the text book ones), that reaffirming and help awaken my Buddha nature in the most cordial and non judgmental ways, exactly as I would imaging discourses with the Buddha if he/she were present today and of course that’s the whole idea, that Buddha nature is always and ever present.
    I do think you would enjoy Yoga especially the kind that has a Buddhist orientation of loving kindness towards, body/mind/self/others/environment/cosmos, though I do not think you would like the HOT kind, which should issue heart monitors, and personal defibrillators to the participants!
    I believe that the Buddha, was raised in the Hindi tradition and would of course have known of, and practiced mystical yoga at the various monasteries he visited or resided with; another revelation that came to me was that in almost all depictions of the Buddha he/she is depicted in the most perfect posture or lotus pose, Siddhartha, also called Padma-asana (Asana translates as sacred position) In this sacred posture which signifies entryinto states of mindful meditation(Dhyana) Siddhartha awakened his/her pre existing and ever present Buddha nature…. Such a Buddha-ful story that reaffirms both yoga and essential Buddhism, as paths to Universal enlightenment, but alas, I learned of and was ‘enlightened’ just last night 02/12/16 that I have been branded a ‘disrespectful person” by the SGI here, for daring to entertain such beliefs and suggestions, and of course the most dreaded of all infraction, the questioning of fundamentalistic authority(wow I am beginning to feel a bit like Nichiren must have when he entertained his ideas)… So here I am, seeking solace in your international Sangha of Dharma articles, posts but most of all feeling enfolded in the compassion and wisdom that you offer Buddhist refugees like me… Thanks for all you do to maintain this site, please keep up the Buddha-ful work, it’s a life-line for renegades, heretics, iconoclasts and generally folks like me… A bucket of lotuses for you!

  4. Bodhi Rolf February 13, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    Hi Steve
    A thousand pardons for my typographical errors:
    ” in almost all depictions of the Buddha he/she is depicted in the most perfect posture or lotus pose, Siddhartha, also called Padma-asana”

    Should read:
    “…in almost all depictions of the Buddha, he/she is seen seated in yoga’s most perfect pose, the Lotus posture, Siddha-asana, also called, Padma-asana..”

    There are times when auto correct is less of an ally and more of an ironical trickster, LOL17

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