In our earlier post, we have touched on why Buddhists burn incense. Daily offering of incense has become a routine for many to show their devotion to the Buddha and his teachings. Choosing the right incense for offering is, therefore, an important part of the practice. There are several forms of incense and the more popular ones are coil, stick, powder and cone.
Coil incense is made by rolling incense mixture (bound together by binding agent and water) into a thin string, before placing it on a flat non-stick surface in a spiral shape and leaving it out to dry. Coils are great for people who would like their incense to burn for a longer time. They are flat and compact, and do not take up too much space despite their long burn time. They are also less likely to produce much smoke as no bamboo core is used. This make them suitable for people who are sensitive to smoke. To use a coil, suspend it from a holder, or place it on top of incense ash or a fire proof cotton pad, and light the starting end, allowing the incense to burn slowly along the coil's length.
Sticks are the most popular form of incense. They are made by rolling the incense mixture into long slender sticks which are let out to dry. Another more common type of stick form incense used in temples are made by coating the incense mixture over a bamboo core, leaving a small section of the bamboo core exposed. This type of incense is known as joss stick. Stick incense is easy to light and burns thoroughly. However, they usually have shorter burning time, ranging from 20 to 60 minutes. They can get quite messy when lighted as the ash may fall outside the burner/holder if it is placed upright or slanted. To use incense stick, secure them in an incense holder or place horizontally on incense ash/fire proof cotton pad, simply light the end and let the smoldering produce an alluring aroma. For joss stick, simply place it upright, with the bamboo core in the incense ash of the burner.
Powder incense is a versatile form that allows you to mix around the incense blend yourself. Preparing to light up powder incense can get messy due to its loose form. There are a few ways to burn powder, but the more common way to burn them on altar tables is by placing incense powder in a cone-shaped mold, before placing it in an incense burner on top of incense ash. Light the tip of the molded incense powder to release the fragrance. Do note that lighting powder will take slightly longer than lighting coil and stick. Another method is by sprinkling a small amount onto a lit charcoal disk placed on a heat-safe dish. The heat from the charcoal will release the fragrances in the powder. Powder incense usually burn for a very short time of 15 minutes or less, depending on how much powder is used. The smoke that is produced from the burning is usually more than coils and sticks.
As their name suggests, these incense products are shaped like small cones. To use, simply place the cone on a heat-resistant surface, light the tip, and enjoy the aroma as it burns from the top down. Cones produce a stronger fragrance compared to stick and coil as more incense material is burnt at one time. They are easy to clean up as the ash stays in the cone shape even after it has burnt through. Cones are usually more expensive as more incense mixture is used per cone, compared to stick and coil, even though they burn faster. Similar to incense powder, it takes a longer time to light up the cone, and it will potentially produce more smoke, as more incense mixture is involved.
Now that you have learnt about the different forms, here are some of our recommendations on which form to choose for your home altar.
- If you want the fragrance of the incense to last longer and do not wish to keep cleaning up the area, you can consider using coil incense. We have coil incense that burns for about 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours and 24 hours. You do not have to remove the burnt ash left in the burner. The burnt ash acts as incense ash which helps in the burning of the coil, when a new coil is placed on top of it.
- If you do not wish to keep monitoring the lighted incense, you can consider using incense cone, as they burn for a shorter amount of time.
If you have time and patience to explore more interesting shapes and sizes for your incense, you can consider using incense powder. Instead of cone shape molds, you can get many other designs which comes in a stamp-like copper mold.
- If you like a traditional outlook, incense joss sticks will suit you best.
As per all practices that involved fire and heat, please use incense carefully and safely. Ensure that your incense burner or incense holder is placed on a flat, stable surface, and away from any flammable materials like paper, cloth, etc. Remember to keep the room ventilated and to monitor the burning incense. Keep them away from children and pets. We hope that you will have a clearer idea on deciding which incense to choose and have a soothing offering practice.