Incense has been used as a traditional substance for offering since the birth of Buddhism. The first recorded instance of incense being used occurs in the story of Magadha Sangmo, whose impact can be seen across the ancient Buddhist world. The daughter of Suddatta, a layman and the Buddha’s primary patron, she herself was an ardent student of Buddha Shakyamuni. After marrying, she longed to see her Guru, the Buddha and offer dana. Climbing to the roof of her in-law’s house, she offered incense and a verse of invocation. The omniscient Buddha heard her prayers and arrived with his entire entourage, descending from the sky on a lion to fulfil her request.
This was not only the first instance of incense being used as an offering but also that of the invocation prayer to enlightened beings, both of which have become integral in Buddhist practice. Magadha Sangmo is considered to be one of the previous lives of Dorje Shugden, therefore the practice of Sangsol (incense offering) to Dorje Shugden has a special significance. There are also references to incense offering in the Guhyasamaja Tantra, in which it is stated that practitioners should be familiar with the three types of fragrances.
Traditionally offered on altars to the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha), incense is also used to purify other offerings and even offered outdoors in large quantities. The offering of fragrant incense is said to remind us to hold any vows we have taken strongly. These include the Refuge vows, Pratimoksa vows, Bodhisattva vows and Tantric vows.
Monks such as the great founder of the Gelug lineage, Lama Tsongkhapa and his student Duldzin Drakpa Gyaltsen, one of Dorje Shugden’s previous lives are said to have emitted a fragrant scent. This scent was due to having attained the perfection of morality, or holding vows perfectly and without fault. Morality is one of the Six Paramitas (perfections) that forms an integral part of the Mahayana Bodhisattva path with the goal of complete Enlightenment. Therefore when we offer incense to the enlightened beings we generate the merit necessary to hold our vows, just like these holy monks.
Within Tibetan Buddhism the earliest Sangsol text dates back to the 8th century during the establishment of Samye, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, built under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen, the great Sutra master Santarakshita and the great Tantra master Guru Rinpoche. Hidden and rediscovered centuries later, this text formed the basis of many similar offering texts composed by lamas from Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya lineages.
Within the Gelugpa lineage an incense offering text was composed during the period of the 3rd Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso by the Lama Yeshe Wangpo. Subsequent texts were composed by the 4th Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen and also by the 5th Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso. The incense offering text to Dorje Shugden listed and explained below was composed by Serkong Dorje Chang.
Incense Offering Preparations
To begin with, the incense to be offered should be of the best quality you can afford and clean. That is to say it should not have been trampled on by people or animals during its preparation or be dirty. Traditionally, incense would be comprised of fragrant leaves and woods, such as that from juniper, conifer, red/white sandalwood trees, ferns and rhododendron. Often, butter, sugar, tsampa (roasted barley flour) and other medicinal herbs are also added and burned. All the ingredients should be in their purest form and free from other sorts of pollutants such as alcohol, garlic and onions.
Sangsol is performed outdoors by both the ordained and lay communities during religious celebrations and social occasions, such as birthdays, marriages, Tibetan New Year (Losar) and other important events. Traditionally the incense is placed in a Sangpur, a large urn-shaped incense burner. Sangpurs are usually built on elevated sites such as in the mountains and on top of hills or houses. It is also placed in areas believed to be inhabited by non-human beings such as the local deities or nagas.
The actual ritual begins with setting a good and meritorious intention, such as dedicating the merits generated by offering the incense to the lineage Lamas, meditational deities (Yidams) and Dharma Protectors for the welfare and Enlightenment of all sentient beings. If the Sangsol is being performed for a specific function, the requests can be made here. These can include a long and healthy life if performed on a birthday, the removal of obstacles if at the start of a new venture, or even the removal of obstacles for the spreading of the Dharma. It is mentioned in the offering prayer that we purify the deities through the incense smoke. But in actual fact we are not purifying the deities themselves, but through our intention and sincere offering, we are actually purifying our karma through the deities.
Next we recite the refuge formula contemplating on the Four Immeasurables. For those who have received Tantric empowerments, they visualise themselves as their Yidam. Then, we begin the Sangsol prayer and recite the mantra OM AH HUM a minimum of three times. During the prayer one requests the fulfilment of any requests made and success in both spiritual and worldly endeavours. One also makes requests to purify and forgive any transgressions of samaya. Towards the end of the prayer the deities are requested to return to their respective abodes. The prayer ends with auspicious dedication verses.Sangsol is usually performed on auspicious days such as the third day of the Tibetan New Year, during which Tibetans typically make the incense offering during mountaintop visits or in conjunction with hanging prayer flags. Traditionally if Sangsol is performed by a group or during a festival it is a joyful occasion. Common features of this celebration include throwing a handful of tsampa into the air upon completion of the prayer and/or a folk dance.
JAM MGON RGYAL BA’I BSTAN SRUNG RDO-RJE SHUG-LDAN RTSAL CHEN PO’I BSANGS MCHOD [DGE LEGS MCHOG STSOL] BZHUGS SO
By Ganden Serkong
At the time of wanting to make a sang offering, collect the incense substances; repeat refuge and Bodhi mind generation verses three times.
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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