From our earliest records, we know that followers of the Buddha perfumed their sacred spaces with incense and scented unguents. Tibetan Buddhists set up shrines or make offerings at places of pilgrimage or practice following the ancient Indian texts. We offer incense and perfumed water, or perfumed substances that please the sense of smell. Offering scents brings great benefits: it delights the deities and dispels negative influences and spirits. Offering practices help the practitioner gather mundane necessities such as food and wealth. More importantly, offerings purify evil deeds, perfect the accumulations, and purify discipline. Moreover, incense and perfumed waters serve as an offering to the objects of refuge and bring blessings and purification for oneself. In Vajrayana texts, we also find mention of scented offerings providing liberation-through-smell for other beings.
Traditional Vajrayana texts enumerate offering goddesses who anthropomorphically represent the five senses. These goddesses are the consorts of the eight great bodhisattvas. For the sense of smell, the goddess Gandhā (Tib. Drichabma) personifies perfume. We see her often depicted holding a conch shell filled with perfumed substances. Frequently we fill a conch shell or bowl with saffron-scented water. Texts also mention the delightful aromas of nutmeg, camphor, sandalwood, and musk.
The goddess Dhūpā (Tib. Dukpöma) represents incense and is pictured holding an incense burner. In Tibetan texts, we find references to juniper, agarwood, pine, vetiver, and sandalwood, among others. These woods and resins contain purificatory properties, and for that reason, they are often offered to clear away obstacles and cleanse the environment. In addition, these substances may calm and soothe the mind, and allow for balanced meditation. Akara collection offers a selection of quality incense produced under the specific direction of Phakchok Rinpoche.
Buddhist texts associate incense and perfume with the paramita of discipline. From reading a wide variety of texts, we learn that the Buddha’s personal scent was sweet and entrancing due to his lengthy career of practicing discipline. From his detailed life story, we learn that the Buddha even remained within a perfumed chamber in his mother’s womb. As his community of followers began to collect in monasteries, perfumed chambers were established to mark the dwelling place of the Buddha. Devout followers would regularly present offerings of incense and perfumes to maintain these aromatic surroundings. Monks, nuns, and laypeople also ritually smeared sacred stũpas with sandalwood paste and saffron. This practice is attested in both texts and physical evidence and continues to this day throughout Asia.
The most elaborate scent offering is the practice of Sangchö (cleansing smoke offering). Samye Institute has worked with Phakchok Rinpoche to develop a support program to help practitioners understand and participate in this profound offering practice. Our affiliated ritual supplies organization, Akara, offers genuine sang substances prepared according to the ancient texts. You can also find a wide range of incense produced under the direction of Phakchok Rinpoche for use in daily offerings.