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Mandala Tibetan Newsletter

"Sometimes a glance, a few casual words, fragments of a melody floating through the quiet air of a summer evening, a book that accidentally comes into our hands, a poem or a memory laden fragrance, may bring about the impulse which changes and determines our whole life. WhileIncense writing this, the delicate resinous scent of Tibetan incense is wafted through the shrine-room of my little hermitage and immediately calls up the memory of the place where for the first time I became acquainted with this particular variety.

I see myself seated in the dimly lit hall of a Tibetan temple, surrounded by a pantheon of fantastic figures, some of them peaceful and benevolent, some wild and frightening, others enigmatic and mysterious; but all full of life and colour, though emanating from the depth of dark shadows."

--from The Way of the White Clouds
by Lama Anagarika Govinda

Almost every ancient culture evolved highly sophisticated aromatic arts and crafts which were incorporated into the secular and religious lives of the people coming under the sphere of its influence. At the core of these disciplines one often encounters the use of incense which was highly esteemed in India, China, Egypt, India, the Middle East, Japan, etc. Each evolved its own special incense traditions based on the aromatic materials available to the artisans involved in compounding the materials. Not only did they seek to compound incenses that would create a contemplative atmosphere in which they were burned but also for the numerous therapeutic effects arising from the aroma ladened smoke.

In all the countries of the ancient world where Buddhism flourished, the incense tradition also became deep rooted. Tibet, in its remote Himalayan location received the teaching of Buddha sometime in the 700's AD and with came its own unique incense traditions which continue to this day. The incense compounded by its incense masters, has its own special sublime qualities arising from the use of powdered aromatic spices, herbs, precious woods, earthy roots, musk, ambergris etc. Although Tibet was difficult to access it did not stop the flow of international trade into that remote Buddhist kingdom and many special aromatics like saffron, agarwood, sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh etc. found their way into the hands of her gifted incense makers who also drew upon the indigenous aromatics of cedar, costus roots, angelica root, rhododendron leaf, juniper, spikenard etc. that grew in the high Himalayan mountains. The hallmark of their works were incenses that were soft, delicate, and sublime in nature that clearly reflected the pristine world in which they lived. Surrounded by the magnificent snowcapped Himalayan range, immaculate rivers and lakes, deep somber forests.

The incense they created was of two main types. One was made by compounding a paste and then rolled into various thicknesses and lengths (without a bamboo center as is in Indian incense). The second was a simple mixture of various dry ingredients to be burned in a brazier.

I have not sought to copy any specific incense recipe in compounding what I call the Mandala Tibetan Perfume. Rather I have relied upon many of the ingredients used by the Incense Masters of that ancient land to create a liquid essence which captures some of the spirit of their sublime aromatic creations. This smokeless incense is best enjoyed in a low heat diffuser like the AromaStone. If one will place a few drops in the AromaStone the essence will slowly begin to release its delightful scent into the surrounding atmosphere and if one sits quietly in its vicinity then one can enjoy its delightful aromatic aura for many hours.

Mandala Tibetan Perfume recipe

1 1/4 ounce Cedarwood, Himalayan eo
3/4 ounce Cedarwood, Virginia eo
1/4 ounce of Templin/Fir Cone eo
1/2 ounce of Silver Fir eo
1 ounce Frankincense Somali eo
1/16 ounce Cinnamon Bark eo
1/8 ounce Clove Bud eo
1/4 ounce Nutmeg Abs
1/4 ounce Cardamon CO2
1/2 ounce Cinnamon Leaf eo
1/2 ounce Saffron C02
1 ounce Ambari Attar
3/4 ounce Ambrette Seed eo
1/16th ounce Choya Nakh
3/4 ounce Agarwood/Nagarmotha eo

Incense in Literature concerning Tibet

It was a noble sight. The great mountain chain, a hundred miles long and always ice-bound, rose behind the expanse of deep blue waters. The peaks were reflected in the calm transparent lake, the highest being not less than 25,000 feet high, the whole range forming an imposing framework than that of any Swiss lake.

The country on the south of the Tengri-Nor is full of life. There are large collections of tents gathered round the small temples, in which lamas burn incense day and night

--from Scottish Geographical Magazine
By Royal Scottish Geographical Society

The first rays were to be seen on the distant peaks, and no sooner had I settled down in the seat arranged for me than the Lamas came around with the incense which I was to carry. By now I was at ease. No longer was there any fumbling or hesitation on my part, for I knew my ritual and had had some experience. Promptly I was up, and off with my handful of burning punk. I entered the great temple, which to my surprise was likewise filled with monks, who were all chanting in the gloom of early morning.

I turned over the incense to the assistant and made my devotional, as if I had done it all my life. Then I began the tour of the holy lanes, in which the sincere were reciting their sacred formulas and the weary were sleeping with nodding heads. Before the various shrines I left my stick of incense, and after the customary ritual received the blessings symbolized by these golden deities.
--from Penthouse Of The Gods A Pilgrimage Into The Heart Of Tibet And The Sacred City Of Lhasa (1939)
by Theos Bernard

Many of the houses are brightened by a box of gay colored marigolds and a song bird in a wicker cage. Here a baker is kneading his huge lumps of dough, unmindful of the dust which a heavy laden yak raises as he goes slowly by.

Near the door of a low hut a woman is weaving a bright colored rug. In the dark little house an incense maker is fashioning for the temple worship some incense stickes which give a delicious odor that is very welcome after the noisome smells of the streets...

--from Geographical and Industrial Studies; Asia
By Nellie Burnham Allen

A crowd of nearly a hundred claret-robed monks came trooping in and took their seats on a line of cushions in rows along either side of the nave, the head priest, who alone wore a yellow cap, the others being capless, occupying a higher cushion on the top of the left-hand row near the alter, whilst sacristans lit several lamps like candles and burned incense. When all was ready they began a chant, which distinctly recalled that of a High-Church service at home. The deep, organ-like bass of the singers, the swell and fall, the intoning, the silver-toned bells, accentuated at times by the muffled roll of drums in the second row, gave altogether a majestic and sacred character to the service, whilst the flickering lights and the figures of the priests, looming out of the darkness and through the thin clouds.

These people had beautiful tents, the inside being most comfortable, with Chinese carpets spread on the floor, cushions to rest the head and back upon, and cured skins spread everywhere where they might come in useful. Elaborate altars, some double-tiered, with as many as seven images of Buddha, were to be seen, and upon them burning lights galore, incense sticks alight filling the tent with saintly fumes. Bags of butter and chura and sweet paste hung from every tent-pole. All round the tent, inside and also outside, were high walls of double sacks of borax.
--from Tibet & Nepal (1905)
by A. Henry Savage-Landor (1865-1924)

Among the more curious articles presented for sale one notices baskets heaped up with piles of long thin tapers. These are the famous poi-retighi, or incense sticks which when lighted fuse away with a fragrant smell and are in large demand for burning before sacred images of every degree. Vast quantities are sold, not only for use in the temples of Lhasa; but also for export into Mongolia and China. Round the taper-sellers are ever gathered a knot of Mongol and Khampa pilgrims.
--from Tibet and the Tibetans (1906)
by Graham Sandberg (1852-1905)

The Tibetan festival itself seemed more in accord with the usages of Nat propitiation than with Lamaism, except that it was eminently cheerful, and the people, led by their priests, went to the summits of the three nearest hills to east, north, and west in turn, in order to burn incense and pray ; after which they ate cakes. The first day however was devoted entirely to the amusement of the children, for Tibetan mothers, as I frequently observed, are warmhearted creatures with a Buddhist monksgreat affection for their offspring.
--from The land of the blue poppy: travels of a naturalist in eastern Tibet (1913)
by Francis Kingdon Ward (1885-1958)

The long rows of seats in the temple hall were filled to the last place, and some new rows had been added. The huge cauldrons in the adjacent kitchen building were filled with boiling tea and soup, to be
served in the intervals during the service in the temple. The temple hall was lit up by more than a thousand butler-lamps, and bundles of incense-sticks wafted clouds of fragrant smoke into the air and wove bluish veils around the golden images high above the congregation.

In measured dance-steps and with mystic gestures they circle the open space around the tall prayer-flag in the centre of the courtyard, while the rhythmically swelling and ebbing sounds of a full monastic orchestra mingle with the recitation of holy scriptures and prayers, invoking the blessings of Buddhas and saints and glorifying their deeds and words. Clouds of incense rise to heaven and the air vibrates with the deep voices of giant trombones and drums.

The low hills and plains around the lakes are covered with low shrubs and miles and miles of pastures, where thousands of kyangs and yaks, as well as the flocks of sheep and goats of the nomads, find welcome grazing grounds. Also, among the plants of this region are many herbs of medicinal value and others which can be used as incense and which are highly valued for their wonderful fragrance. All these things are regarded as 'prasads', as the gifts of the gods to the pilgrim. There are many other 'prasads', each of them pertaining to a particular locality.
--from The Way of the White Clouds
by Lama Anagarika Govinda