Tibetan Incense

Images of Tibet: the Potala at sunrise; a chorten; prayer wheels in a monastery
Images of Tibet: the Potala at sunrise; a chorten and mountains beyond; prayer wheels in Lhasa

Tibetan incense has a history well over 2,000 years old and many traditional formulas are far older than Buddhism. Over the centuries, unique blends have been created — for use in prayer, as offerings to deities, for therapeutic purposes, to purify the atmosphere, to focus the mind and enhance meditation.

Animal musk from civets and musk-deer had once been a staple for Oriental incense makers. However, in 1993 the Chinese government outlawed the use of animal musk. The earliest attempts to create an artificial musk (called white musk in the scent industry) took place in 1888, and successful efforts have continued since. Today, to the best of our knowledge, almost every reputable incense-maker uses a form of artificial musk. If we find that this is not the case regarding any incense we carry, we’ll delete it immediately.

Pangolin scales are another major concern, since the pangolin is endangered. To the best of our knowledge — pangolin scales are not used. And the problem could have a simple answer: misinterpretation between the Chinese and Tibetan languages. In Tibetan, the ingredient is known as “shell scale scent”. Chinese translates this as 貝甲香 — which is interpreted as ‘pangolin scales’. The ingredient may refer to ‘naga sea-shells’ which have been imported in the past — yet a Bhutanese source said it refers to the gill cover (operculum) of fish.

The world-wide popularity of Tibetan incense has led to a number of counterfeit products manufactured outside the area, but labelled and branded as ‘Tibetan’. Some is poorly made, with cheap ingredients and even old wood chips. “This has affected and degenerated Tibetan incense formulation… to a certain degree, which forms an important part of the unique Tibetan Culture”. (courtesy ‘Tibetan incense’, Wikipedia).

We import only genuine Tibetan incense from reliable sources:

TIBETAN MONASTERY INCENSE   from the main traditions of Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Village Incense
N-M Jewel of Ancient Incense
Tun-Da Village Master Incense
Tun-Da Village Master Backflow Cones
Tun-Mi  Backflow Cones

The following video has been edited from the program “Discovery” (CCTV Channel 10, owner of the copyright) and shows the making of incense from start to finish in the small Tibetan village of Tun-da (or Tunba). The village was home to Thönmi Sambhota, inventor of the Tibetan script and bringer of the incense formula to Tibet in the 7th century. His descendants and much of the village continue the tradition. It is a fascinating process, accomplished primarily by hand: