Burning incense is a beautiful tradition in Vietnamese worship culture to express gratitude to ancestors and seek blessings for a peaceful and prosperous life. It is important for people to know how to properly offer incense and worship to ensure its sanctity and the presence of spiritual beings.
Knowing whether incense is sacred or not is a question that many families have because nowadays many do not know if the spirits of their loved ones can visit their homes during worship.
This cannot be determined by our naked eyes and simple understanding, so we need to seek the help of skilled priests and mediums. In reality, this can sometimes be ambiguous because we rely solely on our intuition and trust in the priests.
The truth is finding a skilled and reputable priest is not an easy task, not to mention that nowadays many priests take advantage of the ignorance of the homeowners for their own benefit.
What is sacred incense?
An incense is considered sacred when the descendants offer it during worship and call upon the name of the deceased, and they will come back. To ensure this, the homeowner must ask a skilled priest to check if all the conditions are met.
Sometimes the priest does not need to personally inspect the place, if their abilities allow, they can do a remote inspection and inform the homeowner.
These priests have the ability to communicate with the spiritual realm so they can invite the spirits to return or inquire why they haven’t returned so the homeowner can find a solution.
In addition, there is another method when a reputable priest cannot be found, which is to ask a child to check:
- A newborn baby can be carried, while facing upwards, near the altar. If the baby appears happy and not fearful, then the altar is considered good, but if the baby cries, it is best to remove the altar.
- When there is no baby to carry, a child under 3 years old can be asked to light incense. If the child does not appear anxious or cry, then the incense is considered good.
What is non-sacred incense?
According to popular belief, incense is considered non-sacred if when it is offered during worship and the name of the deceased is called, they do not return or respond sincerely.
Some methods to identify non-sacred incense that most people apply are as follows:
- Observe the burning incense sticks on your altar, if the incense sticks often do not burn completely, they only burn partially and then suddenly extinguish, the homeowner should ask for a re-evaluation.
- Observe the smoke when the incense is lit: If the smoke rises straight up, it is considered good, but if it goes down or does not spread well, it is considered bad.
- When the altar catches fire, it is usually considered a very concerning occurrence. This phenomenon can be caused by two reasons:
+ Negative energy conversion: This means the incense burns from the inside, then spills outwards. This is usually seen as a sign related to graves and worship, and should be addressed accordingly.
+ Positive energy conversion: This means the incense burns from the top down. This is often seen as a sign of house or daily life-related issues. – If there are cracks in the incense holder, it does not guarantee its sacredness, so the homeowner needs to replace the incense holder immediately.
- If there is no obvious reason like weather or external factors, but the items on the altar are damaged abnormally and without cause, it may be a bad omen, indicating the presence of negative spiritual forces.
- Or if there are weak individuals in the house who feel cold, have headaches when lighting incense, it also needs to be reconsidered.
Why is incense not sacred?
Usually, homeowners do not have the ability to determine whether the incense is sacred or not, but if they always show sincerity in worship, then after a few years, the incense can become sacred.
The reasons why incense is not sacred include:
- Missing secret ritual words: If they are forgotten to put in the incense, it cannot fulfill its purpose during worship. This is similar to having a house without an owner.
- Inaccurate secret ritual words: This is also a reason why the incense is not sacred.
Therefore, it is necessary to ensure accuracy and not substitute someone’s name for the divine spirits in the incense. Additionally, writing too many names on the incense is also not correct.
- Infested with negative energy: These incense sticks are often used by mediums who have become attached to spirits. It may be because the homeowner is unaware that these mediums have inserted negative energy into the incense or they may have buried curse objects under the house’s foundation, which negatively affects the homeowner’s worship.
There are also some monks who infest incense sticks. These monks may be followers of Buddhism, but the homeowner worships other deities. This is considered a deviant practice and has a negative impact on the reputation of the temple.
When the altar is infested with negative energy, it hinders the returning of the spirits that the homeowner worships. Some may even capture the divine spirits and blessings, forcing the homeowner to offer wealth in return. The divine spirits and ancestors do not accept this, so they will not return. This is why many families have been worshiping negative energy without even knowing it.
What should be done to make incense sacred?
The Incense Bearer
An incense is considered sacred when the descendants offer it during worship and call upon the name of the deceased, and they will come back. Therefore, the role of the incense bearer is extremely important. Therefore, the homeowner must be careful in choosing who will be the incense bearer.
The criteria for selecting the incense bearer are:
- The priest should have expertise and knowledge.
- The priest should be skilled and compassionate.
- The priest should not worship negative energy or use black magic, but only follow the righteous path.
You should note that those who are selected to be the incense bearers for ancestral altars or altars for deity worship must have a pure heart in order to bring blessings to the homeowner; otherwise, there will be unforeseen consequences.
As for the altar of the Buddha: Monks who carry incense for the Buddha altar are people who have achieved a high level of spiritual cultivation, from attaining the level of Bodhisattva to the level of Diamond Buddha. However, the number of individuals with such spiritual cultivation is not abundant, so homeowners must be careful not to become victims of dishonest individuals with ulterior motives.
What is inside the incense?
- Secret ritual paper: The secret ritual paper is a sheet with the family name and the name of the person being worshipped. This paper is usually printed in gold and red, often accompanied with the incense. The name of the person being worshipped is written vertically in the empty space in the middle, and it can be written in any language. If there are multiple people being worshipped, their names can be written together on one sheet or additional sheets can be used.
- The Seven Treasures: These are 7 precious objects of the human world. When the energy of the earth and sky converge, they form the treasures of the human world, and when they are combined, they are called the Seven Treasures: Amber, gold, silver, agate, carnelian or chalcedony, red coral, and pearl.
- Golden Wealth Rice: It is made from pure sand and natural stones. Each stage of processing is based on the principles of the Five Elements. This is seen as the conductor combined with the Seven Treasures.
- Ashes: Ash represents the earth element, symbolizing the foundation. It symbolizes respect, remembrance, and gratitude of the descendants to the ancestors who have passed away, as if the contribution of straw and bran forms the “Jade of Heaven.”
- Aromatic Ingredients: These are made from natural herbs with pleasant scents and good purifying and deodorizing properties. They help to create a more sacred atmosphere during worship.
After preparing all these items, they are wrapped in a sheet of paper for protection and placed on the bottom of the incense holder.
Placing the Incense on the Altar
It is important to know how many altars should be in the house and how many incense holders should be on the family altar before performing worship. Typically, there are 3 levels: worshiping the Buddha, then worshiping deities, and finally the ancestral altar.
Therefore, when placing the incense on the altar, the incense for the deity should be in the middle, the incense for the ancestors should be on the left when looking from the inside, and the incense for the household gods should be on the right.
Some places consider the person standing for worship more important than the altar, so they calculate based on the person standing for worship, which means the incense for the ancestors should be placed on the left when looking in. This difference does not have a significant impact.
Regarding the ritual items: Fresh flowers, fresh fruits, and clean water are important, but what matters more is the sincerity of the homeowner.
After burning the incense, make sure to open the doors before lighting it. At the beginning, light 3 incense sticks and one small candle or an oil lamp, prepare a cup of clean water and pray for the person being worshipped for their protection. Do not forget to burn incense before going to sleep.
During the first week, it is advisable to light incense regularly: in the morning, light one incense stick, burn one small candle, or you can replace it with an oil lamp, prepare a bowl of clean water and pray for the person being worshipped to bless you. Remember to light incense at night before going to bed.
Also, when there are too many incense sticks, remove some, but leave 5 sticks behind. The discarded incense sticks should be burned, and the ashes should be scattered in rivers or streams.
By following these guidelines, you can determine whether the incense is sacred or not. We hope that these insights from Lich Ngay Tot will be helpful to you!