Incense, Sound & the Mind

All of the authentic spiritual traditions of the world utilize incense in worship and meditation. You can't go to a Buddhist, Shinto or Hindu temple, a traditional Roman Catholic mass, without encountering the use of incense. This is a perennial practice of world spirituality, and as such there must be a principle behind it that we would do well to understand. We Westerners tend to think of such things in a purely utilitarian way. Thus, we look upon incense as just an aesthetic choice; something that creates a certain atmosphere. However, there are deeper scientific and theosophical reasons for the use of incense. First, it is always a good thing to offer the Divine Being all we have, all the blessings of creation, all the blessings of the human mind and ingenuity in worship and meditation on sacred things. This would include money, food, our homes, land, and yes, incense. After all, we're simply the custodians of these blessings for a short time and we only have them through the provision of the Divine anyway. With respect to incense in particular, it also appears to be an earthly reflection of a transcendental reality. Incense has been used to symbolize our intentions, praise, worship, and prayers. Before we get into the science behind incense, let's take a look at how transcendental sound impacts the mind. 

Transcendental Sound
The Vedic study of transcendental sounds, or mantra, is known as Nada Yoga. This study explores the myriad ways in which transcendental sound vibrations interact with your body, mind/psychology, and spirit. There are two basic types of sounds in the cosmos: 
  • Ahad-These particular sounds are created when things encounter each other. For example, your fingers strum the strings of a guitar and sound is the result. Sound is vibration, and those vibrations carry in the atmosphere. The result is a vibration in the air that permeates the environment. Any sound in the material world, whether it be the laughter of children or thunder are these sorts of sounds.
  • Anahad-This has been variously described as the "lost chord", or "unplayed chord". The Vedas teaches that the material world is filled with vibrations. Science confirms that, indeed, all material things vibrates do vibrate, some to greater and others to lesser degrees. The original Vibratory One, the Divine Being (God), eternally emanates the cosmos, which is the External Energy of the Divine. Through this energetic vibration everything exists. 

It is taught that eighty-four meridian points exist in the human mouth, similar to acupuncture points. When you chant a mantra your tongue stimulates those meridians, which in turn stimulates the hypothalamus, which in turn activates the pineal gland. The pineal gland creates a pulse in the pituitary gland, which releases melatonin. Unfortunately, many well-meaning, but ill informed neophytes think that a mantra is simply a method of focusing intention to get what you want, or some positive thinking exercise. They teach people to repeat things like "I am one with the cosmos." The truth is, the ancient mantras have many purposes, none of which are as simplistic as the neophyte would have you believe. Mantras in the Bhakti tradition focus the consciousness on the Supreme Absolute. All of them release and focus Prana (life energy) to various points in the body and activate the chakras. It is important that we pay attention to the words of the mantra to gain the benefit of the transcendental sound vibrations. By using our voices to chant these sacred syllables, we direct these vibrations to their purpose. The highest mantra is that of the Divine Names.

As we've said, a mantra impacts not just the consciousness, but the body. Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto conducted experiments with water molecules to determine how sound effects water. One of the results was that a frozen water molecule that is pure resembles a snowflake. It takes on a hexagonal shape, filled with precision and beauty. Polluted water, including tap water, didn't take the same shape, but was disorganized and ugly. He then had a Shinto priest chant over the water and to his surprise, the water had taken on the same shape and beauty as the pure water. The result of this experiment was that the sound vibrations of the priest's chanting had returned the water molecule to the correct shape. He subsequently published a book detailing his experiments in full.

Two other researchers, Dr. Tracy Latz and Marion Ross, conducted experiments specifically with mantras. They discovered that the same mantra chanted by different people rendered different results. For example, the ancient syllable "Om" would vibrate in the area of the heart or crown chakra, depending on the intention of the person chanting it. Their research states that the sound frequency, coupled with individual intent, equals healing in some area, whether psychological or physical. Chanting the mantra 108 times impacts the body and consciousness,  aligning the body and mind for health, and the consciousness with the Supreme Absolute.

The Power of Aroma

Have you ever caught the aroma of a particular food and found yourself thinking of your childhood home? Your mother cooing dinner, you were perhaps playing a game with siblings, or helping dad in the garage? Or perhaps you smelled a flower or perfume, and it reminded you of someone you once knew. The aroma invokes the atmosphere, the presence of things long gone. Aroma is a very powerful tool. Aroma isn't just for sentimental purposes, but is also a significant part of our spiritual practice. We don't burn incense purely for aesthetics, or because we like the aroma, but because it is intended to assist the body and mind in serving our spiritual intentions. Brain wave research has demonstrated the various ways the brain responds to various aromas. This has been known in Vedic scriptures and practices for thousands of years. What has been discovered by science, however, is that the brain only responds positively to natural scents, not synthetic. The matter of the body and brain somehow discern the fake from the real. This is important since the limbic system of the human body is intimately connected to those parts of the brain that control stress, hormones, long term memory, breathing, heart rates and blood pressure. Interestingly, the limbic system is our emotional nexus. What we can take away from all of this research is that sound, intention and aroma are powerful tools for Self Realization and good psychological and physical health. If we utilize these tools accurately, under the guidance of the guru, you can potentially change even your brain wave frequency, achieving Theta levels, which is the level at which the sages are able to do such things as walking on hot coals, which I have done, and so I can attest to the reality of this. At the Theta level, you're aware and in control of the body, but also experience the detachment of the Atman from the material body at the same time.

So, when you light incense, choose the proper incense for your intention, and pay close attention to the aroma. Be mindful of every aspect of your practice like this and you will find yourself quickly growing spiritually. Namaste.


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