Least incensiest incense ever?
February 2, 2008 1:09 PM   Subscribe

What's that incense I've smelled at Zen centers and where can I find it?

When I've been in Korean Zen centers or meditation areas used by Zen practitioners, there's been incense on the altar that has a very subtle aroma. It's not terribly fragrant or remotely perfume-y. It's extremely mild. They're usually shorter sticks than your regular incense and I think they might be a Japanese brand.

I've googled around and found different kinds associated with meditation but I want to be sure I'm getting something not so aromatic that's it's distracting before I bite the bullet and buy. Brands, names, and links are awesome and appreciated. Thank you!
posted by sneakin to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about Korean, but check out diagen koh rosewood incense. The first link in google is what my parents have used for the last 30 years. Every zen center I've ever been to used a similar scent.
posted by milarepa at 2:36 PM on February 2, 2008

My favorite brand of incense is Nippon Kodo. I'm not sure if they make the scent you're looking for, but they have a wide variety of scents, many of which are quite subtle. They were the first thing that popped into my mind when you described the shorter sticks.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:38 PM on February 2, 2008

The SF Zen Center has a very nice incense. A very pure, empty smell.
posted by anadem at 4:00 PM on February 2, 2008

I should have added that the SF Zen center incense is available in their shop (and at Tassajara).
posted by anadem at 4:37 PM on February 2, 2008

um, have you tried maybe asking them what they are using?
posted by violetk at 5:36 PM on February 2, 2008

Nag Champa?
posted by puddinghead at 5:56 PM on February 2, 2008

The Japanese incense that I have experienced generally matches your scent and stick size specifications. There are two brands of Japanese incense that I am familiar with and would recommend: Shoyeido and Baieido. Unfortunately, in my experience, the more expensive stuff is generally better and it gets more expensive very quickly. The stuff that I prefer due to its subtlety uses aloeswood, which has a sweet, spicy, woody scent. Nothing floral or perfume-y.

You can use the links above to find retailers. Shoyeido produces a premium incense sampler that I recommend if you are looking to survey the full spectrum. It contains one stick each of about 15 of their better varieties, which should give you a sense of whether that is what you are after.

Sometimes the Japanese temple incense is made for a particular temple by a manufacturer like Shoyeido as an off-brand. It can be hard to find, unless the temple sells it.

Best of luck. It is possible to spend a lot of money searching for favorites.
posted by nobodyyouknow at 6:24 PM on February 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all, particularly milarepa, anadem and nobodyyouknow! I suspect you all have lead me to my answers. I'm following up on your links now and I'm psyched to get my hands on the kind of incense I've been thinking about.

puddinghead: Unfortunately nag champa isn't the right stuff for me. I find it very fragrant and perfume-y to the point where it distracts me which is not what I want for meditation purposes. Although I don't mind it normally.

violetk: ...I mean, if I'd asked them in person I probably wouldn't be posting here...Right?
posted by sneakin at 6:42 PM on February 2, 2008

In my experience, zendo altar incense is almost always sandalwood.
posted by mendel at 7:49 PM on February 2, 2008

If it is a sandalwood based, very woody, almost campfire scent, then it may be Zimpu Ritual Tibetan Incense. It does not come on the wooden sticks, but is hand rolled by tibetan monks. I have searched high and low for it for years, only remembering the scent from years ago.

Zimpu is sandalwood based with 25-55 other ingredients, and very non-perfumey. In the past I have only found it in random places, but now you can google it online.

What I have now at home is produced by Sonam Lama, Kathmandu, Nepal.

The best incense in the world, in my opinion.
posted by Vaike at 11:04 AM on February 3, 2008

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