Incense offering, or Sang-sol, is a ceremony performed by Tibetans
 from all walks of life to mark important events in their lives. A
 widespread national custom, it can be preformed individually or in
 groups, on occasions such as the Dalai Lama's birthday, marriages,
 third day of the Tibetan New Year, or preceding other important events.
      It is not clear whether the Tibetan custom of offering incense
 originated in India or not, as only two references to such practice can
 be found in the Indian texts. It is mentioned in the Guhyasamaja Tantra
 that one should know about the three kinds of fragrance. The other
 reference is to be found in the story of Bhadri of Magadha, which tells
 of how she invited the Buddha to her house and made offerings of smoke
 to him from the roof.
      According to the writings of various scholars, it seems that
 incense offering was carried out in Tibet from the very early times
 when the teacher Tonpa Sherab, founder of the Bon religion, first came
 from Zhang Zhung (Afghanistan/Tadzhikistan?) to spread his doctrine in
      The oldest extant text on incense offering, dates back to the
 eight century, when the Indian master Padmasambhava came to Tibet and
 built Samye monastery. This manual, containing detailed instructions on
 how to preform the ritual, was then hidden by him to await discovery at
 some appropriate juncture in the future. Several centuries later, two
 Treasure masters (tertons), one from northern Tibet and another from
 the south, discovered and revealed it. based on this Treasure (terma)
 text many Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya lamas composed the incense offering.
 Later at the time of the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, a lama by the
 name of Yeshe Wangpo, wrote a text on the incense offering from the
 Gelugpa point of view. Subsequently, three works were written on the
 subject by Panchen Lobsang Chogyen (1570-1662) and another by the fifth
 Dalai Lama.
 The Ritual
      The Incense offering should be done in the morning on a clean and
 elevated outdoor site, free of insects., either on a hill or the top of
 a house and inhabited by many local gods and nagas.
      If performed during a festival, all the inhabitants of a locality
 may assemble and, at the end of the offering, stand in a row and throw
 a handful of tsampa (roasted barley flour) in the air. As this is
 usually a happy occasion, a dance often follows. In the summer,
 incense offering is often associated with picnics on top of mountains.
 It is closely linked with the hanging of prayer flags from trees or
 tall poles, especially on the third day of the new year, but also on
 other auspicious days.
      The incense should be burned in a large urn-shaped burner (sang-
 khun) and should not have been trampled by people or animals. Wood, not
 coal, should be used as fuel and the substance to be burned as incense
 should be fragrant, such as the leaves of fern or juniper, or the
 branches of coniferous tree, rhododendron, and red or white sandalwood.
 In addition, tsampa, butter, sugar, and medicinal plants, and other
 substances free from the taint of alcohol, onion or garlic are burned.
      When offering incense, people should examine their motivation and
 reflect that by making this offering to lamas, meditational deities and
 religious protectors, they will accumulate merit, which they should
 dedicate to the benefit of all sentient beings. If they have any
 specific requests, such as prayers for longevity or the removal of
 obstacles to religious practice, they should be made at this point.
 Next the practitioners take refuge, meditate on the four immeasurable
 wishes, love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and visualize themselves
 as deities. The objects to be offered are then blessed, rid of their
 ordinary appearances and transformed by meditation, gestures, and
 mantras into an inexhaustible source of great bliss which will please
 those to whom they are offered.
      The offering ends with the practitioners asking the deities to
 forgive them for any mistakes in the performance of the ritual, such as
 improperly or incompletely reciting the words of the text. the deities
 are then asked to return to their abodes and auspicious verses are
      Incense offering can thus be preformed as an elaborate religious
 ritual, an offering of a fragrant purified of its ordinary qnalities
 and appearance to lamas, meditational deities, religious protectors,
 nagas and local worldly gods. The offering is intended to please the
 deities, who rejoice at the merit of those making the offering.
 However, incense offering can also be preformed simply because it is an
 ancient custom, and a traditional means of purifying the atmosphere.
 Incense offering is also done to mark the passing away of important
 people, lamas or officials and in these ways it is a practice common to
 both Buddhists and Bonpos.
 (transcribed from "ME-LONG, The Newsletter of the council for Religious
 and Cultural Affairsof H.H. the Dalai Lama", N0.6, April 1990)