Friday, May 01, 2009

Incense: Devotion or Disaster?

This is Shoyeido's "Translucent Path" incense, at USD $1,799. for approximately 90 sticks. That is about USD $20.00 a pop, which is a whole lot of devotion. Shoyeido is the world's oldest, continuously operating commercial incense manufacturer, in business for over 300 years at the same location. 

What makes this incense so expensive is the proportion of aquilaria agallocha (agaru, or aloeswood) in the formula, and I have very mixed emotions about that. Aloeswood is a key ingredient in the entire palette of Tibetan rlung medicines, and the very best quality Tibetan incense, and it is also highly endangered through over-collection. 

So, who is doing the over-collecting? Some fingers point to the Japanese incense manufacturers, and their "harvesting" practices. Shoyeido has responded to this criticism with a thinly disguised aloeswood information site, and again, I do not know how I feel about this.

To obtain the best medicinal quality (black) raw material takes at least 50 years or more of growth, and there are only so many trees fitting that description left in the entire world -- chiefly in Southeast Asia, where the yen gun can do a whole lot of shooting.

So, all in all, I guess this really is the most expensive incense in the world, because if we keep burning it, we're going to extinct the tree it comes from. There are annual international conferences to address the problem, but it looks like too little, too late.

All of the above being said, there is an alternative, and it is actually an excellent alternative. I highly recommend Nado Poizokhang Grade 'A' from Bhutan, for a number of reasons. First, theirs is currently the highest quality "Tibetan" incense in the world, and second, they operate in an environmentally-conscious fashion, and always have. This was actually a Bhutanese Royal government firm up until the 90s, when it was privatized. The formulas they use are in some cases over 700 years old, and the collection and manufacturing methods have not changed.

I had a very reliable supplier for this up until around 2006, and I bought it by the case, but as I reach the end of my supply, I do not see any current overseas stockists who handle the quantities we seem to use. You can find suppliers online, but the prices are just insane (the firm "Essence of the Ages" being the worst offender in that regard -- a Christian outfit that exploits Himalayan incense manufacturers mercilessly). My advice is to try buying direct from the manufacturer.

You should beware: this incense is frequently counterfeited by the Nepalis, in which case the packages are sometimes spelled "Nado Poezokhang," so you have to watch carefully. You won't have to "sniff" carefully, as the difference is immediately recognized.

I specially recommend their "Riwo Sanchoe" sticks, and their Zangdrup and Sangchoe powders: quite heavenly in every respect.

Some of the traditional pharmaceutical suppliers also offer high quality incense, and in this regard you can investigate Men-Tsee-Khang's "Sorig" brand (made in India), and also Menjong Sorig, from Bhutan, which is in many respects of much higher quality, although they do not export.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

7 reader comments:

pemadorje385 said...

wow! any idea where I can contact the manufacturers of the Nado incense?

TENPA said...

Nado Poizokhang
(Specialized in hand-made incense)

Changgangkha,Thimphu, Bhutan
P.O. Box No. 114

Tel: +975-2-323107/333983
Fax: +975-2-335792

Email :

Web :

pemadorje: like your blog, by the way

Anonymous said...

I get what you're saying about Agarwood. It has to be crucified with nails for chrissake. I was just reading about it in an article: Gerard A. Persoon, Agarwood: The Life of a Wounded Tree, IIAS Newsletter, no. 45 (Autumn 2007), pp. 24-25. You can get to it through this link:

TENPA said...

Pema Dorje: This is an excellent article! Thank you very much!

TENPA said...

This is a hot link to the article.

pemadorje385 said...

thanks :)

Darshan said...

Darshan International has been involved in this pure and sacred art of making forever 50 years and has experienced the growth of the importance of incense in every field. We are manufacturing like Agarbatti, Incense Sticks Manufacturers.