Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
I was reminded of this question when I had received some questions from friends on our recent incense venture. Some of the questions were like, are the Hall of the Peaceful Heart incenses any different from the blended incenses we see on on the Japanese Incense market? What is so unique or special about the Hall of the Peaceful Heart and that you had decided to work with him? How are blended incenses made?
To answer the question on how we’re different from the general market incenses, We only use natural ingredients, and all our ingredients are carefully selected and processed, and we make our incenses with well researched and well defined steps.
Take for example, there is a popular dish in China, known as Tomato with Scrambled Eggs, and how most people whom had attempted to create it themselves at home without the knowledge of the recipe, often end up with a terrible mess!
As you eat this dish, the egg pieces are smoothly coated with juicy tomato, the tomato pieces giving good contrast in taste, shape and texture, providing an enjoyable eating experience! If you were to try to make this dish, would you :
1) Beat the eggs with tomatoes?
2) Would you scramble the egg first and add the tomato pieces whilst the egg starts to cook?
3) Would you stirfry the tomatos and then add the egg?
A simple dish like this illustrates the many different possibilities, and each giving a different outcome. And nope, the above few ways are not correct. The proper way to cook this dish, is to stir-fry the tomatoes separately, and then scramble the eggs separately, and finally combining them later. This ensures that the egg does not get “messed up” by the acidity of the tomato juice, the egg pieces remain large and bitey, and the dish does not become a soggy mess. Egg and Tomato takes different amounts of time to cook.
For blended incenses, knowing the ingredients is not enough. The recipe must come with the instructions on the sequence and the treatment of various materials. The most unfortunate thing about the widely circulated copy of Chen’s Family Incense Manual from the Tang dynasty, it does not contain instructions, nor sequences/steps. Flour, sesame, salt, meat, vegetable. How does it become a hamburger? Through a series of sequential steps, making the bread.. grilling the meat.. and reconstituting the system. If you put everything together in the beginning and blend it.. it will be a gross mixture.
After sufficient investigation, it eventually seemed evident that incense formulations and the methods/steps were passed down in separately. Reminiscent of how chinese martial arts were passed down, a written volume on the physical methods, and a written volume on the inner philosophical (potentially Qi/meditation) contents.
Below is an example of an incense formula (with modern chinese translation) with the exact steps required to reconstitute the incense. Briefly, the juniper material had to be ground into powder using a stone mill, water from a certain temple/monastery’s water, steamed, and dried in the shade for a few days. Benzoin or mastic resin to be treated with a type of wine known as Bamboo Leaf Green.
This is the difference, of Jin Xin Tang, the Hall of the Peaceful Heart when compared to other incense blenders. All the materials used to make the incenses are processed differently, and the compounding of the formula is done with proper sequences. We also research on ancient recipes and test out different sequential steps possible, it takes a lot of time but it is important, in order to faithfully reproduce the incenses as they were, over a thousand years ago.
Take for example Holy Lotus and Blue Lotus, both incenses are formulas that were orally transmitted to Dr Li Fupeng of Jin Xin Tang through the last remaining monastics of Chinese Esoteric Buddhism in China. Formerly used at Huazang temple in the Yuan Dynasty, the original formula was thought to be dated to a tang dynasty monk. It comes with a complex set of sequential steps and instructions, requiring over a week of work before the incense dough is ready for extrusion.
Three of the ingredients of Samadhi pre-compounded together with some water added, mixed and pounded and dried in the shade. The clumps will eventually have to be ground again into a fine powder, and mixed with other ingredients/compounded ingredients before binder addition for dough making for extrusion.
A huge bamboo sieve, containing sandalwood powder that is pre-treated and mixed with two other ingredients, allowed to dry.
Premium “soil” aloeswood powder that has been processed to enhance the sweet cooling notes, a key ingredient in Shorankoh, Samadhi and Pureland.
An interview article by a local magazine on Dr Li.
We’re on the midst of transitioning to using a better extruding machine that will allow us to more uniformly extrude straight sticks.
Apart from that, everything else, from raw ingredient selection, blending, processing, incense dough making etc, they are all carefully done by hand.
It is through all these sequential steps and proper formulations that the incenses of Jing Xin Tang can provide these unique usage/experiences.
Holy Lotus / Blue Lotus – These incenses are extremely useful in helping one relax and wind down. It creates a gentle air of calm, and in the relaxing process, we start to un-tense stiff muscles, empty our minds, which will help in smoothening the flow of “qi” throughout the body. It fills the air of the environment with a peaceful, clean and transparent feeling, like that of a sacred Zen Temple.
Samadhi – The incense blend is based on a Zen-temple’s recipe with some modifications. The scent of this incense in the unburnt state can be well appreciated by sniffing directly. The scent of it, in both burning and unburnt states, creates a state of focus in the regions of our forehead, which can help in meditation, or a helping create a state of focus in helping us accomplish tasks.
Pureland – It creates an air of purity and cleanliness, the purifying of the environment helps us empty our minds and purify us from stress and negative emotions. The ingredients used in this stick are all unique ingredients that are integral in targetting negative emotions.
Sho-ran-koh – Driven by high quality musk and premium aloeswood, the musk is like a flying spear head dragging along with it the sweet calm aloeswood decorated with hints of spice.