Full Burner

What’s the best way to burn incense?

As usual, the Japanese have a whole incense-burning ceremony. Because: why not? Ritual is important; it helps us focus on what we are doing. For me, my rituals are making stuff. I can be worrying about many work-related things, or writing an article in my head, while my hands are busy doing something familiar and comfortable.

I also get familiarity and comfort from scents: it’s how I know I am home, or that I don’t completely reek of airport, or that none of my electronics are melting down. It’s my belief, not founded in much science, that human consciousness isn’t much more than a status monitoring loop that somehow evolved the ability to monitor itself monitoring things – and the notion of “self” and “souls” was born. And, when we say “such-and-such takes me away from myself” what I think we are really saying is that having an extra load on that monitoring loop actually helps some of us concentrate because it overloads the less attention-demanding signals and forces the monitoring loop to only worry about a few things. When I am really running my brain hard, I like to have incense smoke wafting in the air, and music playing. Not distracting music like Beethoven’s 9th, but something that fills the monitoring loop that is listening for predators trying to sneak up behind my desk chair. By the way: only do this if you do not have predators in your office.

So my “time to work hard” ritual is to light some incense, brew some coffee, and put on some mildly trancy music.

That is how I burn incense.

There are some technical details, too. I use a smallish bowl of some kind, filled with small particles. It can be rice, salt, sand, stainless steel ball bearings, or whatever: something you can throw away every so often, which isn’t flammable. It should be wide enough to catch the ash.


Sometimes incense will put itself out with a great big stack of ash on top of the red-hot tip. If that’s a problem, just tip it slightly. I like this kind of burner because it’s so easy to clean and set up.


I like to hold my incense horizontally while I heat the end. In this case, as usual, I prefer massive overkill in the lighter department. You want the tip of your incense to be burning a bit when you stick it end-up in the sand. The burner in the picture above is one of my “fancy” ones; a few years ago I got a couple pounds of black aquarium sand at the pet store.


Once there is a good hot “cherry” on the end of the incense, blow it out and go do something else.


  1. Brian English says

    I thought the way to burn incense was to do a couple of cones, then say ‘shit man, someone’s coming’ and quickly try to light an incense stick to cover the smell while accidentally spilling the bong water.

  2. says

    Brian English@#1:

    I had little experience with bong water until someone at a party spilled some in my carpet. Wow! That stuff is nearly impossible to get out! (wood alcohol and microfiber towels seems to work pretty well)

  3. says

    I lit a Nazi on fire like you said and now I need you to post bail. (is joke)

    We’re running a special: light 3, you get bail and a hotel and a nifty Tshirt.