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The Japanese Art of Incense “Kodo” with Master Lim Say Fon

The Japanese Art of Incense “Kodo” with Master Lim Say Fon

Breakaway Magazine
  • Singapore

Master Lim Say Fon is an Esoteric Buddhist for twenty-eight years who has dedicated his life to Kodo (香道), the traditional art of incense appreciation. In Esoteric Buddhism, incense plays an important part as to which natural materials contain certain properties that can affect our body, mind and soul. An art that has been well preserved for thousands of years, Master Lim Say Fon breathes life and passion into imparting the sacred knowledge of Kodo. He has hosted countless workshops in Singapore and has been invited to teach Kodo across the globe. He is a recipient of international achievements from The China International Highest Agarwood Association, The China Aromatic Incense Therapy Culture Institute and The China Aromatic Incense Association. He has also been nominated as an honorary professor for the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at the Imperial College of London. His extensive knowledge of the aroma world led him to the establishment of The Shambhala Kodo that propagates the culture of the secret and sacral art of aromatic incense therapy.

The vast benefits that Kodo can contribute to oneself and to society are amazing. Kodo uses natural herbs and spices that bring spiritual, psychological and physiological benefits. Master Lim Say Fon strongly believes that to have a healthy mind, one must also have a healthy body. With a healthy body and mind, one can have a healthy soul. As the aroma is able to bring inner peace, it is especially effective for this modern world where our stress level is extremely high. Kodo enables us to anchor ourselves down in seeing our greatest potential and how we might live life to the fullest, healthier and happier.

This interview has been edited for readability, clarity and conciseness.

How did you come to study the secret and sacred art of Kodo?

Since I was young I have been marveled by the aroma that is given out by incense. I learned traditional Shingon Buddhism practice in Osaka, Japan as a Buddhist Vajra Master Instructor. I received Yoga and Ayurveda certification from Spirit Yoga Foundation in Rishikesh, India. The knowledge of aromatic therapy is in the hands of very few Masters. It was not easy to find a Master that could impart all the hidden knowledge of Kodo as this culture has been lost in many countries. Through many years of searching for a teacher, my prayers were finally answered when I found Japanese Kodo Master Hidetsugu Tanaka, becoming the first Chinese student to learn from him.

How did Kodo originate?

Kodo has been greatly influenced by China, particularly during the Tang dynasty twelve thousand years ago. Jian Zhen was a monk that brought Buddhism and Kodo culture to Japan.

Explain the philosophy, significance and role of Kodo in Japanese culture.

Kodo is well kept in Japan. Unconditional love is the greatest philosophy of Kodo. The significance of Kodo is to unite nature with all our senses, to appreciate our entire being, nature and everything around us. The role of Kodo is to make a connection with the environment to anchor one’s self. The aroma that comes from the natural ingredients enables us to connect to nature. This is the essence of Kodo as it was given to us by the ancient wise men. Unite all to one, and one to all. Heaven, earth, elements, our body, mind and soul are all connected. The aroma from the incense has a deep and magnificent quietude that can penetrate our heart and make our mind still. Aromatic incense therapy penetrates deep into our mind with great tranquility, able to transcend our inner soul beyond the mundane world. Kodo connects us with the space around us. It heightens our awareness through our senses. It bridges the connection between the conscious and the subconscious mind. It is the cross junction of the formed (physical world) and the formless world, transforming from material to formless space.  

Why did incense become popular in Japan?

Incense initially became popular in Japan because of its associations with Buddhism. The incense is used to purify the air, creating a more sacred space for performing ritual through ceremonial and religious roles. Many of these old formulations are still kept as secret and sacred. Before prayers, shower with incense. At the starting of prayer, it is important to clear the air and purify the surroundings. This has played an important part in many religious ceremonies. When we infuse the aroma of the incense, we are infusing the essence of heaven and earth.

What does Kodo do from a spiritual point of view?

Kodo enables us to cleanse negative energy and provide balance to our seven chakras. As we all know, the environment around us is full of energy. Incense is able to balance and detox the negative energy of the space.

How is incense made?

The initial use of scent therapies started with natural plants. Combinations of different herbs and spices were burnt to produce alluring scents; this gave birth to incense. With the evolution of incense, came the distillation of plants and spices for their aromatic oils, commonly known as essential oils. In making aromatic incense therapy, we use different parts of plants and grind it into powder. We mix it with its own formulation to produce an astounding effect to the body, mind, and soul.

Can you explain the difference between air aroma and aqua aroma?

Incense is classified into two broad categories. One is air aroma and the other is classified as aqua aroma. Air aroma is like incense powder. The powder is formed into an incense stick with the aroma being defused into the air without using water to disseminate the aroma. Aqua aroma is like essential oils and perfumes. They require water as a medium to defuse the aroma.

Incense Trail Forming with Lim Say Fon

How does incense enter our body?

When we light incense, the scent enters our body in three ways. Incense can enter in through our nose, leading to our lungs. According to Chinese wellness, our lungs are connected by hundreds and thousands of Qi energy meridian pathways. As we breathe incense in, the great herbal properties enter from our nose into our lungs. These healing properties will be transported to other organs through these Qi meridians. Second, the aroma can enter through our nose and go to our brain. Our brain will become more alert as the aroma activates our brain cells. This explains why during the ancient Tang dynasty period, scholars would light incense when they studied. It was used to keep their brain alert. Third, the aroma enters through our largest organ, our skin. The aromatic healing properties will enter through the pores to make its way into our body.

Aromatic incense therapy can be used in so many ways. Can you explain some?

One of the most popular ways is to burn the incense and infuse the great properties that come from the herbs. Incense is lit to make a connection between oneself and the divinity. Incense trails are an ancient Chinese style of burning incense used for thousands of years all over Asia. Depending on the ritual, different herbs and spices can be mixed together to perform a certain function. In the past, before any ritual began, practitioners would take a shower in a tub filled with different herbs, spices, or incense powders to cleanse the body. The powder from the incense can be used to shower, or it can be applied directly to the body. Belly button treatments are also an option. The powder is applied at the belly button for detox and replenishing Qi which is the energy flow in our body. It can be super effective if you know how to use aromatic incense to purify your home or office. After purifying the space, purify our body and mind. Apply a small amount of incense powder on your palms and rub them together gently. Infusing the aroma with our palms enables us to have a peaceful mind.

What are some of the healing properties derived from Kodo?

Aromatic incense therapy embodies not only rich aroma, but also great health benefits and efficacious results. Using all natural ingredients and formulations from the ancient wise men, we are able to bring about many benefits through natural remedies. Incense is one of the greatest gifts that mother nature and the cosmos has given us. The powerful aromas have great powers and can influence our moods and emotions. The therapy brings them great peace, joy and appreciation for life. Kodo has been proven to help with depression, anxiety, insomnia, constipation, low self-esteem and so much more. As it is made from many different herbs, it can strengthen immunity and provide a great flow of Qi energy in the body. From my many years of experience, I have been able to help many different people. I have helped students who can’t study very well from being last in school to becoming a top student. I have helped many broken families with unhappy relationships become one great happy family. I have helped save many from suicidal thoughts to becoming someone who now appreciates life. The reward is being able to live life to the fullest and bring smiles to many.

Explain the power of plants in Kodo.

As an aromatic incense master, the vibrations from different plants and herbs is very crucial in formulating incense combinations for specific purposes. All plants have their own energy or aura, which are expressed in terms of its aroma. Plants are the only natural beings that are continuously absorbing the sun, moon and stars, flooded with the energy from the earth. From the blessings that plants receive from heaven and earth, it encapsulate an essence and forms a unique aromatic scent. This essence pervades in the roots, stems, leaves, branches, flowers and fruit.

What plants produce what effect?

Plants that give strong scents energize us the most. Plants that give more of an herbaceous scent provide a more calming effect. Plants that provide an earthy or woody scent give us an anchoring effect. The aroma does not stop at the psychological level, but also has an effect at the vibration level.  Some plants have vibration effects for eradicating negativity in life; some have great tendencies for boosting vibrations of positivity. Some plants have loving energy and some plants attract positive energy.

In this world we are facing today, positivity is something that is crucial to mankind. How does Kodo help with positivity?

A positive mindset enables the human race to live happily. Kodo is an excellent medium that promotes positivity in life. The alluring aroma enables one to heighten one’s positivity and brings peace to one’s mind, body and soul.  It is a great channel for positive manifestation. Everything on earth has an energy sphere or aura. There are both positive and negative auras that can in turn lead to our destiny or fate. Aura will determine your destiny. A person with a positive aura will go far in life. A negative aura will bring sadness, frustration and depression. The goal is to bring great benefits to many by creating positivity in our lives through Kodo. The method uses aromas from nature to connect people to the environment.

Incense can help you to de-stress and provide a general sense of well-being. What scents do you recommend?

When you’re looking to relax after a hard or stressful day, here are some of the best scents you can consider. Jasmine is derived from a little white flower which is known to bring joy to those that use it. It has been found to calm the mind while assisting in the reduction of depression. Chamomile is a small flower which is similar to a daisy. It is a popular ingredient within herbal tea and the incense is known to produce feelings of warmth and comfort. Sandalwood is a common scent within Buddhist temples. It is used to produce relaxation and serenity in worshipers but is also a wonderful scent to produce in your home. Those looking to reduce stress won’t go wrong with lavender. The soft purple flower is known for the relaxation and sleep effects that it provides.

What do you recommend infusing for meditation?

To have a stable meditation process, it is good to add agarwood as one of the ingredients to infuse while meditating. To experience a peaceful state of mind, sandalwood is a great ingredient!

How about if we are looking to energize ourself?

For energy to our body, clove and anise seed is a great combination. Lemongrass can also be used as citrus aromas are best known for promoting energy, concentration and alertness.

Why do you think, in this modern world, people have not discovered the great properties of Kodo?

The use of natural plants and oils has been greatly transformed. The use of synthetic fragrances is mainstream today. Nearly 95% of incense is not from natural herbs or spices, but by-products and woody debris.

How do you suggest we embrace our spirituality, and what the natural world offers?

For me, how I embrace spirituality is to embrace compassion and wisdom. Having equanimity to mankind, we have the wisdom to liberate ourselves from self-illusion. The natural world has given us an unspoken wisdom of the universe. It seems to encompass a dichotomy between science and mysticism. With further in-depth knowledge, one will discover that it gels with great logic. It is the epitome of the great mystical wonders of nature. The natural world is a healing world. Nature has given us the ability to raise our vibration in seeing the positivity in ourselves and others. Learning to see the positivity will allow us to raise our vibration to a level that fractures our ignorance of illusion.


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