Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Gwyneth Paltrow: “I start every day with ayurvedic meditation!”

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has revealed that she begins every day with an Ayurvedic Meditation session to prepare her for work.

After learning to meditate in 2011, Gwyneth Paltrow has quickly become similarly enthusiastic about her mental practice.

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During her birthday in 2012, she asked her fans not to bring any presents, but to make a donation to David Lynch’s foundation for teaching TM to those most in need. In October 2014, Paltrow offered all road crew members the chance to learn the technique.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s formula for absolute rest
The actress practices the technique every morning while sitting on her bed with her eyes closed for about 20 minutes to make sure she is relaxed and in a good mood before she starts work.

“I start the day with Transcendental Meditation. It puts me in the best mood. I wake up and just prop myself up in bed for 20 minutes. It’s the only time my mind gets absolute rest,” Gwyneth Paltrow says.

“It’s something that’s with you for your whole life,” Paltrow says. And she is keen to emphasize the practical, day-to-day value of practicing meditation.

“You learn your mantra, it never leaves you, and it’s the deepest rest your brain gets. For people that are so creative and have this kind of creative faucet that never turns off – it just continues and continues – it can be a little exhausting.

And, you know, with the continual responsibility of having 127 people on the road, and always being the point person for everything, my subconscious is going even when I’m sleeping.

I’m dreaming about whatever I’m creating next, or relationships, or blah, blah, blah. So I’m never really off. And meditation is actually the one time I get to really reset,” the actress told Rolling Stone Magazine in August 2014.

“I’m not the poster child for Meditation, but when I do do it, I literally can feel the neuropathways in my mind opening up.

It’s almost like a halo is created around my head and things just start vibrating again.”

Mindfulness For Beginners

From the beginners’ perspective mindfulness involves two things: (1) to maintain the presence of mind in the present moment and (2) be neutral and non-judgmental towards thoughts, feelings and perceptions [everything that arises in the mind]. Let us see the practical descriptions of mindfulness in different ways so that its meaning becomes clearer and clearer.

1. Mindfulness involves seeing things as they really are, not as one would like them to be. You just perceive without adding or subtracting anything. You try keeping it “mere observation” and “bare observation”. You train to see all thoughts or feelings without judgment or evaluation.

2. It is an impartial watchfulness without prejudice or bias. You merely perceive and take note. You don’t cling to good mental states and don’t avoid the bad states. You train not to form opinions or ideas. You don’t play favorites. You register just like a camera!

3. Mindfulness is developing present-centeredness. It is the observation of what is happening right here and right now. It is riding the ever-flowing wave of time and staying in the present moment and watching everything from there. It is staying clear of the memories of the past or ideations of the future – no ruminating, no dreaming and no imagination.

4. Mindfulness is being ever ready to observe whatever comes up in the present moment in whatever form. It also involves letting go of the present moment as it turns past. Thus, it is observing and letting go simultaneously without break (continuously). It is a wakeful experience of life, an alert but detached participation in the ongoing process of living.

5. Mindfulness is a relaxed attention in which “nothing can offend”. You are surprised by nothing and shocked by nothing. You remain neutral to everything. It is a mental ability to observe without criticism or evaluation. With this ability, you see things without preference or prejudice. You suppress nothing, promote nothing. You don’t decide or take sides. You affect nothing; and nothing affects you.

6. Applied to meditation, mindfulness points to the meaning of the Pali word ‘Sati’. It implies attention, awareness, and conscious presence of mind. It is knowing, but not thinking - you can ‘know’ that you are thinking and even watch the birth of a thought, it duration of stay and its disappearance. Of course, it needs training. During practice you will be required to catch the mind thinking. It is merely watching or observing without getting carried away by thoughts, memories, or concepts. Sati is the foundation of Vipassana (or insight) style of meditations.

7. Mindfulness means registering experiences, but not comparing them. It does not evaluate, label, or categorize them. It is not reflection or analysis. Instead, it is a direct experience of reality as it unfolds, keeping away the thinking process.

8. In mindfulness meditation you watch the universe within, paying no attention to the world outside. In meditation, you are your own laboratory. The internal universe is constantly giving you a wealth of information on the dynamics of how you relate to anything and everything. Now you have the opportunity to witness it. Thus, it is an impartial examination of the constantly changing inner world. It results in correction of your attitudes and gives you a new way of being in a detached manner – which implies experience of freedom and liberation. Your disengagement with yourself is liberation. Simple! You don't have to be a Saint or recluse to experience it - it is here and right now!!

9. As a meditator, you are both the observer and your own object of observation simultaneously. You start out as a doer who does everything habitually – whether thinking, deciding, or reacting. Mindfulness promotes you as a “watchman” who observes or as a “witness” who merely witnesses. With practice, the role of “witness” takes precedence and the “doer” becomes subordinate. You begin to react less and respond more. It is sign of a real strong personality!

10. Mindfulness weakens the egoistic attitude of “I am doing” or “I am deciding” and frees you from identification and provides space to shape a neutral behavior. It is seeing everything without reference to the concepts of 'me', 'my' or 'mine'. For instance, if there is headache, an ordinary mind would say, "I have a headache." But if trained in mindfulness, you would simply note it as some kind of sensation in the head. You are no longer carrying the burden of 'I'. This is a very important shift in the attitude. You learn to see sensations and feelings for what they are - impermanent, rather than labeling them as headache or pain. You just observe what is there without evaluation, ideation or conceptualization. You don’t play game of labels.

11. Mindfulness is like sitting beside a river and watching the water flow. You watch the flow of thoughts, feelings, ideas, and tendencies as they appear in the mind and go. It is a dynamic process of examining the flow of life, firmly established in the “here and now”. Mindfulness is all about ‘knowing’ from a safe distance. You take the mental step backward from own desires, cravings and aversions so that you can just look and say, "Oh, this is how things are and this is how I really am." It is nonegoistic alertness which identify with nothing, likes nothing and dislikes nothing. There is no 'me' in a state of pure mindfulness. As opposed to the driving seat of a ‘doer’ you settle down in the backseat as a mere ‘watcher’ or ‘knower.’

12. Mindfulness is observing the passing flow of experience moment by moment. It is observing all mental-physical phenomena taking place inside right now. It is seeing the true nature of all phenomena – arising, staying for some time, and passing away – impermanence. It is only through actual training in mindfulness you can ‘realize’ impermanence; else it remains an illusory and obscure concept – given by the Buddha and debated by intellectuals. Yes, there is a big difference between ‘knowing’ with the mind and ‘realizing’ with experience. This is exactly the same difference as you find between a preacher who only ‘preaches the words’ and a saint who actually ‘lives the preaching’!

Not Resisting Resistance

The building where I used to run a meditation group was on the same street as a fire station; one could almost guarantee that sometime during the meditation a fire engine would come rushing past, sirens wailing. Not surprisingly, people would afterwards complain: "How could I meditate with that going on?"

How often have we felt something similar? There's an unspoken assumption that the mind can only become quiet if the world around is quiet. We imagine the ideal meditation setting to be somewhere far from the maddening crowd-a retreat deep in a forest, a peaceful chapel, or the quiet of one's own bedroom, perhaps. It is much harder for the mind to settle down in a noisy environment. Or is it?

I suggested to the group that the next time a fire engine came blasting by they look within and explore whether the sound really was that disturbing? After the following meditation, a participant reported how the noise no longer seemed a problem; it was there, but it didn't disturb her. The disturbance, she realized, came not from the sound itself, but from wishing it weren't there.

This was the essence of Buddha's realization 2,500 years ago. We all experience what he called dukkha. The word is conventionally translated as "suffering," but in Pali, the language of Buddha's time, dukkha is the negation of the word sukha, meaning "at ease." So dukkha might more generally be translated as not-at-ease, or discontent-an experience we all can relate to.

The root meanings of these words add further insight. Sukha stems from su (good)-kha (hole), and usually referred to a good axle hole in the wheel of a cart. The wheel was a great technological boon of the time, and whether or not it ran smoothly around its axle would have been a primary concern for both comfort and efficiency. Conversely, the root meaning of dukkha is duh (bad)-kha (hole). There is resistance to the smooth running of the wheel, leading to friction and discomfort.

Similarly with the mind. When we accept things as they are, "go with the flow," there is ease--sukka. This is our natural state of mind-content and relaxed. Dukkha arises when we resist our experience. Our natural state of ease becomes veiled by a self-created discontent.

Thus, as Buddha and numerous other teachers have pointed out, we can return to a more peaceful state of mind by letting go of our attachments as to how our experience ought to be and accept it as it is.

Upon hearing this, people often ask: Does this mean I should accept injustice and cruelty, the homeless sleeping on the streets, or the recalcitrant attitude of my partner? Of course not. There are numerous situations that we should not tolerate, and each, in our own way, will be called to do what we can to improve the world.

"Accepting our experience as it is" means just that; accepting our experience in the moment. If we are feeling frustrated, angry, or indignant, accept that feeling. Don't resist it, or wish it weren't there; but let it in, become interested in how it feels.

Even more valuably, we can explore the resistance itself. It can be quite subtle, and not easily noticed at first. So I find it useful to simply pause and ask: "Is there any sense of resistance that I am not noticing?" And gently wait. I may then become aware of some resentment towards my experience, wishing it were different, or perhaps just a sense of tension or contraction in my being. Then rather than focusing on whatever I may have been resisting, I turn my attention to the resistance itself, opening to this aspect of "what is."

Rather than dividing experience into two parts-the experience in the moment, and thoughts and judgments about that experience-any resistance is now included as part of the present moment. Not resisting the resistance, the veil of discontent dissolves, and I return to a more relaxed, easeful state of mind.

That is what is meant by a quiet mind. Not an empty mind. We are aware of the world just as before. Aware of sounds, sensations, thoughts and feelings. We are simply allowing our experience to be as it is. Not wishing for something different, not creating unnecessary discontent.

So when you find something seeming to disturb your inner quiet-whether it be a friend's behavior, some politician on TV, or a passing fire engine-pause, and notice what is happening inside. See if there is any sense of resistance to your experience. If so, open up to the experience of resisting; be curious as to what is going on and how it feels. Allow this part of the present moment into your awareness, and you may well discover that you can be at ease in situations where before you would have suffered.

Peter Russell has been writing on and teaching consciousness and meditation for over 40 years. For more information about his work or to take his popular online course, How to Meditate Without Even Trying on a Pay What You Wish basis, visit

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How to Praying to One's Self

A friend recently asked if I ever prayed for anything. My response was yes, but not in the conventional way. I don't pray for intervention in the world, but for intervention in my mind, for that's where I most need help.

We usually think of prayer as an appeal to some higher power. We might pray for someone's healing, for success in some venture, for a better life, or for guidance on some challenging issue. Behind such prayers is the recognition that we don't have the power to change things ourselves-if we did, we would simply get on with the task-so we beseech a higher power to intervene on our behalf.

Trying to change the world occupies much of our time and attention. We want the possessions, opportunities, or experiences that we think will make us happy-or conversely, avoid those that will make us suffer. We believe that if only things were different we would finally be at peace.

This is the ego's way of thinking. It is founded on the belief that how we feel inside depends upon our circumstances. And if things aren't the way we think they should be, we start to feel discontent. This can take various forms-disappointment, frustration, annoyance, impatience, judgment, grievance-yet whatever its form, the root of our discontent lies not so much in the situation at hand, but more in how we interpret it.

For example, if I am stuck in a traffic jam, I can see it either as something that will make me suffer-being late for an appointment, missing some experience, or upsetting someone-and so begin to feel impatient, frustrated, or anxious. Or I can see it as an opportunity to relax, and take it easy for a few minutes. The same situation; two totally different reactions. And the difference is purely in how I am seeing things.

When I catch myself feeling upset in some way, I find it helpful to remember that my annoyance might be coming from the way I am interpreting the situation. If so, it makes more sense to ask, not for a change in the world, but for a change in my perception.

So that is what I pray for. I settle into a quiet state, then ask, with an attitude of innocent curiosity: "Could there, perhaps, be another way of seeing this?" I don't try to answer the question myself, for that would doubtless activate the ego-mind, which loves to try and work things out for me. So I simply pose the question. Let it go. And wait.

Often a new way of seeing then dawns on me. It does not come as a verbal answer, but as an actual shift in perception. I find myself seeing the situation in a new way.

One memorable shift happened a while ago when I was having some challenges with my partner. She was not behaving the way I thought she should. (How many of us have not felt that at times?) After a couple of days of strained relationship, I decided to pray in this way, just gently inquiring if there might possibly be another way of perceiving this.

Almost immediately, I found myself seeing her in a very different light. Here was another human being, with her own history and her own needs, struggling to navigate a difficult situation. Suddenly everything changed. I felt compassion for her rather than animosity, understanding rather than judgment. I realized that for the last two days I had been out of love; but now the love had returned.

The results of praying like this never cease to impress me. I find my fears and grievances dropping away. In their place is a sense of ease. Whoever or whatever was troubling me, I now see through more loving and compassionate eyes. Moreover, the new perspective often seems so obvious: Why hadn't I seen this before?

The beauty of this approach is that I am not praying to some external power. I am praying to my self for guidance-to the true self that sees things as they are without the overlay of various hopes and fears. It recognizes when I have become caught in the ego's way of thinking, and is ever-willing to help set me free.

Peter Russell has been writing on and teaching consciousness and meditation for over 40 years. For more information about his work or to take his popular online course, How to Meditate Without Even Trying on a Pay What You Wish basis, visit

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3 Mindfulness Techniques That Will Make You A Better Person

With everyday pressures and stresses on your lives, it sometimes becomes arduous to feel motivated, and with the whole weight of the of the globe on your shoulders, you may sometimes become sad with your life.

That is why mindfulness has been around for many centuries. It is an approach associated with awareness that comes when you pay attention - on purpose - in the current moment. It helps to improve your mindset and the way you live.

1. Practice A Breathing Exercise

This is the easiest way to bring the power of mindfulness to your daily life. It includes a brief and simple meditation routine. All that you need to do is sit still and focus on your breath as it goes in and out of your lungs, without forcing or pushing your breathing.

You just have to observe it and focus on it. In case other thoughts creep into your mind and begin to distract you, do not worry. Acknowledge those thoughts, and resume your focus on your breathing pattern each time. You must do this for 15 minutes everyday. You will immediately experience a feeling of calm. This in turn will help you to be more aware of your feelings and thoughts with a greater degree of calmness.

And with this awareness, comes the feeling to freely choose appropriate and effective responses in stressful situations rather than losing your equilibrium.

2. Establish Mindfulness Triggers

It is suggested to set up some triggers, in order to constantly remind you throughout the day to relax, and also practice mindfulness. For instance, when your phone rings, take a deep breath before answering the call, and completely focus on what the other person is saying without any multitasking.

Another example, when you come to a red light, or just before entering a conference, use it as a trigger to be mindful for just a moment. It will help you to become self-aware, thereby completely transforming you and also inspiring others.

3. Spend Time In Nature

This is another technique of practising mindfulness that will help you to become a better person. Take a walk in your garden or park, or anywhere in nature everyday, on your own.

Observe your surroundings, immerse yourself in the environment, do not answer any phone calls, and also resist the urge to Facebook then. Just be mindful of the nature's sounds you hear, and reap the benefits of this technique completely.

These techniques will definitely help you to become a better person- they are wonderful tools to be happy, calm, and centered in any situation, and improve your overall quality of life. So try them right away!

Join the thousands of others benefiting from tips like these at:

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Burma, Buddhism And Incense Sticks

May I tell you a story? It begins with a question. Do you remember the times of the 1960s and early 1970s or have you heard about them? Those were the times of the Cuba Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and John F. Kennedy's assassination. The times of 'The Beatles' asking for 'Love, Love, Love', Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, the 'Rolling Stones' and Cat Stevens on his 'Peace Train', the times of Hare Krishna, Make Love-Not War, the times of Woodstock, Hippies and Flower Power, the times of Ravi Shankar with his Sitar, Yoga, Yogis and India. Does any of this ring a bell with you? Well, that was also the time when I had my first encounter with Incense sticks. It was absolutely 'en vogue' to burn incense sticks especially on parties and to drift away on swath of incense smoke into the realm of dreams of a better world. Yes, in the 1960s we were ready to create a world without injustices and wars, in brief, to make the world a better place, or so we thought, "Peace, brother."

Back then when I have had my first 'Incense Party' experiences I did, among others, not know two things, namely that the dream of a better world would, alas, not become reality and that the soothing fragrance of incense sticks would one day become an everyday reality of my life.

What was back in the 1960s the exotic pinnacle of my life as an adolescent in Germany, who with Ravi Shankar playing in the background burned incense for no reasons other than to enjoy the sensory pleasure and the exotic atmosphere coming along with it, did later become an integral part of my everyday life. Without Ravi Shankar, though. That was 25 years ago when after some years in South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand - all countries in which incense sticks play an important role in the people's lives - I did, finally, put down roots in Burma.

In my today's life I am surrounded by the smoke and aromatic scents of incense sticks at almost every corner. At home on my family's Buddha altar, on the streets in nat houses that are placed in or at Banyan trees, in my friends' homes, in the many smaller and larger temples and pagodas that are lining the streets, and even in offices and many local stores; everywhere are incense sticks slowly burning away, mostly emanating their lovely fragrance of sandal wood, which is the most important and mainly used ingredient in Asian incense. However, in case the incense sticks are used as a repellent to keep away the troublesome mosquitoes it is citronella that is used as natural insect repellent.

When looking at it closely my article should actually be titled 'Burma, Buddhism And Incense', not 'Incense Sticks' for the sticks are only supporting the layer of aromatic elements that is attached to it and burned by way of combustible incense a process that is also called direct burning. Aromatic elements or aromatic biotic materials used for incense are generally all kinds of woods, roots, resins, flowers, seeds, fruits, herbs and leaves that release a pleasant fragrance when burned. Depending on the intended use some of the mostly used materials are sandalwood, agar wood, pine, Cyprus, cedar, star anise, vanilla, cardamom, frankincense, benzoin, myrrh, mastic, Dragon's blood, galangal, sage, tea, rose, lavender, clove and saffron.

The incense stick is just one of several possible forms of combustible incense. The other forms are cones, coils, ropes and paper. But the sticks are the by individuals worldwide most widely used form of incense. Also, they were the first form of incense I have experienced and it is therefore particularly the incense sticks that remind me on those times in the 1960s and the pleasant feelings the incense sticks have caused then and do still cause nowadays when they are slowly burning away that have triggered my wish to write this article.

Incense sticks are mostly red, occasional yellow or dark gray to black and available in two forms, which are the cored stick and the solid stick. The cored stick that is mainly produced in China and India where they are called Agarbatti (derived from the Sanskrit word Agaravarthi, gara = odour, agar = aroma, varthi = wound) comprises incense material and the supporting core of a stick mostly made of bamboo whereas the solid stick that is mainly produced in Tibet and Japan is made entirely of incense material. However, since the solid stick has no reinforcing core it is breaking easily. One special type of solid incense stick is the 'Dragon Stick'. These sticks are often very huge and are burned in open space only for they produce such a large amount of smoke that if the incense would take place inside closed space people in the room would be quickly suffocated.

The main purposes incense is used for are to worship divine beings and ask for favours of them, to facilitate meditation, to assist healing processes, to cleanse (both spiritual and physical) and disinfect, to repel insects or to just enjoy the sensory pleasure of the fragrance. But whatever the purpose incense is used for, asking for divine favours or facilitate meditation or to assist healing processes or cleansing and disinfecting or repel insects or to just enjoy sensory pleasure it all happens out of the same motive, which is to make the world a better place to be and improve life either on a small or smaller scale for a limited number of individuals or on a large scale for mankind in its entirety.

So far I have written a lot about my personal experience with incense and what incense is creating and used for and not so much about incense itself. But I think that is in so far excusable as incense does not exist for the purpose of incense itself - meaning it is no end in itself- but for its positive effects, which is to contribute significantly to the human beings getting into the state of being healthy, comfortable and happy. And it is these positive things that have caused the coming into being of incense and furthermore not only that it still exists but that it was further developed from its earliest forms into the science of aromatherapy.

The history of incense begins exactly at the moment when the first man-made spark jumped and lit a fire. The name incense itself allows drawing this conclusion because it is derived from the Latin word incendere that means 'to burn'. However, while it is certain that incense already exists as long as man-made fire it is absolutely uncertain where it has originated from. But I believe that it is safe to assume that it was not one specific place from which it originated but that it was people of many different cultures in many different places who discovered and understood independently the value of incense and realised that incense is affecting the state human beings are in spiritually, emotionally and - believe it or not - also physically. And then people began to put incense to different but mainly religious and healing uses the border between which is, by the way, blurred. Millennia old archaeological findings and historical traditions from around the world do not only support this assumption but are irrefutable evidence that it is a correct assumption.

Where is the incense stick coming from? It was the Chinese who during the reign of the Ming Dynasty that lasted for almost 300 years from 1348 to 1644 invented and introduced the incense stick that is called Joss stick in China. There is a wide range of different incense stick fragrances available for which reason the sticks can be categorized according to their aroma as floral sticks, sandal wood sticks, perfumed sticks, and so on and so forth.

It is no accident that I have put 'worshiping' at the top of the a.m. summary of uses because of all the uses incense is put to the use in religious ceremonies is definitely the most important one. By the by, incense making was an art developed and practised by monks and this brings us to the core of the topic Burma, Buddhism and incense.

Incense plays although there are cultural variations a central part in all religions from e.g. Christianity to Islam to Hinduism and Paganism and there is surely much to write about. However, in this article I want to confine it to Buddhism in general and Buddhism in Burma in particular. I have not mentioned Buddhism in one sentence with religions because Buddhism is by common definition not a religion. The definition of religion is very complex and I acknowledge that the answer to the question 'Buddhism religion or philosophy?' depends on how religion and philosophy are defined. Depending on what your personal interpretations of religion and philosophy are Buddhism will be a religion, a philosophy or both. What makes things so difficult to determine is the fact that there is no absolute consensus among scholars on what is necessary for something to be considered a religion. However, in my opinion Buddhism is a 'Way of Life Philosophy' rather than a religion. I may make this a topic of another article sometime in the future but for now I leave it at that.

For all the differences in the detail most religions are pretty much alike, which goes also for Buddhism. The initial motives are the same, the ultimate goals are the same and it is only the means to reach the ultimate goal that differ. The different main forms of Buddhism are Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism.

Theravada Buddhism, which is the oldest existing form of Buddhism began its triumphal march into present days Burma - since 1989 also called Myanmar - after having been brought to the first civilisations in this region namely, the Mon and the Pyu kingdoms by missionaries from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) long before the first appearance of the Burmans also called Bamar who were animists.

From the Mon Kingdom 'Suvannabhumi' the 'Golden Land' Theravada Buddhism also spread to neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

In 1056/57 A.D. Theravada Buddhism was introduced into the chiefly animistic Pagan (Bagan), the 1st Burmese Kingdom, by king Anawratha after his return from the victorious military campaign against king Manuha's Mon Kingdom Thaton. King Anawratha who ruled Pagan from 1044 to 1077 A.D. was converted to Theravada Buddhism by Shin Arahan, a Theravada Buddhist monk from Thaton.

After the collapse of the kingdom of Pagan in 1287 A.D. the tradition of Theravada Buddhism that was practised throughout the country and had become dominant was continued. Burma is nowadays with 86 % of its population being born Buddhists the 2nd on the list of Theravada Buddhism majority countries after Thailand with 90 % of its population being Theravadins. Burma is also one of the most active Buddhist countries and has the largest number of monks and nuns relative to the total population. At this point I feel the need to give further explanation concerning the form of Theravada Buddhism that is practised in Burma because it is not the pure Theravada as it was practised by the Mon.

Burma's Theravada Buddhism is a mixture of Theravada, Nat Cult and Naga Cult, in other words, a mixture of Theravada Buddhist doctrine, Hinduism and deep-rooted elements of the original spirit worshipping. In the following I will give a very brief explanation as to why this is so.

Even the powerful king Anawrahta was unable to eradicate the animistic beliefs of his people after being converted to Theravada Buddhism and determined to make it the dominant belief in his kingdom. Most probably he was also unwilling to do that as it would have certainly been met with the strong resistance of his subjects. Therefore he compromised. On the one hand he condemned animistic customs and beliefs and on the other hand he integrated parts of it into Theravada by officially accepting a group of 'Nats' (celestial beings or guardian spirits) reduced to 36 'handpicked' primary nats to which he added as the 37th nat 'Thagyamin'. Thagyamin is actually a Hindu deity based on Indra, who is as the 'King of Nats' reigning over 'Tavatimsa' (abode of celestial beings also called heaven or seven-highest abode of heaven). Both 'Naga Cult' and 'Nat Cult' have assimilated with Theravada Buddhist doctrines in Burma and have become an integral part of Burmese people's beliefs especially in rural areas. Even Buddhist pagodas have nats and nagas as guardian spirits. As to e.g. Yangon's great, golden 'Shwedagon Pagoda', (the world's largest and most famous pagoda) this is the nat (guardian spirit) 'Bo Bo Gyi'. Bo Bo Gyi is in harmonious coexistence with Thagyamin and images of Gautama Buddha on the pagoda terrace protecting the Shwedagon from ill fate.

Irrespective of the particular Buddhist tradition burning incense sticks is an important ritual. It is customary for Theravada Buddhists to include incense sticks into their offerings comprising apart from the incense sticks fruits, flowers, water and a candle. However, the number of incense sticks offered as a gift to Buddha is not chosen arbitrary. It is always three to equal the 'Three Jewels' in Theravada Buddhism; the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddha's teachings) and the Sangha (Buddhist monk community) what makes it a total of three incense sticks. These three incense sticks are lit together and In the Theravada Buddhist tradition placed as an offering in front of a Buddha statue either at pagodas or on home altars where the room is quickly filled with the sweet fragrance of Sandal wood, a wood that is since millennia of the utmost importance to Buddhists.

Some words of warning and advice are at this point in time appropriate because in closed environments incense smoke does also have negative effects on the humans' health. The keyword is 'indoor pollution'.

According to scientists incense smoke contains a harmful mixture comprising carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other volatile chemicals. These chemicals can as the scientists say be directly linked to physical disorders such as headache, lung disorder, liver disorder and even cancer. Therefore, rooms in which materials used for incense are burned should be well ventilated so that a continuous and sufficient influx of fresh and clean air is guaranteed in order to reduce possible damage to health to a minimum what is, ideally, zero.

We have now reached the end of my article and I hope you like it. In case you have not yet made any personal experience with incense sticks I suggest that you give it a serious try.

I am German by birth but am living since 25 years in Burma/Myanmar. I know the country, its people, its culture and its history very well what has made me an authority on Burma. When it is about books on Burma, stick with the expert. After retiring in 2012 I turned writer and am writing books on Burma the country I am privileged to call home. Please do also see my Professional Photos and my profile.

I have so far written and published four richly illustrated books on Burma. In my books I am writing extensively and detailed about the country, its people, culture, history and the life in it. The books are available as Kindle eBooks on Amazon.

For more information visit my website and my Mark Burman YouTube channel

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