“The way of incense is spiritual and psychological”. These are the words of the master Souhitsu Hachiya, the twenty-first descendant of a house that has dedicated the last five hundred years to the art of meditation through incense, i.e. to Kodo, during the meeting that took place in November 2016 at the Hotel Magna Pars in Milan.
A practice that provides a lifelong apprenticeship: the sense of smell is used to practice this art, which does not provide a point of arrival quickly. The fragrance is smelled and in this way reaches our soul and allows the soul communion with Nature. plants, animals, etc. – they have a soul and therefore it is possible for us, as human beings, to find a connection with all of them. It is possible to dialogue with the other beings of Nature, from whom we have a lot to learn.
The fragrances used are entirely botanical and therefore natural: they are not obtained from mixtures of synthetic molecules. During the incense ceremony held by the master, we smelled the Oud, in a particular variant, coming from Southeast Asia.
What amazes and makes this practice so profound is the sense of time it brings. When the master speaks of “timings”, he reasons in terms of ten to twenty years; learning is seen as constant practice and for example, to correctly form the base of the brazier on which the incense will be placed, reaching the perfect height that will allow an ideal smell, you must practice for years.
In the era of speed and immediate satisfaction, this vision so organic and rooted in life is striking – in Kodo they think in terms of experience, practice, dedication, and a “whole life” dedicated to art that also has connections with poetry and calligraphy. A fundamental aspect is attentive listening, a real meditative state in which a participatory and repeated smelling is requested.
Silence is also a central element; during the Kodo sessions the master does not speak, and performs precise movements – this respect is brought also because the raw materials used have matured in tens of years, and therefore the feeling that this smell is a sacred act with materials that are natural is strong and precious.
In fact, the materials are not only bought gradually: the family keeps raw materials for many years – when new material arrives, the head of the school evaluates it for a whole year, “listening” to it every day. When he feels that the moment has come, he composes a poem and chooses one of the words of the poem to name the particular type of material.
The experience of Kodo and the meeting with a master who thinks of time in an extraordinary way – aware of having five hundred years of history behind him and of being the bridge for the next centuries in this particular tradition – I think can make us reflect on who we are, and what we want to bring to the world, now and beyond. A vision: honouring those who preceded us, loving those who will come later, bring our contribution so that something precious is not lost.