In Buddhism, a type of incense known as ‘Sang’ is traditionally offered to the Four Guests while praying, whenever commencing an important task. Sang is special herbs mixed with certain foods and when burned creates a fragrant, perfumed smoke. There are different types of Sang offered to different deities and to be burned at different times of the day. The main reason to perform the Sang offering is so that one will enjoy the benefit of having no hindrances to success and also for the task to be successfully accomplished.
The basic principle of Sang is to increase one’s wakefulness. Tibetans like symbolism a lot and speak in such terms. Wakefulness means wisdom or the power to know the truth. Sang’s strength is that it can dissolve emotions just as the flame consumes firewood. Sang can be burned for three reasons: 1. To simply fragrance the air; 2. Used for ridding a space of negative energy; and 3. As an offering to the Four Guests.
The Four Guest who are invited to be the recipients of a Sang offering are: First- the Three Jewels, i.e. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; Second- the Yidam, Dakini and Dharmapala; Third- the Six-Realm Beings; and Fourth- the Karmic Creditors & Debtor which includes various classes of spirits and obstructing forces, etc.
By offering the pleasant smelling smoke to the Four Guests we receive their blessings. It is important to hold in one’s mind and heart that the Sang is an offering otherwise we are simply burning incense for the smell of it.
Breaches of samaya will be mended by offering Sang to Yidam, Dakini and Dharmapala; and, by satisfying the needs of all sentient beings, in particular one’s Karmic Creditors, we purify whatever grudges they may hold against us.
What do we mean by one’s Karmic Creditors? This refers to those that you owe, that you hurt in your past life.
In this life the Karmic Creditor (he or she) will hold a grudge towards you without an apparent reason. It’s to these Karmic Creditors that you offer Sang to pacify their hatred towards you. That feeling they have for you is hidden deep into that person’s mind so much that they may not even be aware of it.
In this instance, your Karma is something like an ‘energy’ hidden right in your soul and it radiates a signal. When you meet someone who has a negative karmic connection with you in your former lives they’ll make your life difficult. In some cases where there is a strong karmic link it becomes like a ‘big bang’ effect for you, but image how many weaker negative karmic links you have with others and what the affects of their feelings & actions have upon you. They’re out there…
The final reason for making a Sang offering to the Four Guests is to increase our opportunities for success which is called ‘Lungta’ (in Tibetan) or literally ‘Wind-Horse’ in English.
The history of Lungta is that Tibetans hung small colored flags, with one’s name written at the corners of the flags, at high places of holy sites. Being higher and at a holy site, the wind would carry one’s desires higher and higher, closer to heaven.
The same theory applies to Sang. The smoke floats up into the air with one’s prayers and the Wind Horse literally carries the person’s energy higher and higher.
When our Lungta is increased we enjoy a lot of benefits. However, when our Lungta is low and decreased, even despite our own tremendous efforts to do good, all things seem incredibly difficult for us to achieve. Even something as simple as a meritorious wish, like acquiring the right circumstances to accumulate merits, just won’t come together for us. Accomplishing the tiniest task will be encountered with an abundance of obstacles. Increasing the Lungta (Wind-horse) is essential because of it’s ability to transform negative circumstances into a positive direction.
In closing, the Sang offering to the Four Guests is incredibly powerful and useful in that it will increase our Lungta strength as well as our own inner wisdom.