Incense (sugandhadhåpa) is a substance that produces fragrant-smelling smoke when burned. In ancient India incense was usually made from extracts of various flowers or from the aromatic gums produced by certain trees. The Buddha often metaphorically equated virtue with a sweet smell. For example, he says, ‘Of all fragrances - sandalwood, tagara, lotus or jasmine - the fragrance of virtue is by far the sweetest’ (Dhp.55). And again, ‘The smell of flowers does not go against the wind…but the perfume of the good person pervades all directions’ (Dhp.54). When the informed Buddhist lights incense and places it before the Buddha statue, he or she silently reflects on the importance of virtue and resolves to practice the Precepts more faithfully.
In English, sticks of incense are sometimes called ‘joss sticks.’ The word joss is derived form the Portuguese deos meaning ‘god’ and thus to call incense ‘god sticks’ within the Buddhist context is inappropriate.
- http://www.BuddhismA2Z.com/ Buddhism A to Z. Ven. Dhammika, 2007.