The rich, dark resinous heartwood, agarwood is valued in many cultures for its uniquely potent perfume, its purported medicinal benefits and its use in spiritual practice. For thousands of years, the smoky, woody essence of oud oil and agarwood has been used as an incense in the Middle East as well as Southeast Asia.
The aromatic wood is also used to create meditation beads, particularly to inspire a sense of mindfulness in Buddhism. In fact, Lord Buddha said that the aroma of burning agarwood, “is the scent of Nirvana”. In Buddhist scriptures it notes that burning incense is a way of casting bad luck asunder.
The precious wood, produced from a mold infecting the light-colored evergreen Aquilaria trees is also mentioned in ancient oral texts, the Vedas Sanskrit; the primary language of Hinduism. The cultural importance of agarwood and oud oil still permeates traditions today and is held in high regard.
In Christianity too, agarwood is alluded to in texts in the Old Testament in regard to the Garden of Eden. Within many religious ceremonies and rituals from Taoism to Catholicism and Islam, there are references and practices using the resin and oil.
Agarwood, which is the only wood that sinks in water, is made into malas which are meditation beads worn round the wrist or hung round the neck. Most malas have either 108 beads and a so-called guru bead at the top, and are used to recite mantras, recount deities and in chanting.
There are various explanations to account for the number of beads, from the number of energy lines in the body connecting chakras to being the number of steps on the road to enlightenment. The mala is often held in the hand, always the right hand, and the beads moved like rosary beads during meditation. As the skin warms the beads, the resin exudes a wonderfully earthy, musky perfume. This type of meditation is known as ‘japa mala’ in Sanskrit. In Hare Krishna practice, the beads represent the names of the 108 gopis or followers of Vrindavan and reciting these names is part of a sacred ceremony. In Islamic rituals, there are typically 99 or 33 prayer beads.
Agarwood has been used to create spiritual sculptures and carvings too. Believed to be the oldest wooden statue in Taiwan, the famed Penglai Lao-tsu in Qingshui Zushi Temple is made from a single piece of agarwood.
Used to stimulate mental clarity and instil a feeling of inner peace and harmony, agarwood is utilized by Tibetan monks and many other religious figures from Muslims to Shamans. The restorative powers of the wood and oud oil are believed to inspire spiritual journeys and enlightenment; releasing negative emotions and bringing about a state of higher consciousness plus a greater feeling of connectedness.
Qi refers to life’s natural energy force underlying Traditional Chinese Medicine and religious beliefs. In Feng Shui, it is believed that agarwood can be used to energize a room’s stagnant energy flow and is a divine source of Qi.