I’m interested in attending an event at my local Buddhist center, but I suffer from severe migraines triggered by scents and I understand that incense is burned at many Buddhist centers. Does that mean I can’t attend a Buddhist meditation program?
It’s true that burning incense is common in many Buddhist traditions, but communities in the U.S. are more and more aware of chemical sensitivities. Incense is traditionally used on Buddhist shrines as an offering of scent to the buddhas. It can also represent the paramita (transcendent perfection) of ethics and morality. But because of health problems associated with breathing smoke, including allergies, asthma, and the migraines you suffer from, some Buddhist centers now forego the use of incense altogether or place it on the shrine but don’t light it. Major Buddhist communities we contacted said they mostly offer scent-free environments, and some use hypoallergenic options or flower petals in lieu of incense. If you have concerns, it’s always a good idea to contact your Buddhist center in advance to find out their policy on incense and scents.