Shoyeido’s Zen series features three different long stick, sandalwood-based incenses that are nearly perfect for meditation. Not only are the sticks 13″ long, but they’re two or three times as thick. One must conclude that these sticks are very good value for money, after all, consider breaking them into 60 6 1/2 inch sticks and then multiply times three to account for the relative thickness and you’re getting considerable value for your money, whether it’s the $7.95 Sitting, the $9.95 Morning or the $11.95 Evening Zen. However, on all accounts the Zen series is going for subtlety, which means it’s possible that the one (shorter) stick sampler Shoyeido offers is unlikely to give one the time to really explore how truly sublime this series is. Like the inspiration, many of the Zen series best qualities will just seem out of reach, ineffable and difficult to describe, all qualities perfect for aiding one’s meditation sessions. With time, these continue to impress and I’m starting to consider them among the best sandalwood-based incenses you can buy.
The most inexpensive in the series, Sitting Zen, is perhaps the most ineffable of the series. Every time I burn this stick it’s as if it’s asking a question. What is it just outside of this aroma? It’s as if the sandalwood, clove and cinnamon act just as the vessel for the scent, providing a sublime, slighty resinous sandalwood aroma that seems to be part of a combined experience between meditator and atmosphere. When this aroma clicked for me, I was amazed to see something so incredibly crafted for this price. At one point I didn’t think I’d stock it at all, but it creeps up past all your defenses.
The Morning Zen is quite a bit more active in terms of aroma and is the only stick in this series that isn’t green. Aromatically this is not far off of the Shoyeido Large Coil Goku-hin in that it’s centrally a sandalwood incense that accentuates the ingredient’s buttery and woody natures, with the spice moving around the outside. Overall it’s a little richer and more polished than Goku-hin, but it’s likely to scratch the same itch. As with Sitting Zen, there does seem to be something just out of reach here as well, although it’s something more in the spice than in the overall stick, as the basis here seems to share between cinnamon and sandalwood.
The series’ triumph is the Evening Zen. While the ingredients here are largely sandalwood, clove, patchouli and benzoin, there’s a very noticeable top oil note that’s quite floral, although not overwhelmingly so. The benzoin really comes through in this incense, which gives it the same sort of resiny notes you tend to get in the Kyukyodo low-ends, something almost perfectly complementary to the wood. Where the former two incenses seem to describe ineffable qualities by what they don’t say, Evening Zen navigates the mysteries by its complexity, the top oil notes and rather involves wood base constantly resolving unity out of duality.
Among the most brilliant and affordable low end incenses, Shoyeido’s Zen series is one to explore thoroughly as the brilliance of the craft reveals itself with consistent use. I went from exploring the sampler, not really picking up much, and then needing a second sampler to realize that there was really a lot to these incenses. Now I’d probably want all three in stock, especially for sessions where you need a stick that will go for two hours.