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Jingxiang (敬香), Shangxiang (上香), Baishen (拜神) is a ritual of offering joss incense accompanied by tea and or fruits. It is observed by a devotee holding joss incense with both hands in front of an altar while praying or meditating. For added respect the devotee or descendent is expected to kneel during and after placing the incense in the urn or at the altar.
Jiangxiang is practiced by adherents belonging to one of the schools of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, as well as those making a general prayer to one of the Chinese deities, sending well wishes to a deceased ancestor as part of daily prayers in Chinese ancestor veneration, or celebrating the Qingming Festival, Ghost festival and Chongyang Festival .
Number and meanings of incense
The number of joss stick varies. When a devotee uses five, the sticks each represent respect for Tian Di Jun Qin Shi (天地君親師), where tian and di denote the realms of heaven and earth; jun the ruler—which could be Guan Shengdi, the prime minister, or another leader; qin the kins and relatives; and shi one's teacher or teachers.
When offered with three joss sticks, each stand for Tian Di Ren (天地人), again tian and di for the two realms, and ren for all humanity as well as those who are deceased. Lastly it can also be practiced with one joss stick, denoting all creation, including both heaven and earth.
Rarer still would one use nine josses which come to denote all of creation and all of heavens.
Joss incense is sandalwood or sandalwood-scented (檀香), as the scent of sandalwood is believed to calm the human spirit or yuanshen. The same effect is believed to affect the spirit of a deceased ancestor or a Sheng Fok Xian Zhen. In this connection it also serves as a notice to the deity an adherent is respecting. It is not a form of food to gods.
Usually Jingxiang is done with an offering of tea, in a number corresponding to the gods, typically three cups. Fruit is generally offered to accompany Jingxiang, again the specification differs for temples or deities.