Monday, January 31, 2011

Divination sticks

Question : (Unedited)
Hi Justin - Thanks for taking my question. I  visited Buddhist Temple   in Los Angeles during Chinese New Year. I witnessed a ritual in which people took a large bamboo cylinder full of thin sticks, they shook the container until a stick fell to the floor - then consulted a board displaying slips of yellow paper upon which something was written in Chinese. I wonder if you could tell me the significance of this fascinating ritual? Thanks again.

My comment:
Hi S,

Thank you for asking me.

The temple you visited was most probably a traditional Chinese temple.  Many people will call it a "Taoist" temple, which strictly speaking is not.  The Chinese have been practising a blend of "religious" rites, rituals and beliefs, garnered throughout the ages, for thousands of years.  This practice is loosely and wrongly described as Taoism and Buddhism. A typical Chinese temple will house the various pantheon of deities, while others are dedicated to specific deities such as Goddess of Mercy, God of Prosperity, and local "Patron Saints".

Coming back to your question.  The "ritual" you are describing is a sort of divination practice.  First, the "petitioner" will express his "problem" or "wish" in front of the deity.  Then he will shake the cylinder until a stick jumps out.  Before accepting the stick, he will perform another ritual, which you might have missed noticing.  He will cast two small pieces of "weird" looking blocks onto the floor.  They are shaped like split cashew nuts.  Depending on which side the two pieces face will determine whether the divination stick is accepted or not.  If not accepted then the ritual is repeated until "accepted".  The stick will refer to specific "answer" sheet obtain from the counter.  The "petitioner" will then interprete the answer sheet.  There are usually different canisters for different purposes.  There are for example, "general" questions and "medicinal" prescriptions.  The former answers are usually in the form of well known classical stories which an "expert" in these stories will be able to derive the answers.  The latter will contain a wealth of general traditional Chinese medicinal prescriptions.

Please remember that all these are very ancient traditional Chinese practices.  They are 100% Chinese.  They are not Buddhism.

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