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.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Buddhists do not fight over dead bodies!

Question: (Unedited)
this might be a little intruding but im doing an assignment on weather the dead of the past should be left alone by archelolgist i was wondering what the buddhist belive sould happen and the religious rituals for the past


My comment:
Hi Ja....,

Thank you for asking me.

There is this true story of a Buddhist man who died.  Then someone claimed that he was a Christian and should be given a Christian rite.  Along came the Muslims who also claimed that this man was actually a Muslim.  There was a furor between the Christian and the Muslim groups.  Someone quickly went to see a Buddhist monk to ask for advice.  The Monk said, "We Buddhists do not fight over dead bodies!"

The moral of the story is that when a person is dead, he IS dead and gone.  It is only important when the person is still living.  Of course, in reality the matter is not so simple because of human emotion for the dead; but this is not Buddhism.  In Buddhism, there is no taboo or superstition whether "to dig or not".

Smile from justinchoo :-)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Unquenchable craving

Qusetion : (Unedited)
The Four Noble Truths state that desire is the origin of suffering and so if you don't desire you won't suffer. Could the aim of reaching Nirvana be considered a desire and to that extent couldn't wanting to becoming a Buddhist be considered a desire?

Hi S...,

Thanks for asking me.

Your question is a play on semantics.  The "desire" the Buddha was referring to was about sensual desires.  Sensual desires refer to desires of the 5 senses.  These sensual desires are unquenchable.  It is the very nature of physical senses.  Take for example, hunger.  Once the hunger is satisfied with intake of food; the process of depletion starts, and after some time one feels hungry again.  Another aspect of sense desire is the stronger feeling of craving.  One's craving to satisfy one's desire is itself a catalyst to crave for more.  When this craving goes unchecked, one becomes crazy!  So the option is opened to anyone who follows the Buddha's teachings:  to continue feeding these desires with more craving, or to come to one's senses to reduce this crazy cycle of on-going "madness".

As for aiming to reach Nibbana (Nirvana), it is a very different concept.  Here we are talking about one's commitment to reduce one's greed, hatred and delusion until complete eradication.  This is not a life-long process, but countless life-processes.  "Desire" is not an appropriate word to describe this journey towards Nibbana.  “Aspiration” will be a more appropriate word. Of course anyone can still argue until the cows come home that it is still "desire".  So it is up to you to analyze and come to your own conclusion as to which is more reasonable. See, this is the beauty of Buddhism.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What is delusion?

Question : (Unedited)
What is delusion. Pls explain with examples. tq.

My comment:
Hi C,

"Delusion" is a mental state which misleads a person's perception of the "real" world.  It is like in a state of hallucination where one is unable to see the true picture.  It is like looking at a rainbow believing it to be real; or in a desert looking at a mirage.  It is the result of not knowing the real nature of things.  "Not knowing" means "ignorance".  Ignorance causes us to have a deluded mind. This mental state is the cause of all our follies.  It prevents us from seeing the real nature of this life and the universe, and existence in general.  It tricks us to view life as pleasurable, of substance, and permanent.  In reality existence is the direct opposite, that is, unsatisfactory, insubstantial, and impermanent.

The first of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right View.  If one does not have this Right View, then in the Buddhist context, one is being ignorant. And when one is being ignorant, one has a deluded mind.  With this deluded mind, one's perception of the world is flawed, resulting in stress and sorrow.  What is this Right View?  Others use the terms "Right Understanding" or "Right Perspective".  On the fundamental interpretation, it is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are the truth of suffering; the truth of the cause of suffering; the truth to the ending of suffering; and the truth to the path leading to this ending, which is the Noble Eightfold Path.

On a more comprehensive interpretation, Right View means in addition to the above, the understanding of the salient aspects of the Buddha's teachings.  The main teachings are the "Trilogy of Existence" (Impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, insubstantiality); the Universal Law of Kamma (and rebirth); the Cycle of Dependent Origination; and the five aggregates of a being.  To advance further in real understanding is the realization of these teachings (Dhamma, which means universal truths) through experiencing the results from practising the Dhamma.  Once a person achieves this realization, he can be considered to have gained wisdom.  He is no more ignorant. His mind is clear, more delusion! He experiences inner peace in this troubled world.

In common experience; it's just like a person trying to find the way in darkness.  The 4 Noble Truths are the lights dispersing the darkness.  While the Noble Eightfold Path is the road one has to travel to reach one's destination.

Smile from justinchoo :-)
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