Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Tour" to the Nether Realms

Recently in Singapore, a Taoist temple in Geylang introduced a new kind of religious ceremony that claims to be able to take devotees on a tour to the Nether Realms to seek out their departed relatives. This kind of ceremony was first heard of in Taiwan and was even shown before in a National Geographic documentary. Now it had finally came to our shores and there are quite a number of people willing to try it, even though they are not Taoist. The best part is that the ceremony is open to people of any race or religion, so anybody can just take a tour of Hades, even out of curiosity! But are they really able to bring people there?

The Ksitigarbha Sutra says:

"Other than by supernormal powers or by karma,
One cannot reach this hell."

In the same way, for ordinary beings to visit the nether realms without these 2 causes is virtually impossible. This type of ceremony is merely a process of group hypnosis. Under the spell of the chanting and orchestra of ritualistic instruments, the blindfolded participants grow drowsy and enter a kind of trance, causing them to see various visions of the hells. These visions are conjured up by the mind from the sub-conscious impressions of hell that are gathered from popular mass media. Many of the participants could not see their departed relatives as they have hoped in these visions. Those who could probably think of their relatives so much that impressions of how they might be doing pop up whenever the opportunity arises. In reality, those dead relatives should have been reborn into other realms long ago; how could one still find them in hell? If they are not reborn, they will be stuck in the ghost realm and that would also make it impossible for them to be found by the participant. Either way it does not seem likely for the participants to actually go to the hells and find their relatives by such means.

Such tours only serve the purpose of self-delusion, which might or might not make the participants feel better about the death of their dear ones. For those simply curious to see hell, it serves to reinforce their sub-conscious impressions of it, though they might or might not be accurate. From a Buddhist viewpoint, it is totally unnecessary because the Dhamma teaches us to calmly accept the truth of impermanence, to perceive the arising and passing away of all things. By the avoidance of unwholesome thought, one eliminates the possibility of going to hell through the compulsion of karma. By the proper practice of Samatha Vipassana meditation, one will gain the insight to see not just the hells, but all the realms of existence as they really are. This is one of the 3 higher knowledge (Tevijja) that leads the mind to complete awakening and the end of suffering. Is that not infinitely better than taking any imaginary hell tour?

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