Monday, August 25, 2008

Ghost Marriage

The Dhammapada says:
"Neither of iron nor wood nor hemp is bond so strong,
proclaim the wise, as passion’s yearn
for sons, for wives, for gems and ornaments."
On 23.8.2008 there was also another story about a Penang Chinese family who held a ghost marriage for a daughter who died of kidney failure 31 yrs ago. Apparently this "woman", Xie Mingying, had informed her family through a medium that she had found a suitable partner in the Peta (ghost) realm, and wished to get married. At first they were not very sure, but when they asked another unrelated fortune teller some time later, Xie possessed the man and repeated her wish to them. Only then they were convinced. Incidentally, the prospective husband, Xu Yuquan also informed his human relatives through the same medium of his desire to marry Xie. And so both families met up and a traditional Chinese marriage ceremony was arranged at the temple for the ghostly couple, with all the pomp and celebration of an actual human marriage. Paper effigies of the bride and bridegroom, held by their respective relatives, were used to represent them in the ceremony. All sorts of paper betrothal gifts including a new house were also presented to the bridegroom's family, to be burned for their use in the Peta realm. A wedding feast was also arranged for all the relatives present to witness the ceremony. Stories like these might sound amazing to foreigners, but they are not uncommon among the Chinese populace in this region. I myself had heard similar stories from people that I know. They tell us that death is not the end and ghosts desire love and happiness in the same way that human beings do.
This reminded me of a story told by LP Chob in the Forest Dhamma book "Patipada". At one time LP was meditating in a cave in Chiang Mai. Due to his past paramis, LP was able to perceive supernatural beings more so than any other teacher (except maybe LP Mun). As a result he was always visited by many Devadas, Nagas and Petas during his Dhutanga travels in the wild. When he was dwelling there he saw large groups of Petas moving house with their families from various districts in Isan (Northeast Thailand) to settle in the Chiang Mai hills. Like humans, some of them were seen riding on horses and cattle, holding their children and belongings in a big procession. When these groups of Petas moved passed LP Chob's cave, the leader of the group would always come to pay respect to him. So that gave LP an opportunity to inquire about the conditions of the Petas.
The leader explained to him that they were moving away from Isan because there were many immoral Petas committing all kinds of evil deeds in that region; robbing, plundering and killing one another, making it unsafe to live in. They heard from their ghostly relatives that the Petas in Chiang Mai were more moral in their behaviour, thus making it a more peaceful place to reside. When asked about all the possessions they were carrying, the leader replied:
"Those things that are useful to ghosts and those things that make up their wealth are bound to cause attachment in ghosts. Or to put it another way, there is no real difference between the results of karma in ghosts and in people, nor between those things that make up their wealth when either group have the results of karma inherent with them."
LP then asked how they were going to live in Chiang Mai. The leader explained further saying:
"We are bound to have houses, children, relatives and friends in the same way as people and other beings do. Though we are beings of one kind in the same way as others, our bodies are not visible to human eyes and the eyes of some other beings. However we are quite visible to those who have Deva bodies, and we all experience happiness and suffering in the same way. This is because the hearts of ghosts and the hearts of other beings have karma and its fruits in the same way. So wherever one is born, whatever type of birth one has and wherever one lives, one must experience the fruits of karma in the same way as all other beings."
After that conversation LP Chob realized that it was true that all beings were heirs of their own karma, no matter what realm they were reborn in. Everyone was trapped in this great mess of Dukkha together without exception. From the story of the ghost marriage to the story of the moving house ghosts, one can see that the conditions of the human and Peta realm are quite similar. One repeats the same cycle again and again in the wheel of existence, never quite getting tired of the never ending suffering. If one day we suddenly realize the true state of things, won't we also give rise to a sense of dispassion like all the Noble Ones of the past? Perhaps that is the dawn of the journey towards Nibbana!

Indonesian Black Magic

On 23.8.2008 there was an article talking about an Indonesian woman who had metal wires growing out of her stomach and chest for the past 17 yrs. Her relatives had tried to help her in the past by cutting away the protruding wires, but it was useless as they would quickly grow again at other spots. The government also sent 4 top medical experts to try to diagnose her problem, but none could tell what kind of disease it was, other than it being "very rare". X-rays done on her show 40 over wires around 10-20cm each inside her body, but how they got there and why they were growing were a total mystery. Medical science with all its technology became completely useless when dealing with this woman.
This strange case reminded me of the 2005 Thai movie "Art of the Devil 2", which at the beginning showed a male character having fishing hooks sprouting violently out of his body after he was put under a hex by a Cambodian black magician. That movie was one of the most gruesome horror movies I ever saw. Indeed, there are still many things in the world that could not be explained by science today. Black magic, as practiced in many parts of Southeast Asia, is one of them. It is more popularly known as "Gong Tao" by the Chinese. Basically there are 2 types of Gong Tao that is most feared in this region - the Thai-Khmer type and the Indonesian type. I've also seen in HK reporter Hu Huichong's documentary on black magic how both types of black magicians go about casting their hexes. These dark arts are real, and they've been around since time immemorial. Quite obviously, that Indonesian woman with wires growing out of her body had been hexed by a black magician. Yet she is still oblivious to it after 17 yrs, what a pity. This is a kind of flying needle hex (or in this case wires) in which the evil bomoh sends foreign objects into the victim's body through an incantation. The bomoh must have the victim's picture and perhaps a personal item to cast the hex. Once the hex succeeds, those foreign objects would be permanently lodged inside the victim's body until the person dies. Only the bomoh who casted the hex could remove it; it would be very difficult for other good bomohs to try to lift it. Not to mention ordinary doctors. I pray that whoever who requested for the hex to be put on the woman will let go of his or her grudges and get the bomoh to remove it. May they be freed from their enmity and suffering.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jatukam of Wat Puthaisawan

On 14.7.2008 I went to Ayuttaya and one of the temples I visited was Wat Puthaisawan. This temple is famous for its Jatukam Shrine. It's perhaps the most famous Jatukam Shrine outside of Nakhon Si Thammarat. Jatukam amulets from this temple continue to command strong recognition despite the fading of the Jatukam craze. Above we see the prominent white Prang Chedi of the temple.
A closer look at the Prang Chedi.
Climbing up, we see this shrine inside the Chedi.
The Vihara beside the Chedi.
A white Buddha statue is venerated within this Vihara.
The Cobra guardian outside the Vihara.
This is the Khmer style Phra Ruang image on another side of the Chedi.
Inside the temple's Ubosot, we see 4 Golden Buddha images as well as a portrait of HM the King when he was ordained.
A statue of Phra Siam Thewathirat, the guardian deity of Thailand was seen in the Ubosot when I went there in Jan 2009.
The doors of the Ubosot are engraved with 2 fierce Yakkha guardians in Anjali (salutation).
A newly built Vihara near the entrance. Beside it was the temple shop.
The fascinating Phra Lek Lai (rare kind of mineral) Buddha in the Vihara.
The heavily decorated main altar of the Jatukam Shrine. Besides different buchas of Jatukam, many other deities are placed on it as well.
The Jatukam Katha taught by this temple:
Namo Tassa (3x)
Kah Konom Tawai Sakkara Suriyan Jantra Jansaphanu
Duangtra Song Paendin Siwichai Suwarnaphum
Phaya Si Thamma Sokkaraj
Sip Song Nakasat Duangtra Phaya Rahu
Si Maharaj Pangpagan
Ong Rachandam Tan Por Jatukam Ramathep
Phra Jao Uthong Somdej Phra Naresuan Maharaj
Somdej Phra Ekatsaroj
Somdej Phra Jao Thaksin Maharaj Phra Sayam Thewathiraj.
This Katha not only invokes Jatukam Ramathep, the 12 zodiac animals, Rahu, Pidta Panpagan as well as famous Kings in Thai history like King Naret, Ekatsarot and Thaksin. The Jao Mae Thoranee (Earth Goddess) shrine in front of the Jatukam shrine. A Kumanthong image is also worshipped beside her.
The Katha of Jow Mae Thoranee:

Namo Tassa (3x)

Tassa Phesi Satho Yakkha Kongkha Sothang Pawattanthi
Narasena Patthi Thatung Asak Gontho Palayingsu
Pathina Nupawena Narasena Parachitha Thiso Thisang
Palayangthi Withang Sethi Asesatho Lor Sathu.

This is the 4cm Jatukam Rian (medal) that I obtained from the temple. It has Ajarn Chod's thumbprint stamped behind. The master of the shrine, Ajarn Chod was quite famous for Jatukam blessing ceremonies as well, despite being a monk. In this respect he was not unlike Luang Nui of Wat Korhong. He was also quite friendly, signing on the Rians that I got and gave me a blessing. However, Ajarn would not have his photo taken, so I did not insist. I wondered what was the reason for it.. perhaps a rule given by his guardian deities?
This is the 3" Jatukam bucha I obtained from Ajarn Chod in Jan 2009.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Travels in Narathiwat - Wat Khao Kong

Well on 16.7.2008 I had finally fulfilled my vow made in 2005 to come and visit Wat Khao Kong in Narathiwat, with the iconic Phra Buddha Thaksin image seated on a hilltop. This place is more like a Buddhist Park rather than a temple. There were no visitors whatsoever except me. Perfectly understandable considering the ongoing insurgency there. As I mused years ago, the Buddha sits ever so calmly on the hill in a gesture of transmitting the Dhamma, unfazed by all the violence taking place in this region.
Climbing up the steps to the Buddha image. Phra Buddha Thaksin was sculpted in the Chiang Saen style of Thai Buddhist art, which could be traced back to the Pala art style of Northern India. This style of art has strong Mahayana influences.
At the base of Phra Buddha Thaksin. The image was first built with concrete, then covered with a layer of golden mosaic tiles. It stands at 24 metres high and 15 metres wide - the largest in Southern Thailand.
This signboard below the altar tells us the Katha to pay homage to Phra Buddha Thaksin. It goes:
Namo Tassa (3x)
Naranarahitang Ewang Naratewehi Poochitang
Naranang Ganapanggehi
Namamisukitang Chinang Gayaputtang (1x).
Looking down from the hilltop. The highway is just outside the gate.
The Ubosot with the Chedi on top. It was built in the shape of an elephant offering a lotus, housing a bell-shaped Chedi of Mahamaya. The relics of the Buddha are enshrined inside.
In front of the Ubosot is this shrine to LP Tuad.
A closer look at the LP Tuad image. It is special in the sense that it shows LP Tuad with 1 hand facing up and the other facing down, both resting on his knees. It looks like the mudra of wish-fulfillment popular in Mahayana Buddhist images. If there was anything to wish for from LP Tuad, it must be for peace returning to this region!
The stairs leading up to the Chedi, guarded by 2 Deva images.
This is the 5-inch Bucha of Phra Buddha Thaksin I obtained from the temple, made of black bronze material. Does it resemble the original one? I like it a lot as I have some affinity with this Buddha. With that, I concluded that day's journey and went back to Hadyai.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Travels in Narathiwat - Wat Mai Naparam

The journey from Hadyai to Wat Mai Naparam in Narathiwat took almost 4 hrs by car. It was very far, near to the Kelantan border. On the way there were little people and vehicles seen on the road. It was almost like a deserted area after years of unrest. Above we see the gate of the temple, which was ornately decorated with images of Phra Pidta, Sangkachai, Buddha and other deities. Wat Mai is the temple of the famous LP Dum, an expert on making prized Pidtas amulets with powers of invulnerability.
The Ubosot of Wat Mai.
Outside the Ubosot we see this bronze gong carried by 2 human statues. On the gong was inscribed the Chinese words "Ever-turning Wheel of Dharma". This was donated by LP Dum's many Chinese followers in Kelantan.
Another Ubosot. Quite rare to see a temple with 2 Ubosots. Wat Mai must be quite rich.
A view of the bell tower and the 2nd Ubosot.
The Vihara that worships the Buddha, 3 of LP Dum's masters (including LP Kron aka Tok Raja) as well as many other deities. I think it must be clarified that LP Dum is not LP Kron's direct disciple. He learned the art of making protective amulets from another master. On the right we see an image of the Earth deity, curiously being robed in a police uniform.
An ancient chunk of "Mai Takian" wooden log on the left side of the Vihara, believed to have magical properties. The signboard says this Mai Takian is already 1,200 yrs old!
LP Dum's kuti. Unfortunately, that day was 1 day before Khao Phansa (16.7.2008) and LP Dum had left to look for other monks to stay in the temple during the rains retreat. All the good stuff were locked inside his kuti and nobody else had the key except LP Dum. Not knowing when he would be back, we (me and my driver) had our lunch and hung around for an hour, but to no avail.
The peahens reared by LP Dum in a big cage behind his kuti. It was disappointing as I had made a wasted trip there, neither seeing LP Dum nor getting any of his stuff. Later when I got back to Singapore, I learned that he had gone to Bangkok after a few days in the temple. I was also advised to call him before I go the next time to confirm he would be in. Otherwise I might very well be frustrated again.. I'll surely remember that by heart after this lesson learnt.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Travels in Pattani - Wat Sampowchey

On 16.7.2008, I was on the way to Narathiwat and passed by Wat Sampowchey in Pattani, so I decided to go in to take a look. This is the temple of the famous LP Thong (not the same as LP Thong in Songkhla), who is honored by even the royal family in Bangkok for his achievements in Buddhism. Above we see the Ubosot. There was a whole platoon of soldiers stationed inside the temple as it is located in Panare, more dangerous district of Pattani. They gave me curious looks as I toured around the temple.
A shrine to Phra Buddha Toh Hak, the principal Buddha image of this district.
The yet to be completed Chedi. LP Thong has been gathering funds for the past 3 years to build the Chedi, but progress has been slow due to the unrest.
The Sala with the odd ox-headed deity painted on the roof.
Inside the Sala.
In the Vihara where they keep the good stuff, we can see many interesting pictures of LP Thong. On the right we see him receiving a ceremonial fan from Somdej Kiaw, the acting Sangharaj.
A LP Tuad nickel rian (medal) that I obtained from the temple. This piece is part of the batch to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wat Sampowchey in 2537 (1994). Some readers ask me why I don't show a LP Tuad bucha from the temple, as I like to do. Well the reason is that there are no LP Tuad buchas available for chow in the temple!
As I was about to leave, I managed to catch LP Thong coming out of his kuti to take his midday meal. There were many soldiers to keep him company as you can see. Now he no longer meets visitors to bless them as he is getting quite old and frail. So I was lucky to be able to see him and take a picture. After saluting LP Thong from a distance, I continued on my journey to Narathiwat.