It is indeed sad when we come across long-time practicing
Buddhists who do not seem to have real confidence in going to
the Triple Gem for refuge. They run to temples and shrines to
worship and make material offerings to various gods and
deities in prayers of supplication; some go to mediums, fortune
tellers and ‘holy monks and priests’ to have their fortunes read
and to consult on ways to live their lives. In the process, many
waste lots of money while some are conned.
Have we forgotten what the Buddha said about true refuge? In
The Dhammapada Verses 188 – 192, the Buddha said,
“They go to many a refuge, to mountains and forests, to park
and tree shrines: people threatened with danger.
That's not the secure refuge, not the supreme refuge, that's not
the refuge, having gone to which, you gain release from all
suffering and stress.
But when, having gone to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
for refuge, you see with right discernment the Four Noble
Truths — stress, the cause of stress, the transcending of stress,
and the Noble Eightfold Path, The Way to the stilling of stress:
that's the secure refuge, that, the supreme refuge, that is the
refuge, having gone to which, you gain release from all
suffering and stress.”
In the mid-19070s, I heard about Sai Baba, the ‘Man of
Miracles’; some regarded him as a god. I started to read
accounts and books about him. To many, reports of his many
‘miracles’ were very fascinating – mind-reading, teleportation,
materialization, healing powers, clairvoyance, psycho- kinesis
and other psychic abilities. Thousands of people all over
thronged to see Sai Baba in India – to listen to his religious
sermons, witness his ‘miracles’ and to seek for cures for their
ailments. One of our family friends who had an advanced stage
of cancer went to seek help from Sai Baba. He managed to get
near him and receive his ‘blessings’. Upon his return home, the
sick patient reported that he had been cured of his cancer but
some months later the cancer came back. It was then that some
members from a Christian group came and evangelized to him
and his family. They convinced the cancer victim that a
conversion to Christianity could cure him. So, this friend and
his family converted. Initially there seemed to be improvement
in his ailment but before long he succumbed to the cancer.
(One who understands would know that some cancers could go
into remission only to surface again. Of course, there have
been cases of faith healing but this is no monopoly of any
religion. Some Taoist mediums have even been reported to
bring about a cure for ‘sick people beyond redemption’!)
When one understands, practices and realizes the Dhamma,
teachings like the 5 Universal Orders, Karma and Vipaka
(result; consequence), the nature of body and mind and so on,
he develops a clear mind of insight and wisdom. He knows
what true refuge is and why he must walk the Noble Eightfold
Path to be free from all Dukkha (suffering, stress, pain and dis-
In the late 1990s, a few of our lady devotees came to tell me
about a ‘miraculous’ happening they had witnessed. It was
about the ‘Hindu Milk Miracle’ involving the Hindu deity
Lord Ganesha. (The Hindu milk miracle was a phenomenon,
considered by many Hindus as a miracle, which started on 21
September 1995, in which statues of the Hindu deity Ganesha
allegedly "drank" milk offerings.)
One of our devotees, a Sister Ah Lian (not her real name for
confidentiality reasons) told me excitedly, “Brother Oh, a few
of us went to a Hindu Shrine a distance away from Teluk Intan
to pray to the ‘Elephant god’ and to feed him with milk. You
know what … you’d not believe it! The milk disappeared from
the spoon – the god had swallowed it. It’s a miracle! We should
pray to such gods.”
“Oh, is that so?” I asked. Before I could continue further, Ah
Lian said, “Brother Oh, can the Buddhist Association
committee allow us to feed the Buddha statue here with milk
– you know, just us we did for Lord Ganesha?” I was taken
by surprise at such a request. From my heart, I just gave this
reply: (I was the Vice President of our Buddhist Association
“Such an action would be unwise and futile. What is the
purpose? Will it help you to grow in the Dhamma, to put an
end to Dukkha or suffering. Now suppose you do this ‘milk
feeding’ to Buddha. One of 3 things might happen and none of
them is going to be beneficial:
1 Through your excitement and lack of mindfulness, the milk
might spill on to the floor! Ha, ha …we need to clean the
2 Nothing happens! The milk just remains as it is. So then?
You lose faith in the Buddha and Dhamma? You run to other
false refuges and your greed, anger and delusion will increase.
3 The milk incredibly is ‘sucked in by the Buddha statue!”
(Very likely through a capillary action…) So then? Do you
become enlightened? Probably your delusion will increase and
you will stray more away from the true Dhamma. Ha, ha …and
the Association will be flooded with ‘devotees’ coming to
pray to Buddha as a great god and to ask for ‘empat ekor!’.
This is not the Dhamma Way. After explaining to these ladies
the essence of the Dhamma, they were a little wiser.
No ‘milk feeding’ took place!
Is our life fated or pre-destined? Are there people like psychics
who are able to predict the future? We read about
precognition, the paranormal ability to ‘see into the future’.
These questions or issues have been raised a number of times
by our members. Sad to say, such people fail to realize that
Kamma is not fate or predestination. Our present life and
circumstances have been influenced or shaped by our past
doings among other things; what we do now in terms of
mental, verbal and bodily actions will have an effect on our
future, either in this life or in lives to come.
Our destiny lies in our hands.
I had two Dhamma friends who once came (separately) to tell
me that they were greatly troubled by what they said was their
psychic ability to see some future events.
They were quite sincere in their narrative accounts. On a
number of occasions, they had ‘seen’ or dreamt of events of the
future that came true – accidents happening to some close
friends or relatives, a natural disaster, certain family members
falling sick, and some other sad or tragic happenings.
I reflected then: How are these reconciled with kamma which
is not fate? Isn’t the future uncertain and not pre-determined?
I gave my ‘psychic’ Dhamma friends these points to help them
in coping with their ‘problems’
“No one can be sure of the future which is not fixed. The only
certainty is uncertainty. One’s future is in one’s hands. Should
you think you have glimpses into the future, do not attach to
these experiences – just note and let them pass. Fill your mind
with positive thoughts – metta, compassion, renunciation and
other paramis (perfections). Not all your predictions come true
– things can change according to conditions and certain
circumstances. Now there might be some people due to their
past kamma, who seem to be able to ‘see the future’. Actually,
what they could perceive sometimes might just be some
kammic tendencies which are heading for fulfillment. But
remember these are not certainties. Take the analogy of a
projectile object about to be hurled.
All is Uncertain
If we know parameters like the angle of projection and the
initial velocity, we could predict its trajectory. However, do
bear in mind this. The trajectory can be altered after the launch
of the projectile – you could apply an external force to alter the
trajectory. So, you see, kamma is not fate. It is something alive
and you can change it through your virtuous, wise and
To have a peaceful sleep with no bad dreams or nightmares is
a blessing. When I was in my twenties, I used to suffer from a
sort of insomnia. It was terrible counting sheep and tossing in
bed unable to sleep even well past midnight. Since I took up
the practice of Metta Bhavana or the meditation on loving-
kindness, I have been able to sleep easily with no bad dreams
or nightmares. (These are among the 11 benefits of Metta
Bhavana.) Ha, ha …my ‘problem’ now seems to be the reverse
– not being able to stay awake sometimes when the night is still
young; sleep beckons so strongly!
I had a Dhamma friend who used to have a recurrent
frightening dream of being trapped in an earthquake rubble. He
told me that the experience was most horrifying – like being in
a state of hell with so much suffering. His dreaming of the
earthquake and his torment went on for some months until one
night in his dream something happened – in his dream he
started chanting the Kuan Yin Mantra of ‘Om Mani Padme
Hum’ and lo and behold, the earthquake dream disappeared
and did not come back again.
(When I reflected on this, it was interesting to note that this
Dhamma friend had, during the early years of our Buddhist
association, been leading in our Sunday Buddha Puja which
included chanting the ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. So, this had paid
To be able to die easily and peacefully when the time comes, is
indeed a great blessing. Over the years of Dhammaduta work, I
have seen cases where dying dragged on with so much pain and
suffering for the dying person as well as his family members. I
recall two cases quite clearly. A relative of mine had terminal
cancer but his dying dragged on and on with him in a vegetative-
like state. His family members asked me why it was so difficult
for him to pass on. I told them that to my mind, it was probably
due to the negative states of worry, fear and attachments in the
mind of the dying. He, very likely, could not let go with so much
non-peaceful thoughts and negative thinking in his mind. I
suggested, if the family members could accept it, to let the dying
person listen to a Buddhist mantra continuously especially in
the quiet of the night. Based on what I knew of his life, I
suggested the use of the ‘Namo O Mi To Fo’ mantra. His family
members agreed. The following day, I got word that my relative
passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning. (To
me, listening to the mantra had helped my relative stop his
attachment and worry; he managed to let go.)
Not too long ago, another Dhamma friend of mine was dying in
the hospital. One of his children contacted me and said,
“My father seems to be struggling for so long to be able to pass
away. The doctors have done all they could. We family
members have also talked to him and given him all the
assurances that everything would be alright. What can be done
to help him?” I suggested that he could listen continuously at
night to the chant of “Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma
Sambuddhassa”. (He had for years been chanting this
‘Homage to the Buddha’.)
A few hours later, the son phoned me and said, “Brother Oh,
after listening to the chant, there has been a transformation in
my father – he appears to be very calm and peaceful; a smile
seemed to form in his face.” I was happy to hear this. The
following day, my Dhamma friend passed away peacefully.
In the Vinaya, the Buddha forbade the sangha members from
dabbling in the arts of fortune changing and fortune telling,
using amulets and talismans as charms, and other occult
practices. This is definitely not the correct practice of
Dhamma. They will bring more problems and suffering.
Many, many years ago, a relative of mine went to consult a
palmist to have her fortune read. The fortune teller, upon
studying her palm lines declared, “I see that in 2 years’ time,
there is a big life hurdle for you. You will be afflicted with a
major cardiac problem.” My relative who was 63 then was
naturally very worried; she gave a big ‘Ang Pow’ to the palmist
to thwart her impending life-threatening heart problem. The
fortune teller performed some rituals and prescribed some
talismans and amulets for my relative.
Sad to say, despite all the ‘prescriptive steps’, my relative
remained troubled with what the palmist had said. Two years
later, near her 65th
birthday, my relative told her children, “I
don’t feel good in my heart; I think what the palmist predicted
2 years ago is coming true.” When she was brought to see the
doctors, they found that heart palpitations had set in. Prediction
came true? I believe it’s a psychosomatic case. A negative
mind can bring about a negative happening.
One with an untrained or uncultivated mind reacts to the
changing conditions and happenings around him; he suffers
greatly in pain. On the other hand, one who has developed the
mind with loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity, can
remain so peaceful, calm and unperturbed amidst the
challenging and trying circumstances surrounding him.
In the early 1990s, we had a visiting psychologist monk who
came to do some Dhamma sharing. We had just moved into our
first building and the telephone had not been installed yet.
There was no mobile phone then.
I was given the duty of tending to the monk. No one stayed the
night with the monk. I made the terrible mistake of not
providing a means for the monk to communicate with me or
another committee member should there be an emergency.
After the night Dhamma talk, I checked security and told the
monk that I would come to do Dana breakfast the following
morning. When I brought breakfast food the next morning, I
was shocked to learn of an unfortunate incident.
An insect had got into one of the monk’s ears in the middle of
the night. He showed no sign of being perturbed; he was so
calm and serene. He said, “I tried using a torchlight to let the
poor creature out but was unsuccessful. So, I meditated on
loving-kindness.” I felt so bad and apologetic. We brought the
monk to the hospital to have the insect taken out. The doctor
who tended to the monk later told me, “Brother, to have an
insect inside your ear is a most agonizing feeling and
experience. It is remarkable that the venerable monk could bear
with it for so many hours.”
“The monk is truly a cultivated monk… so calm, kind,
compassionate and wise,” I thought to myself. During the
course of his stay at our Buddhist Association, I was very
fortunate to learn many good Dhamma teachings from him.
I will always remember this incident of an insect getting into
the ears of a monk. It taught me many great life lessons.
Oneself is refuge of oneself,
who else indeed
could refuge be?
By good training of oneself
one gains a refuge
hard to gain.
Dhammapada Verse 160