Friday, October 8, 2010

Obtaining Wealth Through Deities

There was an article that came out in a local online news link showing a report of a non-Buddhist making fun of Buddhism by saying that Buddhists worship all kinds of gods such as Tua Pek Kong, Pau Kong (I think he got this wrong, I am not aware of anyone who prays to Pau Kong who is a historical Chinese magistrate), Datuk Kong and he said probably even King Kong. At this point he and his audience laughed.) He also said that people hope for wealth and safety by worshipping these deities. Online readers commented on it and there was a subsequent article that included comments from a youth Buddhist organization. And from these comments these Buddhists just say that all the deity worship is not Buddhism but is Taoism. This post hopes to explore the issue of praying for wealth and put things into perspective.

If Buddhism is the religion of King Kong, so be it...and I am proud that I have the same religion as King Kong. I am not going to be apologetic about it and say that all that deity worship is Taoism... nothing to do with Buddhism. Are you sure Buddhists do not have all these myriad deities as well? There are, in fact, plenty of deities in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, for example, and I am not ignoring these deities just because someone from another religion who do not understand our practices/ religion trying to practice divisive strategy into Buddhism and Taoism.

Let me just say this. It is far better to pray to Tua Pek Kong or any of the so-called "kongs" in the hope of wealth but live an honest living than to believe in One God or many gods BUT involve in swindling people's money through cheating others by fraudulent direct selling schemes, illegal deposit taking promising fake investment returns, and property scams. It's the same with Buddhists. You can pray to any Buddha, Bodhisattvas or Lamas, or any of the myriad of protectors in Buddhism... but still if we involve ourselves in cheating the public, to get rich, it is really useless no matter what is our religion. It would have been far better and lesser negative karma to be the simple woman who goes to her tua pek kong shrine and make a simple offering of flowers and pineapple and pray for herself to strike numbers. At least she's not cheating anybody else. It doesnot matter if she will never strike it rich this way. Perhaps she will strike a little sum of money now and then and giving her hope in her tua pek kong. Compare that with the millions of people who does not pray to deities, and even if they do pray to God, how come they end up with so much greed in their daily worldly living? All the senseless killing, rape and corruption we read in the news everyday... what happened to these people? Yes, some of them are Buddhists too...I admit. But they are all the same. They don't follow the teachings of their respective religion. So, it's not about whether you pray to one "Kong" or many "kongs". (note: In hokkien Chinese, they refer to deities by adding the word “kong”, meaning grandfather. So, Jade Emperor or God of heaven is usually referred to as “Ti Kong”. The God of Earth is called “Tay Choo Kong”. The local God of Prosperity is called “Tua Pek Kong” and so on). It's whether you know the proper way to wealth or not whether through these "kongs" or other normal human ways of honest, smart, and hard work to wealth.

You only need to open your eyes and look around to see that there are Tibetan Buddhist centers that have seemingly accumulated more and more wealth. People who are supporting them seem to be increasing and pouring donations more and more. Clearly they are invoking the right deities. Whether this is right or wrong is another issue. But here I just want to demonstrate that invoking wealth through deities can and does work. Praying to deities for wealth gives people hope.. even if the wealth may not materialise all the time. People who have no hope will resort to all kinds of illegal means to gain it. And it is evident more and more people are re-sorting to illegal means to get rich. It is worrying. Hence, there is a positive side to placing our hopes on these deities like Tua Pek Kong, Dzambala or any other wealth deities. Whether they are Taoist or Buddhist deities, or whether they are worldly god or enlightened deities are beside the point and these are other issues to be explored elsewhere.

I interpret “King Kong” in two ways.

Among all the pantheon of deities that Buddhist worships, who is the highest, i.e. the King of all the “Kongs”? In Buddhism, the highest is the Buddha since he has achieved full and complete enlightenment and has liberated himself from samsara. All the other gods (and “Ang Kongs”) in heaven have not. Hence the Buddha, especially in his Dharmakaya aspect, is the “King Kong” so to speak. In Taoism, the highest is the Tao itself.

“King Kong” is also referring to the Monkey King called Sun Wu Kong in legends of the pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty monk together with his three disciples to the Western Pure Land to obtain Buddhist scriptures back to China. Whether the Monkey King actually exists or not, or whether he is the same as the Hindu god Hanuman, does not dilute the intrinsic and often subtle dharma teachings that the whole story is conveying. It can be understood in many different levels, one of which is that I understand it as mapping out the entire journey to spiritual enlightenment.

Therefore, to the question of whether Buddhism is the King Kong religion, I would say in the affirmative, if “King Kong” is interpreted in the above two ways. Isn’t it therefore ironic that the non-Buddhist who was trying to ridicule Buddhism end-up with something we can re-define to our advantage? If this is not transforming the negative into positive, what is? With the above explanation, the attempt by the person to ridicule Buddhism falls flat miserably and it only showed his own ignorance of his former religion in the first place before he converted. Some of “them” are so afraid of being “influenced” by other religions that they refuse to even participate in any inter-faith dialogue. But Christians are more open and they even conduct so-called Buddhist classes in the churches. They do it not because they are really serious in learning about Buddhism. Rather they do it with other motives in mind. Of course, the Buddhism that they supposedly teach at their church classes is not accurate Buddhism. They only know a little bit here and there and then they think they know everything and go on to teach these “distorted Buddhism” to their members and claim that that is Buddhism. I have met many Christians who shared with me what they have learned in their classes. One person even seemed a little arrogant when sharing with me, like conveying the message, “I also know Buddhism”. But when they speak of Buddhism I knew instantly that the Buddhism they were taught is not accurate/incomplete. It only gives them a partial picture, and when you get partial glimpses and thinks that it is whole picture, it can get you into a lot of problems. Buddhists have better things to do than to study other’s religion. Not because we are arrogant but because we think that we should spend more time to understand our own religion better. After all, Buddhism, especially Mahayana Buddhism, teaches that there are many different types of teachings to suit different types of persons. Even in Theravada, the Buddha did mention that what he taught is only a handful of leaves compared to the forest of trees. In general, Buddhists do not criticize other religions is also because of these mentioned reasons.

In this article,

i. I have not criticize nor made fun of any other religions
ii. I have not “kicked the ball” to and transfer the ridicule to Taoism as others have done.
iii. I have transformed the person’s ridicule into something positive. The practice of praying to these deities is protected regardless of whether they are Taoist or Buddhist deity.

Therefore, there is nothing for Buddhists to be upset or angry with. His ridicule has fallen flat. If he hopes to win the hearts and minds of other religions, this kind of ridiculous remarks on other religions must stop. End of story.

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