People, for centuries, have been indulging in superstitions, lucky charms, omens, divinations and fortune-telling. They have used these things to help them make decisions and keep them from taking responsibility for their own actions. In some cultures, they are still placing a lot of importance on such things. However, if you look carefully you can see these things stem from ignorance and fear. They certainly are not a reliable way to help you navigate through life.
In Buddha‘s day you could put superstitions and omens down to a lack of education, but I am not sure what the reasoning is behind it in today’s society. You still see people touching wood or keeping their fingers crossed to bring them good luck. Others wear a rabbit’s foot for good luck – though I think it is not very lucky for the rabbit. They don’t put new shoes on a table, walk under ladders or put umbrellas up in the house just in case it brings them bad luck. People become visibly scared if they break a mirror or spill salt, and don’t lets even mention Friday 13th.
In the Tibetan culture it is inauspicious to start a journey on Saturdays. So, people pack their things on Friday and leave the house as though they are starting their journey. But in fact, they only take their bag to a friend’s house and then return to their own home. On Saturday they walk out of their home and collect their bag and then start their journey. This way they believe they have tricked the superstition. So, it is clear that such thinking only creates a vicious circle where superstitions are used to cheat other superstitions.
As you can see the list of superstitions and omens are endless, but they do have one thing in common, and that is that they are totally irrational and based on fear and a lack of education.
People go to a fortune tellers or Rinpoche (a holy person) for divinations. This is so they can shirk their responsibilities and get someone else to make an important decision for them. But if these people can see into the future it would mean our lives are predetermined. That would in turn mean we could never improve our lives, as things have already been decided for us. Thankfully, this is not the case and these people who say they can see into the future are just playing on people’s ignorance and fears. You may say that there is no harm done, but I would beg to differ. I have heard of a person who was seriously ill going for a divination. They were told not to have an operation but to do some prayers instead. This person died needlessly, because if they had had the operation they would have survived. So, I believe these people are acting not only irresponsibly but fraudulently as well.
Many go to holy people for blessings, believing that if they are touched on their head their lives will be OK, or they wear something around their necks hoping it will protect them from any danger. They also go to long-life ceremonies thinking that they will live a long time, even though they do not change their life-style or do any practice, such as meditation. Again, these things are just superstitions and without you changing your actions of body, speech and mind you will not be able to change your life.
Buddha called all of these practices ‘low art’ and on many occasions, stated that such things are of no use, as we have to take responsibility for our own lives. In the Anguttara NikayaBuddha stated that this is how responsible people act:
‘They do not get carried away by superstition; they believe in deeds, aspiring to results from their own deeds through their own effort in a rational way; they are not excited by wildly rumoured superstition, talismans, omens or lucky charms; they do not aspire to results from praying for miracles.’
There is a story about a Brahman who was an expert in predictions drawn from cloth. Who held a superstition that once a piece of cloth, no matter how new or expensive, was bitten by a rat it would become inauspicious and bring you bad luck.
On one occasion he discarded a piece of his expensive cloth in a local cemetery because he believed it had a rat bite on it, and so was now only going to bring him bad fortune. Later on, he heard that the Buddha had picked up the cloth and was using it. He ran as fast as he could to find the Buddha and warm him about the bad luck that was going to come his way if he didn’t throw the cloth away. However, once he found Buddha he was dissuaded from this irrational superstition and shown that only he himself could bring good or bad circumstances into his life.
We all have to take responsibility for our own lives and stop trying to pass the buck
Buddha did not believe in luck, fate or chance. He taught that whatever happens does so because of a cause or causes. If you want to pass your exams you have to study hard and put a lot of effort in. So, there is a clear connection between passing the exam and study. It is of no use praying to a god, chanting some mantra or wearing some kind of lucky charm to pass your exam, as there is absolutely no connection between those things and you passing the exam.
So, what did Buddha believe? Well he believed in individual responsibility, rational thought and social obligations rather than unhealthy fears and irrational superstitions. This point was made very clearly in the Mangala Sutra. In this discourse the Buddha was asked what the most auspicious omens were and which ones they should follow. He didn’t directly answer the question, but instead gave guidelines of how we can make our own lives auspicious without relying on any outside omens.
So, I believe there is no room for superstitions and fortune-telling in today’s society. We all have to take responsibility for our own lives and stop trying to pass the buck.
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My husband was pinched on the arm by a passing monk travelling in the opposite direction. Why was this? We thought it may have been a superstition but apparently there isn’t any in the buddist religion.
I am sorry but I have never come across such a thing. I have spoken to other monks and no one knows anything about this type of behaviour. Sorry I couldn’t help. Yeshe
Lol , typical teravada writings to condemn mahayana/vajrayana tradition . Most of the information is not correct
Sumardi, I am not quite sure what point you are making here. Are you saying this piece is written from a Theravada perspective? If so, I have to tell you I am a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition, which is Mahayana/Vajrayana tradition. What information in this piece is incorrect?
Thank you for your comment, but please clarify.
I have a friend who is learning about Buddhism, and before she left for an interview in another city- I wished her “good luck” on her journey and I got an earful! I was told in no uncertain terms that I was fool and was actually insulting her when I wished her “good luck”. I’m confused – in my world and what I believe in, positive thoughts were a good thing. What could I have said that wouldn’t have offended her?
Hello Ken, thank you for your comment. I am sorry your friend took such an approach to you saying ‘good luck.’ Sometimes when people come to new religions they get a bit over zealous. She has probably heard that Buddhism does not believe in luck, but that does not mean we should get upset when someone says it to us. She has to realise that we cannot change the world, but we can change the way we react to it. Most people just say good luck out of politeness and compassion – there is nothing wrong with that. It is ok for us not to believe in luck, but we shouldn’t try and inflict our views on others. I hope her interview went well.
Bhante, It is true that a number of mundane superstitions have no merit. However, the assertion that there are superfluous ‘supernatural’ additions to a formerly pure, original Buddhism is 19th century nonsense. The true condition of early Buddhism is unknown, but what is certain is that it accepted and practiced large swathes of traditional Indian religion. Gods, demons, magic, divination and a whole load of other stuff that sticks in the craw of modern Westerners who are conditioned by scientific materialism. Destiny is certainly real, but it is not fixed, if you have sufficient skill and power you can change your fate. As for blessings, divination, long-life ceremonies and so forth may I suggest that you study these things for a longer period of time. No doubt this is your first lifetime as a Buddhist practitioner, so it will take some time for these aspects to ‘open up’. You should pray daily and fervently to your chosen deity for revelation. Otherwise you will fail as a monk. Suppose a Tibetan farmer were to ask you for a blessing and you were to secretly think to yourself, ‘superstitious fool’. That would be both ignorant and harmful. The ancient masters of your tradition were able to stop the sun in its tracks, touch the moon with a fingertip, and (my personal favourite) milk the mural painting of a cow. Do you suppose that these are just superstitious fairy-tales?, or are they perhaps true examples of the miraculous, dream-like nature of mind.
Thank you so much for your comment. I was writing from my own experiences and not from a book. If a Tibetan farmer asked me to bless him I would ask him what is the purpose. His crop will depend on many factors, such as the seed, soil, water, etc. It will not depend on me giving him a blessing. Yes, it may make him feel better, but there is no connection between my hand on his head and the his crop.
It is certainly true that in Buddha’s time there were many superstitious practices. But that was 2600 years ago. Life has moved on and no matter what you think about science in the West, it is provable, which is more than can be said for ancient, outdated superstitions.
Did ancient masters touch the moon or milk a drawing of a cow – who knows? What I do know is that blindly following superstitions because you have read them in a book or some teacher has told you about them, is not going to clear away unhelpful concepts in your mind. In fact, it is just adding more concepts. If we really want to reduce our suffering, which is the purpose of Buddhism, we should follow the four noble truths and the eightfold path, as these do not rely on superstitions.
Bhante, If your eyes are shut so firmly in this way then there will indeed be no connection between your hand on a farmer’s head and the success of his crop.
Over millions of years mankind has had roughly the same views, which have been held and affirmed by every single sage and holy man in human history, including Buddha. The idea that the opinions of a few white men in white coats over the last one hundred and fifty years could somehow supercede and erase everything else, is frankly ridiculous.
As for the absence of proof; I’m sure you know the story of Asanga and Maitreya. He carried Maitreya through a busy marketplace, but this was witnessed by only one old woman. It is erroneous perception that makes the supernatural completely invisible.Secondly, who is powerful enough to directly challenge the great Mara of consensus reality, without losing everything including their lives? Lastly, the supernatural is subtle and delicate and it does not withstand profane prodding and scrutiny but rather melts away like a snowflake.
“Over millions of years mankind has had roughly the same views” oooookay wierdo, moving on..
How many types of clinging are there?
According to Gautama Buddha there are three types of craving:
1 – Sensual Craving,
2 – the Craving for (Eternal) Existence,
3 – the Craving for Self-Annihilation
omg I almost died on Friday the 13th.
Dear Venerable Lama Yeshe,
I am a Taiwanese American and have been studying Buddhism for a few years. Logically, I understand that causes and conditions bring about effects that we react to which brings about more causes. (Please correct me if I am wrong.)
However, the Taiwanese/Chinese culture contains copious amounts of superstitions and some (in my mind) make reasonable sense such as face reading, palm reading, and predictions made from the 12-animal zodiac. Even some Buddhist texts say the Buddha is characterized by auspicious features such as long earlobes, slender fingers, long and deep lines on the palm, etc. So having similar features is favorable as well. How do I rectify what is labeled superstition and what is the causal effect of certain features due to karma? In other words, I have a hard time letting go of some of my cultural beliefs.
Also, the reason I happened upon this site is we will soon be celebrating the 2016 lunar new year, which is the year of the monkey. I was born in the year of the monkey and supposedly if my birth year falls on the same calendar year, it’s unlucky. I’m graduating from college and will be looking for a new job in May. However, those who believe in the zodiac points to unfavorable outcomes. In other words, I’m wondering if I should be extremely cautious throughout the year until 2017 comes along. Or is this all superstition as well? I’m so confused!
Thank you very much for your time and help! I really appreciate it.
Thank you for your comments.
In early Buddhism Buddha was looked upon as a normal human being that had reached awakening. Later on the Brahmans of the time teased the Buddhists about him not being a god. So features were added to Buddha’s appearance. This was so he could also be looked upon as a god. These are just distractions and we should focus on his teachings and not his earlobes.
The problem with palm reading, face reading and so on is that it is just a projection of the other persons mind. we are all different and so we all perceive things differently. That is why if I see a person and say they are beautiful, you may see the same person and think them ugly. The person hasn’t changed, only the perceiver. Don’t be afraid to question your culture, superstitions or traditions. Buddha encouraged us to see if things fitted in with our experiences, and that is what we should do.
You are not the first person to say to me that the coming year is going to be negative. If you start the year with that mind-set it is obviously going to be negative. You will be looking for every negative thing that is happening to you just reinforce your belief. Like you quite rightly said at the start of your comment, ’causes and conditions bring about effects that we react to which brings about more causes.’ It is nothing to do with an auspicious or inauspicious year (A year is a man-made thing, so how can it be auspicious or inauspicious – it is just a measurement of time) and everything to do with the way you respond to your experiences. You create your future, not some day, week or year.
My advice to you is to not be cautious and go get the job you want. Stay positive and don’t let some superstition hold you back in life. I wish you all the best for 2016 – I am sure it is going to be a fantastic year.
My dad passed away and my 9 month old son is going for operation soon. My mum-in- law insist baby should not go for the wake as they experience similar situation where ‘dirty things’ disturb her son and he fell sick after she go to a decreased person’s home. I am very upsad as my son and husband did not send my dad off to cremate. And she also say my mum should not visit our house or we bring our baby over to her place for the time being, I find it ridiculous as this is the time my mum need us and we could not go and give her support. Luckily my mum was understanding. My mum-in-law also is buddhist but I thought buddhist should not be so superstitious. Is this believe be followed? And can baby pay respect to the dead?
I am sorry to hear about your problems. Actually, this has nothing to do with Buddhism and is just a superstition. I personally believe your baby is in no danger and should be allowed to visit the home. Death is not a ‘dirty thing’ but a fact of life. I am sure your mother-in-law means well, so I think you should calmly explain that you are going to visit your mother with the baby. I hope things work out for you.
It’s not necessary that all the people who are Buddhist will be sane unless they act upon Buddh’s teachings.Buddha told everyone not to make out Buddha as a God but to know the truth and inner essence of life and spirit but insane people don’t adept themselves according to Buddha’s teachings. Buddha’s teaching can not be touched as materialistic things nor can be followed but can be felt…Buddha’s teaching is a way that leads to the truth….
This page on Buddhism and superstition may be of interest:
I have tossed a coin and predicted my future by the outcome from toss . I was unsatisfied that there were two out come and one outcome was frequently coming again and again and another was coming less . So which one to believe or is it all just fake and its nothing
Is giving an idol of Lord Buddha to Bhangar wala considered as bad luck
No, of course not. It would be looked upon as a compassionate act to give a Buddha statue to anyone.
i have a question, my wife suddenly disappeared for 4 days to pray for us, but she said she could not tell me, as the wishes would not come true, we have a long distance relationship, been with her 3 years, and while she has gone to the temple many times before, she always tells me, is there some truth in this, thank you.she is Thai.
I believe in the Thai tradition followers of Buddhism do go to the temple for days, weeks and months.
I have a question. I am getting interested in Buddhism and have a few things I couldn’t find during my research.
1. As for Bad Omens (Bad luck/ju-JU) which items, tangible items, are considered bad luck or a bad omen. In other words, lets say a rat was a bad omen and i see a rat, does this mean I personally have bad luck or will experience bad luck or bad omen? Or is the rat universally applied to all and its just a rat. How and when will I know if the ‘rat’ is directed towards me? Will it have to be in a certain position or pointed towards my business or my home front door?
2. Also how is theft and disloyalty to another person viewed? I am sure it is very bad as in almost every belief. But my friend is getting interested in Buddhism but to be honest he is a thief…not like a criminal who goes around in the night and steals cars or robs banks or anything like that. He is the opportunistic type of their. For example, if he saw that I left $20 in my car unknowingly, he will act as if he didn’t see it and then go pick it up when I’m not looking and pocket it..(amongst other things). He is also dishonest in business to his business partner, how does this effect him if he were Buddhist?
Thank You this will be a great help
i accidentally think something harmful to someone due to my brain keep on overthinking things worrying things will i create a bad karma then?i think of someone being kill with my wish and then i feel angry and regretful how can i think of that if i think of that alr will i create a bad karma?
Thank you so much for your questions.
1. Gautama Buddha stated that there are no such thing as good or bad omens. He said that we make our own good or bad situations. We do this through our actions of body, speech and mind. If our actions are good, we can expect a good result. However, if they are bad the consequences are more likely to be bad. This is because of cause and effect. If we do an action there will be a result or consequences. So if we want to have no bad situations, we should not do any action that is going to cause such an outcome. For further reference, you may like to read the Mangala Sutra.
2. Of course theft, disloyalty, lying, etc. are not going to bring about a positive outcome. If your friend is stealing and being dishonest he will not find peace of mind. When we do such actions we are not only harming others, we are also harming ourselves. A mind cannot be at peace if it is in turmoil, and doing such acts is going to cause the mind to be turbulent. A major part of Buddhism is meditation and it is extremely difficult to meditate when your mind is agitated. Hopefully, once your friend states to read about the five precepts, four noble truths and the eightfold path (teachings from Gautama Buddha) he will start to change his ways. You can help him by being a good example to him, but you cannot change him. He can only change himself.
I hope this answers your questions.
Karma in Buddhism means intentional actions. Thoughts also come under actions in Buddhism. So, if we do intentional actions we will leave imprints in our mind. These imprints are like seeds and once they are planted, they will bear fruit. So, if you are thinking bad thoughts about someone, it will cause karmic seeds to be planted in your mind.