Can Buddhists Seek Advice From Divination?

Question: Is it alright for Buddhists to cast or draw divination lots for advice?

Answer: The answer is not so straightforward, as there are many considerations. However, divination is generally discouraged due to two main reasons[1] It is hard to ascertain that the divination used is ‘enlightened’ and thus complete system, with the ability to state all possible appropriate advice for all possible issues. [2] It is hard to ascertain that the way the divination is supposed to work does work. [3] It is hard to ascertain that the one doing divination does so properly. [4] It is hard to ascertain meaning of the advice given at times. For these reasons, divination might not work. The Buddha in his time also disallowed monastics from engaging in divination.

When divination does work, how does it work? Not speaking of non-Buddhism ‘inspired’ systems, when someone is sincerely and reverently mindful of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, such as through their names or associated mantras, followed by focusing on one’s query, it is possible for the enlightened to, as a skilful means, effect a blessed answer through the chosen lot, which makes it not at all random. In other words, due to oneself having created the cause, and the compassionate enlightened being connected to as a conditioning factor, the effect can be appropriate.

Though generally discouraged for use, relatively time-tested divination systems that have developed over time are still found in some major Buddhist temples, as a ‘quick’ way of offering assurances or ‘second opinions’ on devotees’ troubling issues. Such divination should only be used for truly unsettling, important and urgent matters, and when no good Buddhist teacher or friend is available for advice. This is because it is easy to become too dependent to getting ‘divine’ advice. Interestingly, for ‘addicts’, the relevance of the advice usually swiftly lessens – due to much greed and laziness, which also lessens sincerity.

Also, heavy usage of divination for all kinds of matters major and minor makes growth in personal wisdom difficult. In the event that there is no access to divination, and being lacking in skills to analyse problems to directly apply Dharma knowledge and principles learnt systematically, one might become spiritually lost. As such, use of divination should not be frequent, and ideally only as a last resort. The simplest yet best ‘divination system’ is by learning and practising the Buddha’s teachings well, and connecting to the enlightened by mindfulness of them and their teachings for inspired answers that naturally arise in the mind or everyday life. There is also the need to be wary of those who claim to be ‘special’, to be able to use ‘special’ divination systems to get ‘special’ advice – as they might be frauds riding on the name of Buddhism.

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