Is It Alright To Be A Fortune-Teller?

Question: Someone claimed that the Buddha only forbade monastics to be fortune-tellers as he wishes to prevent them from abusing the power of predictions. Is this so?

Answer: More often than not, what the Buddha forbade monastics from applies to laypeople too. As taught by the Buddha in the Kevatta Sutta – ‘Whereas some priests and contemplatives [who might or might not be monastics], living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as: reading marks on the limbs [e.g. palmistry]; reading omens and signs; interpreting celestial events [falling stars, comets]; interpreting dreams; reading marks on the body [e.g. phrenology];… making predictions based on the fingertips; geomancy [fengshui]; laying demons in a cemetery; placing spells on spirits; reciting house-protection charms; snake charming, poison-lore, scorpion-lore, rat-lore, bird-lore, crow-lore; fortune-telling based on visions;… he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these.’

The Buddha would discourage laypeople from fortune-telling for the same reasons that it hinges upon possible superstitions that cannot be verified, instead of encouraging diligent cultivation of wisdom through the Dharma (the Buddha’s teachings) to shape one’s karmic destiny for the better. Note too that scientifically, no form of fortune-telling technique has yet to be proven 100% accurate. Even if there is some truth in some systems of fortune-telling, there is no single 100% accurate fortune-teller. What worsens matters is that as karma is dynamic, worldly destinies are difficult to pin down. To this extent, there might be some degree of blind faith leading to deceit in fortune-telling, which breaks the fourth precept against lying, even if there is no intention to. And if it is possible for monastics to become power-crazed through fortune-telling, laypeople might too? That said, fortune-telling is not a power as it is just a set of arguable ‘skills’.

Question: It seems that there is no forbidding of fortune-telling under ‘wrong livelihoods’ by the Buddha?

Answer: In brief teachings such as the Vanijja Sutta, the Buddha stated that ‘a lay follower should not engage in five types of business… Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poisons.’ Here, the Buddha only listed some generally common and harmful livelihoods to avoid, for us to understand the kinds of livelihoods to avoid. He did not, for instance, list dealing in many contemporary drugs as wrong as such substances did not exist in his time. But this does not mean doing so is alright. What to be grasped is the spirit of his teachings.

What we should note instead, is that there were no praised lay disciples of the Buddha mentioned in the scriptures who were fortune-tellers, while the Buddha did not only not say it is praiseworthy for anyone to be fortune-tellers, he did teach monastics not to be fortune-tellers, listing many forms of fortune-telling as wrong livelihoods in the Kevatta Sutta above. He also never endorsed any form of fortune-telling as useful or essential in aiding the path to liberation.

It is also worth noting that good fortunes told might lead to complacence that lead to disaster, while bad fortunes told might lead to despondence that also leads to disaster. It would be wiser to always do one’s best to cultivate wisdom in dealing with all kinds of challenges, instead of being dependent on fortune-telling for vague predictions and assurances which might not come true, and advice that does not always work. The more dependence there is on fortune-telling, there more distraction there will be, with less diligence in Dharma learning and practice, which is what really leads to the most fortunate liberation from all unfortunate disasters.

Related Article:

Can Buddhists Seek Fengshui Advice?


  • I was told that when young I spoke with spirits and could predict lottery numbers. I recall none of this, all I remember is that my dreams were terrifying for a long time, until I was eight or nine I believe. I learned that my lottery number predictions were numbers used in play. An aunt heard me saying three numbers over and over and put a bet on those numbers. When she won, she told the family and they utilized my talents without me knowing.

    However, I remember when I was about seven that my grandmother literally demanded I give her numbers and threw me into the bathroom to pray and ask the angels. No numbers came to mind no matter how much I prayed and begged. I was torn between being scared of angering my grandmother and wanting to help her. Well, thankfully, that was the last time I was asked for numbers.

    I believe I suppressed much of what I experienced. I’ve always been interested in the occult, yet I never really pursued it. However, ten years ago I met a friend of my nieces who’d lost a beloved fiancée in a boating accident. She had pretty much given up her native dancing and kept his things all around her. She rarely went out using college studies as a barrier to invitations. As soon as I went into her home there was a sense of loss and weeping. The sadness was like a heavy blanket on a hot summer night though everyone was chatty, joking, laughing … When everyone had left to go to the communal pool, I stayed behind to talk with our hostess and told her what I felt. The sadness was twofold, I told her, it wasn’t just hers, it was his as well seeing that she was lost in the past refusing to move on. I could almost see him wringing his hands, trying to get through to her. We both cried as we talked. Months later I received a message from her mother thanking me. Apparently her daughter told her what I’d said and in time began to pack away her fiancée’s things, giving some away. About seven years ago she began to dance again, and from what I saw on Facebook a couple of years ago, she’s also dating someone.

    I did not ask to aid this woman – it was not my place. The urge to tell her what I felt made me silent while others were around, though I tried to just shrug it off as just knowing her story. But the words that I used to tell her were truly not my own. I was not possessed, more like guided. That I was, in this small way, an aid to a woman lost in her grief, I feel good about that, but it’s not something I pursue on my own. That was the first and only time I’d responded to that impulse. Mostly because it was So Palatable, her sadness and his. It seemed to fill my heart and mind so I could think and feel little else, I felt it would have been inhumane to not tell her what I sensed.

    I’ve felt the same before, but never to this degree. I’ve always able to shrug it off, move past it, but not that time. I’ve experienced it afterward, as well, but again, never to that degree and it was easy to put it to my wanting to meddle and ‘make things right’ than because it was the right thing to do. All my life I’ve avoided such indulgences since I was young, not feeling entirely comfortable even though I’ve always been intrigued. But this one incident did give me a good feeling. I received no money or gifts for my role but I did get great satisfaction learning that this young, gifted and giving woman move on with her life. And I sense that her fiancée has moved on as well. But no, not something I aim to do again.

    Namaste 🙂

  • Your comment has nothing to do with the article. Also, a sparrow does not a summer make.

  • @Merrlyn. Some would call what you have a gift/talent. Whatever it is, I feeling the ability to use it for good out of a compassionate intention to help is harmless. Just as to be a christen pastor is not a wrong livelihood, or a Feng Shui practices totally irrelevant activity. However, I do suggest that you learn more about Buddhism and it philosophy which would surely help to give understanding of the Buddha’s teachings to them. Be well and good luck.

  • People believe in fortune telling becos they believe their lives are cast in stone. While the dharma simply teaches that our past and future are closely linked to us by what we do and do not.

    Whatever that happens to us are causes planted by us and whatever that is going to happen in the future are the causes we put in place. Therefore…the future is never cast in stone. It is up to us to MAKE in good ways and bad ways. Change the cause. Change NOW. Change the future.

  • A sparrow (here, some occasional accuracy in ‘fortune-telling’) does not a summer make. Do read the whole article again to decide if fortune-telling is a right livelihood. Likewise for fengshui (refer to link at end of article.)

    Please do NOT ever mix up fortune-telling with Buddhism. There is some mixing-up already and there has been confusion ever since. Hence this article to clear the air, showing the Buddha’s stance.

  • There is a Hong Kong variety tv show 怪谈 on the supernatural, now showing on cHK channel on singtel tv. The host is 梁思浩 and they always invite a famous female master, 张芯薰, to the show. This master is very spot on in her predictions, and through phone conversations with the audience without seeing them, she is able to predict their past, present and future. And offer advice to the audience on how to protect themselves from ghosts, asuras etc.

    She always use methods like ‘Qi men dun jia’ , ‘ zi wei dou Shu’ and other methods related to geomancy to calculate people’s fortunes and fates. Many people commended her for her spot on calculations and useful advice and she always get invited to the show. She appears to be using lowly arts which is against the Buddha teachings.

    So should we stop watching this show? It is on singtel tv and is watched by many Singaporeans. Her predictions are very accurate and she also knows how to exorcise spirits and is very powerful. She has already help a lot of hongkongers

  • What major disaster has her predictions been proven to prevent so far? Trying to explain what already happened is NOT a prediction, but rationalisation.

    Being able to describe present and past based on ‘calculations’ is NOT a prediction. Why pay fortune-tellers to tell what you already know?

    Maybe there is a bit of ability to recall past and know the present, but there is no guarantee any prediction of the future is correct.

    Being able to offer advice also does not mean the advice is valid or proven workable yet.

    For the less discerning, it is easy to think fortune-telling is the way to true happiness, when it is just predictions and such that might not be true. What matters truly is pure and genuine Dharma practice.

    Being able to co-called ‘exorcise spirits’ does not straightaway mean it is done properly out of compassion to guide them to good rebirth. In fact, it might even harm them.

    Even if some ‘masters’ of the like above can help some people, it remains questionable how much this can lead to true happiness in the long run. As long as the Dharma is not learnt and practised well, all are still subject to endless rounds of suffering in rebirth. Amituofo

  • The tv show has attracted many people all over the world to watch, including Singaporeans which is on Singtel tv. Since we are not paying to do fortune telling and this channel is part of our subscription package with Singtel, is it ok to just watch this show for entertainment? As well as to learn more about the supernatural. 张芯薰 and 梁思浩 have many stories to share and the audience also called in by phone to share their stories in the show. Sometimes Buddhism is explained and we learn how to protect ourselves and the taboos to avoid.

  • Having attracted many does not mean it speaks of great truths. If she is that skilled, she should save the world from disasters, and not just become popular on TV. Some of the call-in stories might be staged for effect too.

    The danger with watching is that there is tendency for confusion. What portrayed to be somewhat Buddhist in nature might not be really agreeable in the Dharma too. Many ‘exorcists’ are not concerned about helping unseen beings have good rebirths. They are just concerned with shooing them off. This lack of compassion alone is not Buddhist in spirit.

  • There is a movie coming out in theatres, 碟仙碟仙.
    Is there any truth to this ritual? Where people invite ghosts to ask questions and seek answers through the game.
    Or is it a hoax and people imagine the game to be real and scare themselves?

  • As the movie is not seeable yet, it is difficult to comment. Since ancient times, there have been numerous ways to so-called communicate with the deceased. Some ways work sometimes, but they can be dangerous due to the simple fact that ghosts are not enlightened and might have strong greed, hatred and delusion, in addition to the power to read minds and being unseen.

    There is no need to delve into these matters. When ghosts are encountered, Buddhists should simply, out of compassion, guide them to be reborn in Pure Land swiftly: http://purelanders.com/2013/11/07/how-to-share-the-power-of-merits-guidance Amituofo

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