If you take refuge
only in ‘blessed’ items,
you have yet to take refuge
in the truly blessed Triple Gem.
Some believe that making money offerings to ‘masters’ who offer blessed amulets is true Buddhist practice because they experience their benefits. Is this so? Well, in perhaps all Buddhist traditions, there are evolved customs of chanting to create and share blessings. Sometimes, there is chanting in the presence of items for consecration, to ‘charge’ them up with blessings. Items involved can be water, thread, Buddha pendants, mantra papers, sand, cloth, beads, statues, amulets… and even houses, temples and empty land before construction works. Such blessings do offer protective power as when the Buddha’s teachings (Dharma) are chanted, it is the propagation and asseveration (solemn affirmation) of truth, which creates meritorious virtues.
That said, the essence of Buddhism is definitely not just the above and nothing else. This is so as mere creating and partaking of chanted blessings (by listening) seldom leads to direct realisation of wisdom which equals that of the Buddha. Only when truths in the chanted teachings are realised is there corresponding wisdom attained through them. Without further in-depth learning and practice for realisation, not many Buddhists fully understand the truths in what they chant or hear chanted. Even if there is a ‘master’ who understands what is chanted, such understanding might not yet be completely realised. Thus, beginners who merely hear the chanting and pick up chanting-blessed items without learning are even less likely to simply become realised.
The true goal of the Buddha’s teachings is not just to offer general blessings, but ultimately to lead us to enlightenment, which is liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Even having a large and so-called ‘heavily blessed’ collection of Buddha amulets is not going to free us from karmic ageing, sickness, death and rebirth. If this is possible, the Buddha only had to teach all to make and chant over images of him. Attachment to any blessed item for only worldly well-being while forgetting the actual messages of the Dharma thus leads to spiritual complacence. Instead of becoming attached to them in a ‘spiritually’ materialistic way for all matters mundane, blessed items should only be used for spiritual inspiration, to remind us to practise the Dharma diligently.
Any ‘monastic’ or lay ‘teacher’ who makes a living out of focusing only on selling ‘blessed’ items or ‘blessing’ devotees, while not teaching them the path to enlightenment is not a good enough teacher. This is so as such products and services easily create and sustain blind faith. Without focusing on the actual Dharma, the devotees’ craving for wealth, pleasures, fame and such that drives craving for ‘blessed’ items grows the spiritual poison of greed, while sustaining delusion that all these is enough. Some of the ‘benefits’ from ‘blessed’ items might not be real too, arising from the placebo effect of the devotee already being a staunch believer. There is also misperception from ‘survivorship bias’, of ‘successful’ cases selling themselves while others are ignored.
If a ‘master’ is greedy, he or she can easily prey on devotees who are equally greedy, who also wish to get rich quickly, by ‘offering’ (which is actually selling) them ‘special blessed’ items. When a buyer does have some ‘good fortune’ via other causes, being already duped, he or she naturally practises grateful ‘generosity’ by contributing ‘donations’ to the ‘master’, while looking out for the next ‘blessed’ item or ‘blessing’. It is easy to see how such blind faith perpetuates itself, forgetting how the ‘master’ ‘could’ had personally gotten rich faster, by keeping instead of selling the ‘powerful’ items. Even truly blessed items should not be clung to, as they still cannot free us from rebirth, and cannot be brought to the next life, no matter how precious they are.
With dependence on ‘blessed’ items, what if they are lost? True blessings from Dharma practice however, is priceless and cannot be bought or lost! Greedy buyers also open themselves to the possibility of being tricked into buying items tainted with black magic by greedy sellers. In some cases, there might be evil unseen spirits ordered to tag the items and give problems, that ‘need’ further ‘solutions’ from the devious seller. Of course, such ‘solutions’ require more money. It is thus wise to never buy or even pick up ‘free’ items from shady establishments that are not orthodox Buddhist temples or centres. There are also tricks to show off over-the-top ‘protective power’ of fake ‘blessed’ items, that are however easily reenacted by amateur magicians.
Dharma practice is not
the collection of ‘blessed’ items,
but the accumulation of merits and wisdom
by cultivating virtues and realising the Dharma.
Should Buddhists Wear Buddha Images?