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Tuesday, 07 August 2018 00:00

Transforming Superstition to Blessings

Written by  Julie Yen Yu Chu, Malacca / Translated by Lee Hui Yieng

Tan Kim Kiak used to make offerings during the 7th Lunar month. Now, she feels peaceful within by just praying with a sincere heart. [Photograph by Tan Yen Pack]

When things do not go smoothly, or when faced with a tight financial situation, some people tend to fall into a state of confusion, suspicion and sorrow. They would then turn to divine beings for spiritual support and solutions to their problems.

A rough life

“I have tried practically everything recommended by others. This includes reading up the almanac, seeking help from deities, shamans and fortune tellers, and drinking charmed water,” declared Tan Kim Kiak, a 73-year-old Tzu Chi volunteer from Malacca. She smiled as she recalled how absurd she had been in the past.

She was devastated by her marital breakdown in her 30s. With two children to raise, she worked very hard to earn a living. Perhaps due to the physical exhaustion, she suffered from various ailments. She blamed all those on her fate, and influenced by her friends, she felt that she was unlucky because she had offended some ghostly beings. So, she learnt to read and interpret the Chinese almanac to solve her problems.

She related, “Whenever I did not feel well or my child had a fever, I would refer to the almanac. Whatever were stated about the praying direction, things to prepare as offerings, or places not to go, I would follow completely.”

In order to change her doomed fate, she tried every possible way that she believed could bring her good luck and peace. Whenever she heard from others that the deities in a temple or a shaman was highly efficacious in answering prayers, she would give it a try and pray for safety and good health. She would also read magical spells to the water before drinking it. She said laughingly, “Sometimes it worked, but most of the time, it did not!” She had led a cautious life hoping for some inner peace.

Rid evil with tricks

Being a superstitious person, it was only natural that Kim Kiak prayed during the 7th lunar month. With her financial condition back then, she could not afford to buy meat as offerings, but only paper money and some biscuits. She said, “I actually felt that it was a waste to throw the biscuits on the ground as offerings. Could you imagine how poor I was financially to have such thoughts? But then, it did not stop me from spending on it. If I was rich, I would certainly make a sumptuous offering.”

In 2002, Kim Kiak became a Tzu Chi volunteer. The first time she heard about chanting for the deceased, she was worried about running into evil spirits. So, she looked up the almanac and consulted the shaman to confirm whether the timing was fine for her. She would also bring a red envelop with some nails in it or wear a red underwear to keep the evil spirits away. She explained, “All of us volunteers would dress in dark colour outfits, but since I was worried and others had said that red underwear could keep the evil spirits away, I just followed!”

Aware of her situation, volunteer Goh Kwee Wah advised her, “As Buddhist practitioners, we should not be superstitious and worship blindly. If you have problems, tell the Bodhisattvas.” With Kwee Wah’s advice and Master Cheng Yen’s constant teaching for volunteers to develop right faith in Buddhism, Kim Kiak began to talk to the Bodhisattvas instead of referring to the almanac daily, and stopped her superstitious practices when she went to chant for the deceased. She admitted that initially, she still had fears within. Sometimes when she did not feel well the day after the chanting, she would go back to her superstitious way and seek help from a shaman. It was a tug-of-war between superstition and right faith.

With wisdom come blessings

Six years ago, Kim Kiak was suddenly awakened to the fact that being healthy and able to serve others will bring real peace and blissfulness. She said, “As we grow wiser, we break free from superstitious belief. In the past, I sought help everywhere because my life was going nowhere. But no matter how hard I prayed, I was unsettled, for peace comes from within.” She finally understood that everything originates from the mind, and thus, it is important to safeguard one’s mind. Since then, she has stopped going everywhere to worship.

Now, she would advise other volunteers to nurture wisdom and stay away from superstitious belief. She said smilingly, “It is funny to recall how superstitious I had been back then. Of course, we should see a doctor or get some rest when we feel unwell. If superstitious ways worked, what do we need doctors for?”

Now, Kim Kiak would tell the Bodhisattvas where she is going and says, “I am home, Bodhisattvas!” when she returns home. She is grateful for the opportunities to form good affinities with others; for having a healthy body that enables her to do good deeds and help others; having a car to go anywhere to carry out Tzu Chi’s missions, and having food to nourish her life… With her heart filled with gratitude, there is no room for worries and fears, and life is no longer bitter for her.

Instead of seeking good fortunes and obstructing herself with superstitions, she is taking control of her life. She said, “I always feel at ease now. With the mental burdens removed, I feel so much better and healthier.” A change in mindset can indeed transform one’s life!



To Tan Kim Kiak (right), having a healthy body to serve others brings real peace and blissfulness. [Photograph by Ng Hock Thai]   After becoming a Tzu Chi volunteer, Tan Kim Kiak learnt to take control of her life. She now knows that a relaxed and peaceful mind keeps one healthy. [Photograph by Chin Fook Kuen]

To Tan Kim Kiak (right), having a healthy body to serve others brings real peace and blissfulness. [Photograph by Ng Hock Thai]
After becoming a Tzu Chi volunteer, Tan Kim Kiak learnt to take control of her life. She now knows that a relaxed and peaceful mind keeps one healthy. [Photograph by Chin Fook Kuen]