Have you wondered why when ‘buying’ an amulet Buddhist, especially Chinese Buddhist, will always use the word ‘invite’ instead of buy?
Is it only because most Buddhists are uncomfortable with the thought of paying for an amulet?
The truth is there is a deeper explanation to this.
In the olden times, an amulet was never bought; a person can only acquire an amulet if a Buddhist monk or when a person who has it has chosen a person to receive it. For amulets that are kept in the temple and are to be given to the people, they will have to express to the Buddhist monk or to the abbot or abbess of the temple their desire to invite the said amulet. The abbot or abbess together with the senior Buddhist monks and nuns will either then do an assessment whether the person is worthy of receiving the said amulet. Usually the person will be assessed as to whether they are good member of the Sangha (community of the Buddhist society), and whether they have sincerely contributed to the temple. Contribution here is not just about money, although it may include it in form of donation to the temple, but more importantly, how much they have contributed in terms of service to temple. For example, do they volunteer in the activities of the temple, do they help clean the temple, do they make offerings of flowers, do they help cook food for the Buddhist monks or nuns or even the Sangha? Since the Buddhist monks or nuns are familiar with the members of the Sangha they are able to make the assessment base on quality of the offering and not quantity, meaning, they are able to assess appropriately. They are not judging base on the quantity of the offering but rather quality.
Allow me to explain the last few statements further. Buddhist Student A and Buddhist Student B are members of a temple. Buddhist Student A, goes to the temple every afternoon and cleans the temple for 3 hours. Buddhist Student B, goes to the temple every afternoon and helps do chores for 30 minutes. But Buddhist Student A is a rich person who doesn’t do anything and Buddhist Student B is a poor peasant who has to work for 10 hours a day. So off hand, you’ll see that Buddhist Student B has so much more ‘quality’ in his/her service offering. Of course, Buddhist monks and nuns takes into consideration a lot more factors, but off hand as an example, I hope what I illustrated is clear.
So it doesn’t mean that when a person donated 10 gold coins, he will get the amulet. He may have only donated 1 silver coin, but taking into consideration all the other factors he might be so much worth it.
Sometimes, the process is done through a divination. This is especially true if there is only a single or limited amulet and several people have expressed interest to invite the amulet, and after an assessment several people were proven to be worthy. I remember, several years back, I was still a young boy then, there’s a special amulet that is to be given to a member of the Sangha. The temple has pre – selected possible recipient, and my mom was one of them. They were asked to go to the temple at a certain date and time, and there was a ritual that was made to whom should the amulet be given. My mom got it.
I have to repeat, when I said quality it doesn’t mean also which one has given nicer things, but what is being assessed is sincerity and capability of the person.
As time goes – by, and the world has become more urbanized, this kind of process slowly changed, because the norm now is that every adult goes to work. The world has been interconnected and it has also become extremely competitive. We are all so busy earning a living. And so, acquiring an amulet has change also. Now, especially, in the last 15 to 20 years, inviting an amulet by way of paying for it has become acceptable provided there is some guideline.
The money is used as a donation for the consumerable materials used. Not the materials that are holy. For example, in the case of the Vajrapani Ruel (1) or Surangama Mantra Amulet (1), what were factored in the ‘price’ are the materials that can be paid for and not the holy materials like relics, etc.
The amount reflects the cost of transportation. A stipulated amount to be used for donation either to a temple or monastery, like in the case of the Surangama Mantra Amulet (2), the amount is used to build a temple. Or as an offering of an image of a Buddha, which is the case for the Vajrapani Ruel (2) and now the Illness Suppression Amulet. People are having easier access now to these amulets, but because they no longer serve the Sangha or community of Buddhist students or followers, they are requested to give a stipulated amount in return.
In some cases, some of these amulets are still distributed the old way and that would largely depend on the decision of the Buddhist monk in charge of the said amulet. For example, the Vajrapani Ruel (3) is not available thru a donation in Tibet and Nepal, no matter how much money you have you won’t be able to acquire it. You will have to be an active member of the Sangha and has made contribution either of food or service before you are even considered to possibly have it. The first few months when I wrote about the Vajrapani Ruel (4), I was not allowed by my Guru Lama to invite the Vajrapani Ruel (5) even if I was willing to give the stipulated amount for the cost of inviting it. It was only after several months that he decided to give one to me for free, as part of my service, but I still opted to give the stipulated amount for the cost of inviting the Vajrapani Ruel (6).
The Illness Suppression Amulet, which was specially made by my Guru Lama for the ruling Illness Star this year, is the same, the amount stipulated for its invitation will be partially donated to feeding of some monks, and making an image of a small Buddha or part of a bigger Buddha.
But a lot of the Buddhist monks still prioritized those who have sincerely contributed to the Buddhist community over those who can just simply pay for it. My Guru Lama although forced to accept the stipulated amount of donation for the invitation of some amulets like the Vajrapani Ruel (7) and Illness Suppression Amulet, he still follows the age – old tradition of distributing amulets, especially when said amulets are extremely limited.
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