Mind Reading

On one trip to a certain monastery, my friends and I were about to leave when one of my friends asked me if it were possible to get one of the abbot’s books on Buddhist meditation. She was interested in a specific book that he’d talked about the day before. I asked a member of the temple board, who was standing around. He told me to go over and ask the abbot himself, who was up on one of the monastery’s hills.

As we came up to the top of the hill, we saw the abbot walking down beneath a parasol. We stopped and without saying anything, put our hands together and bowed. He saw us, smiled and said, “Go look in the shed over there. If it’s not there, there might be a copy in the main shrine room.”

How did he know that we were looking for the book? We hadn’t told him what we were looking for! So naturally, we spent the rest of the day talking about his telepathic ability.

When I was younger, I was told that any monk who had a dedicated meditation practice could read minds. One monk even very bluntly told me so, although I’m not exactly sure if he were joking. (That story warrants a whole post on its own!) Another monk, who only spoke Thai and Pali, could understand your question no matter what language you asked it in. (His interpreter would have to translate the response back from Thai though.)

I’m a pretty skeptical individual when it comes to magical powers. My father was a professional magician, and I worked in the circus. I know what special effects look like. In general, we believe in magic because we want to believe in magic.

Part of the astonishment comes from our own youthful naivete. I remember when I was ten, I had an extraordinary secret crush… or at least I’d thought it was secret, because it wasn’t long before my grandmother asked me out of the blue, “So what’s her name?”

How could she have known? As a ten-year old, I had assumed that by not talking about my thoughts, no one could know what I was thinking. I wasn’t aware that I was walking around with lovesickness written all over my face. My grandmother was only too kind to let me know.

Perhaps it’s the case that the “telepathic” abbot was simply astute. Maybe the “observant” is the more appropriate word. It was obvious to him that my friends and I were looking for a particular book. I’d like to think that he was attuned to perhaps our behavior, and maybe also a number of other factors, that we ourselves were not aware of.

There’s a lot more I’d like to say about this, but I’m currently very crunched for time. Hopefully there’ll be some discussion in the comments. I’d hoped to at least write one post per week, but as it is, the expanded responsibilities of my new position entail a lot more work than I’d anticipated. (Isn’t it always the case?) And then I was struck down with another cold. Sniffle. I really have to thank kudos for continuing to post thought-provoking pieces on Dharma Folk (kudos to you! har har…), even though I don’t get the chance to check my Google Reader much any more. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to post again soon!

6 Replies to “Mind Reading”

  1. Clairvoyance is considered a minor accomplishment, one that’s shared with non-Buddhist practices (this usually refres to Hindu meditation systems). In the shamatha teachings I received, we were told that if one practiced intensively in retreat for six months, one definite result would be clairvoyance.

  2. I have had my share of magical Buddhism stories, though no direct experiences. My father once went to a temple and sat among 5-6 people who all wished to have their futures/fortunes told by some sort of child god/spirit (I suspect its from the Mahayana tradition). The Spirit would embody a monk and speak through him, using a child’s voice and demeanor. Then he would go person by person, revealing specific parts of your life so that it is apparent that this is truly the Spirit speaking. I’m not so sure if I believe the story but my father seems to be fully convinced. I declined his offer to take me.

    Another more common story I’ve heard are people would can tell you what/who you’ve been in your past lives.

    From these stories and countless others, I have come to accept that as a religion, Buddhism has its share of mysticism. Like arunlikhati mentioned, we often believe in magic because we want to believe in it. My father probably went to the Spirit gathering because he wanted to hear about his future prospects. It’s possible (and quite common in theories explaining fortune telling) that when we want to hear something, we manipulate what we hear to fit our situation.

    “Go look in the shed over there. If it’s not there, there might be a copy in the main shrine room.” Maybe arunlikhati was thinking of the book but the abbot was thinking about something else (brochures, notes, chanting booklets, etc.) and it just sounded by coincidence that they were talking about the same thing. Maybe.

  3. I think it’s very likely that when he was talking about the book the abbot already knew it was useful for that woman who ended up asking for it. In other words: your abbot is really someone who knows people and what works for them. (not a bad skill to have)

  4. A friend at my old temple used to tell me stories of similar vein from a Shugendo master (a kind of Shinto/Buddhist ascetism in Japan). He’d swear the monk always knew what he was thinking.

    If not actual clarivoyance, then all that meditation must allow you the concentration to pick on otherwise subtle signs. :-/

  5. I’ve met a couple of lamas who seemd more in tune than the rest of us. But if clairvoyance is a minor accomplishment, what are the larger ones (other than enlightenment itself)?

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