Fortunes of Cambodia


“Oh Rollo, if you truly knew what the gods have in store for you, you would go down now and dance naked on the beach. (LAUGHING)” ~Seer’s oracle, The Vikings

The fortune-teller glanced down and stated to silently read my prophesy. And just as quickly as he started, he immediately slammed the small booklet of Khmer palm-leaf writings shut.

“No good,” flatly said Thalay, our Cambodian tour guide, without any further explanation or elucidation.

“Well that’s not good, not good at all,” I thought to myself. Good thing I had two more choices at my fortune’s revelation!

Entry into the Silver Pagoda Compound

Entry into the Silver Pagoda Compound

We were visiting the Silver Pagoda, located adjacent to the Royal Palace in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. A couple of lessor shrines here specialize in fortune-telling, a common belief throughout the Far East, and I was eager to indulge myself.

The Library Adjacent to the Silver Pagoda

The Library Adjacent to the Silver Pagoda

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda, burial stupa WMWe watched as a young, well-dressed man received his fortune. The teller was located in small library just outside of the Silver Pagoda proper. Here were stored many old and historic Buddhist manuscripts written on palm leaves using Sanskrit, preserved in glass-faced cabinets, which were also lined with more modern translations in bound books. Thalay explained to us that this student was here to get his fortune regarding the future of his studies. Apparently, and unlike me, he got a fairly good one.

And on his first choice. Lucky.

Palm Leave Fortunes

Palm Leave Fortunes

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer rooflines 2 WMPalm leaves have been used for millennia both for writing and painting because of their thin and flexible qualities. From the first millenia up to the 16th centuries, manuscripts were written on palm leaves called Tādapatra. They provide an excellent surface for writing which is easily preserved and transported as rolled bundles. The rolled palm leaf manuscripts here were stored in small boxes, themselves placed inside modern steel and glass cabinets to further protect them from dust, dirt and thieves.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer rooflines WM

The mystic had a small bundle of fortunes written on palm leaves but in the more modern Khmer script. The leaves were bound top and bottom by a hard covering of bamboo, and the entire collection was held together with what appeared to be a hemp-like cord.

Clarity & Focus before Fortune-Telling

Clarity & Focus before Fortune-Telling

Before my first attempt it was explained that one must clear their minds entirely and focus on the one thing for which the fortune would apply. On my knees in front of a sacred bull, I closed my eyes, bowed my head and took a few deep cleansing breathes to help clear my thoughts. Then I started to hone my mental energies in order to focus the fortune’s predictions.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Buddha's Tripitaka, sacred bull closeup WM

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, metal-worked gate WMI wished to know the prospects for my health in the coming years. Last May, almost exactly a year previous to this fortune-telling, I had started to become very seriously ill (see Offshore Okinawa: A Scuba Diver’s Paradise to Lose). And my condition, one which I will remain “stuck” with over time, is also one for which the Western medical establishment has no clear answers…or cures. When I felt my mental energies were sufficiently engaged and fixated, I was ready for my second attempt at better providence.

The Silver Pagoda and a Stupa

The Silver Pagoda and a Stupa

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer spire WMThe Silver Pagoda is a small walled compound adjacent to the Cambodian Royal Palace complex, both located in the busy riverside district of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. It features a royal temple commonly referred to as Wat Preah Keo (Khmer: វត្តព្រះកែវ), which houses many national treasures, most notably the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia, a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha, as well as a near-life-size standing Buddha figurine encrusted with 9,584, diamonds dressed in royal regalia. The Pagoda itself is inlaid with more than 5,000 silver floor tiles, most of which remained covered for their protection.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, Kevin picking another fortune WM

This time I placed the bundles of fortunes on my head as I saw the student do. Attached to the bundle via a worn and fibrous string was a small wooden dowel, which is used to select the fortune in question.

“You can use your left hand,” said Thalay. I was using my right hand to do the choosing. After thinking about her somewhat odd comments, it suddenly dawned on me. Maybe I was doing it wrong.

“You mean I should use my left hand?” “Yes,” came her reply with a smile. Ah, perhaps I had discovered the cause of the first fortune failure. At least that’s what I chose to believe.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, Kevin picking a fortune WM

I select my fortune and hand it over to the seer. He silently reads the fortune. And continues reading for quite some time. I look at the palm leaf, and this fortune is quite long; the beautiful twists and twirls of the Khmer language written small and without margins right to the edge. I attempt to read his tells during his contemplation, and I’m struck that again he is not happy. I turn to Thalay and give her a rather pleading look.

After an extended discussions with the fortune-teller, Thalay starts to give me her interpretation. I can tell that this is not easy for her, and she is struggling with an explanation after two or three false starts. Finally, after even more discussion with the oracle, she comes up with this analogy:

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortunes WM

“It is not good, but not bad,” she starts, obviously trying to diffuse the growing anxiety that she clearly sees on my face. “It is like this: a fisherman can work hard all the day all his life, and at the only short time that he relaxes, the fish he wants swims by….”

Now for my third attempt. And my last. I took a few extra moments to center my mind and spirit. And again I take my chances with the bundle of what has only been, for me, bad or sad news. I turn over my choiced chance to the soothsayer.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortunes and the fortune teller WM

This time the slightest of a smile comes across his face. So, either he is amused at my exceedingly bad luck over three attempts, or actually I finally found a fortune worth having. What was it this time?

Well, after another difficult translation, it apparently comes down to this: that what I seek will require a life-long struggle, one that is fated to be not easy over time, and that will require the active support of my wife Jody. Jody, Thalay and I all make light of the situation, finding the obvious humor in having my health in the hands of my nurse-wife (literally – she’s a nurse). But of course, for me, in the recesses of the darker parts of my consciousness, this resonates true.  Maintaining my health may not be easy as I age, but with Jody’s help I will in fact keep aging.  Which is a good thing.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortune teller checking my fortune again WM

Most of us are drawn to having our fortunes predicted, as it has been throughout time. Almost everyone at some time or another wishes to know the Kismet with which we have been blessed…or cursed, and have the opportunity to confront the unchangeable fate to which we are bound.

But most of the time, it’s better to not openly know. Let the gods plan and scheme; we, like the Viking Rollo, simply strive to make the most of the lot we have drawn, waiting for our destinies to take hold. We never really know what the gods have in store.  We should dance naked anyhow.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda, Cambodian greeting and show of respect WM

Sources

http://www.dsbcproject.org/manuscripts/short-history

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Pagoda,_Phnom_Penh

Love Rocks!! Match-Making, Love & Romance in Kyoto, Japan


“Where there is love there is life.”  ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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If you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places, perhaps it’s time you visited the Jishu Shrine of love and match-making in Kyoto, Japan.  Kyoto is known as the most visited place in Japan.  I’ve even heard an urban legend that it’s the most visited place on the planet…outside of Mecca.  While I doubt the latter claim, the former certainly holds true.  As Japanese’s ancient capital and cultural and religious center spared the destructive bombings of WWII (see my blog about how the city was saved here), its extensive collection of historically important castles, temples and shrines all provide a draw for tourist and pilgrims alike.

The Complex's Deva Gate

The Complex’s Deva Gate

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love and match-makingJishu is found within the Kiyomizu-dera temple complex, already the city’s leading tourist spot that draws massive throngs.  However, finding ourselves already in Kyoto during low winter season, we decided to further reduce the risk of swarming sightseers by visiting during a random weekday…at sunrise!  Actually, since it was on a hillside, I thought what a better place to view the dawn of a new day; unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that the Kiyomizu-dera provides only a westerly view….  Between the cold of winter and early time of day, we were assured a nearly private visit!

Kiyomizu-dera's Main Hall and Veranda

Kiyomizu-dera’s Main Hall and Veranda

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), painted dragon adorns a temple's ceilingKiyomizu-dera (清水寺, “clean” or “pure waters”), a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complex of Buddhist temples and shrines in the hillsides of eastern Kyoto.  Kiyomizu-dera was founded in 798, but the present buildings date to 1633.  The massive wooden main hall features a large veranda supported by a tall and dense latticework of pillars that juts out dramatically over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city.  Most amazingly, there is not a single nail used in the entire structure.

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Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, shrine's cleansing watersThe Jishu Shrine is dedicated to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and “good matches.”  Jishu Shrine gets high marks for its foreigner user-friendliness.  English-language explanations of most everything are extensively provided, and proclamations of inclusivity abound:  “There is only one human race even though there are many nationalities.”  And perhaps most importantly, the shrine’s Ema good-luck charms are clearly explained in English, a relatively uncommon find visiting Japan’s religious sites.

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While Jishu is small and an easily missed off-shoot from the main pathway through Kiyomizu-dera, it’s packed with interesting wives’ tales and superstitions about love, marriage, curses, and match-making (enmusubi).  Some of the highlights for Jody and I are described below.

Jody's Love on the Rocks

Jody’s Love on the Rocks

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, Jody blindly walks from love rock to love rock 2img_0292Love Rocks!  Love may be blind, but if you believe hard enough, you can still stumble upon it….  The primary love lure of the shrine are two rocks.  Yep, rocks.  Love rocks.  They stand about 6 meters (20 feet) apart, and according to legend, if one walks between the two stones with their eyes closed (no cheating!), then they are assured luck in love.  However, should someone help along the way, one will only find love through the interloping of another.  The challenge is a popular one, with the love-sick attempting to thread their way through the throngs with eyes shut and arms outstretched.  While I needed a bit of guidance, Jody made the walk rather easily.  Good thing she’s already mine!

An anime adaptation of Cupid....

An anime adaptation of Cupid….

Japan’s Cupid.  Ōkuninushi, a Japanese “god of love.”  The Jishu is one of the most famed and popular match-making shrines in Japan, and is dedicated to this god.  Anyone looking for romance or marriage probably has plans to visit here, and not surprisingly, the shrine is most often full of young giggling Japanese girls.  Ōkuninushi is associated with love, romance and match-making.  As the spiritual hose of the annual meeting of all of Japan’s kami (Shinto spirits) in November of every year, Ōkuninushi brings the kami together, fostering relationships in the spiritual world.  Therefore, by extension, he became the kami of connections in all worldly matters of love as well.  However, instead of a bow and arrow, Ōkuninushi uses a…rabbit?

Japan's Cupid and his Hare

Japan’s Cupid and his Hare

 

Yes, the anime version of the "Hare of Inaba"

Yes, the anime version of the “Hare of Inaba”

What’s up Doc?  Well, lovers bred like rabbits, so doesn’t it make sense for Ōkuninushi to have a hare (rabbit) as a sidekick?  Not quite.  The legend of the Hare of Inaba has Ōkuninushi taking pity helping cure the hare who had been skinned alive as a punishment for deception.  However, in a mythical twist of fortune, it turned out the hare was in reality a fellow god, and in return for Ōkuninushi’s help in restoring its skin, the hare became Ōkuninushi’s devoted ally and advised him how to obtain the love of a princess he was seeking to marry.  Since then, the pair has been inseparable.  Already have love; what about good fortunes?

Inaba's Fur Restored

Inaba’s Fur Restored

Fortune Favors…those with 5 Yen to spend.  Omikuji, literally “sacred lot,” are nothing more than random fortunes written on small slips of paper.  Divination has always been a central aspect of ancient Shinto practice, one that continues to this day in the popular form of these fortune slips.  At the Jishu Shrine, however, the fortunes mostly focus on love and romance.  Those receiving good fates might fold and keep the Omikuji to make sure they come true.  Those not so lucky in love will tie them up on a pine tree using strings provided, based on a pun of the word for pine tree (松 matsu) and the verb “’to wait” (待つ matsu), the idea being that the bad luck will wait by the tree rather than attach itself to the bearer.  What a sap (get it, pun intended)!!  Okay, so now you have love and good fortune.  But what about the benjamins??

Magic Money

Magic Money

Money Can’t Buy You Love.  Carrying a treasure sack on his back, holding a “magic money mallet,” and standing or seated on bales of rice, a rather healthy and jolly Daikoku, one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune associated with Buddhism, can be found throughout the Jishu shrine.  Originating in India as the Hindu deity Shiva, he became intertwined with the Shinto god Ōkuninushi as the characters for “Okuni” can also be read as Daikoku.  Thus, as one deity traversed three countries and three religions, it became conflated in cultural and practice with another, cementing the Shinto-Buddhist syncretism.  What’s more convenient in a shrine than to have access to wishes for love and wealth!!  Well, one also needs a way to wash away their sins.

Hitogata, 人形, vaudou japonais

Healing Waters.  Found within the shrine are a couple of tables with hitogata paper dolls destined to wash away your problems.  The simple design, resembling a human figure, represents you the worshiper after you write your name and age over it.  Once offered to the shrine’s waters in a divine purification service, it is said that your ills and evils shall be washed away.  Sure beats confession.

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, love Ema muah XXOOXX

chichibu_shrine_anime_ema_4732Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, love knots and ties that bindLike a Prayer.  Less Madonna’s annoying tune.  Ema (Shinto prayer plaques) sell at a brisk pace, and can be found just about anywhere around the shrine.  Some portray Ōkuninushi’s and his hare on one side, while others depict classic icons of love.  On the blank back-side, however, is where heartfelt requests for a love-match or marriage are written.  One of the most entertaining aspects of visiting the shrine is examining just how creative some of the pleas of the love-sick actually are.  Now, if only we could read Japanese….

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Cursed Sacred Cedar Trunk

Cursed Sacred Cedar Trunk

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, Okage-Myojin sacred cedar tree trunkVoodoo, Japanese style.  Finally, all is fair in love as the saying goes.  There is always a darker side, and that is no less true than here at Jishu.  Okage Myojin, a kami-guardian of women, is thought to answer a woman’s any prayer.  Such kami were called upon for “ushi no toki mairi,” a prescribed method of laying a curse traditional to Japan, so-called because it is conducted during the hours of the Ox, with the proper witching hour of 2:00AM.  Typically a scorned woman, dressed in white and crowned with an iron ring set with three lit candles, drives a nail through a straw effigy of the victim, impaling it into a sacred tree.  The ritual must be repeated seven days running, after which the curse is believed to succeed, but being witnessed in the act is thought to nullify the spell…and probably cause quite a bit of embarrassment!  The sacred tree at Jishu is a cedar, and although dead (ironically probably killed by metal poisoning), the trunk remains standing where marks of many nails can still be found.  It’s very interesting to note the similarities to placing a voodoo curse in the West.

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Jishu Shrine is a very small area and can be easily missed while traversing the massively broader Temple complex as it is buried deep within.  But don’t let its size – or the crowds fool you – it’s most certainly worth the visit!  Whether you’re taken already or not, everyone could use a little more Luck in Love.  Have a visit, and enrich your life!

Kyoto Winter 2014, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), Jishu Shrine of Ōkuninushi god of love, collage