Saturday, March 11, 2006

Dé Jiáo Hùi

My parents were religious people, so are most of my folks. We are not Christians, nor Muslims, but are of a mixture of Buddhist-Taoist type. The religion that we are practicing comes under the banner of Dé Jiáo Hùi, and it has temples set up in many parts of the world, including the U.S.A., and Australia. Although the temples each has it's own name, most of them end with the Chinese word Gé, meaning chamber literally. It is within the chamber that the religious activities are conducted. There are five streams of thoughts that are equally regarded in Dé Jiáo Hùi: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and, curiously, Confucianism. However the three main Deities that are worshipped in the temple are Hé Xián Gú (Taoist, female), Liú Dòng Bin (Taoist, male), and Ji Góng (Buddhist, male).

There is an altar in the chamber. In front of the altar is an octagonal shaped "desk" the top of which is framed by an octagonal frame about four to six inches high. Inside the frame contains the mixture of fine sand and incense ashes less than half an inch thick. Resting on the altar and wrapped with a red cotton ribbon is the divine rod - which is a piece of tree branch approximately one and a half foot tall, and in the shape of Y. The thickness of the rod is even - about an inch in diameter or slightly less. The gatherings take place on the 1st and 15th day of the lunar calendar, meaning new moon, and full moon. The ritual begins with the congregation standing (there is no seat in the chamber) and facing the altar chanting the prayer which is written five words per verse in Chinese poetry style. The ritual is pretty much like the Christians chanting the Lord's Prayer. There are only two prayers, one following immediately after another. There is no priest or monk to give sermon.

After the prayers, the cover of the octagonal desk is removed and the divine rod is placed on the "desk" with two arms resting against the octagonal frame. Two appointed men would then approach the "desk". The one standing on the right would take hold of one arm of the Y rod with his left hand, and the one standing on the left would take hold of the other arm of the rod with his right hand. Both men would then raise the rod above their shoulders, pointing the third arm of the rod skyward. A third person would stand aside the "desk" with a piece of small timber that looks a bit like a ruler, his function is to smooth the ashes with the timber after each word has been written on the ashes. A fourth person would be sitting on a high chair in front of a small high table located next to the octagonal "desk", His function is to record word by word what has been received. The man standing on the right holding the divine rod is the chief writer. The one on the left serves to support the movements of the rod, and to confirm and read out each word as it is being written.

As soon as one of the deities "arrives", the divine rod would start to rock and shake while held above the shoulders, and eventually come down and hit the octagonal "desk" with a thump. Then it would (with both men holding onto it) start to move in circle, indicating it's ready to be consulted. The writings are invariably in Chinese poetry style - mostly five words per verse, but sometimes with seven words per verse. It's interesting to note that the seasoned elders could tell straight away which one of the three deities is present by the style of the handwriting, and by the manner the verses are expressed. On special occasions, all three deities would be present, one after another.

I am not sure if the words come through the "divine writer" as they are written, or the writers are guided by the divine rod itself as the words are written. Nor can I be certain if the "divine writer" is a channel or a medium, or even necessarily be one. He does not seem to go into trance to write the messages, and appears to be conscious of the surrounding at all time.

If there is no guidance to be sought by any individual, the messages would be generally of commentary nature. To those who come to seek guidance to their problems or make special requests, there are two ways for the questions or requests to be posed. The usual way is to speak out the questions or requests openly while the divine rod is moving in circle, and the answers are given when the writings commence. The second way is more private in that the questions or requests are written on a piece of paper which is sealed inside an envelop and placed on the altar. In turn the sealed envelop would be presented to the "divine writer" who uses the rod to touch the envelop to confirm the ownership of the envelop, then commences writing out the answers to the sealed questions or requests. As usual, the answers are given in poetry style, only in rare occasion that messages are written in prose.

Does it help? Well, here is the rest of the story...

My father left China at a young age to look for livelihood in South East Asia. He went through the usual hard labour period and saved every cent that he could earn. At later years he was involved in various prospective businesses such as pineapple farming and rubber plantation, but none led him anywhere. In his desperation, he had sought divine guidance and was instructed to move to the path of Chinese herbal medicine. He thought it strange as he had no knowledge whatsoever in this field, and had expressed his reluctance and concern during the divine session. The answer came when he was given a herbal formula that he was to use to make the medicine. He followed the instruction, put a lot of efforts and hard work into it over the years, and became very successful. The herbal mix still remains the top selling medicine of its kind in the market today.

After the herbal business kicked off, he brought Grandma over from China to live with us. They had not seen each other for many years. I must be about two or three years old then. When I was eight Grandma became very sick and bed confined. The doctor attending to her had advised my father that there was nothing could be done and he was to prepare for her funeral soon. She was in her late 70's. My father went to the temple and sought divine intervention. Basically he was pleading for more years to be granted so that he and grandma could spend some quality times together. He made a pledge to build a larger temple. The answer came back was that as he was a man of faith, and had done many good things, they would extend grandma's life for three years in order for him to fulfil his filial duties. Soon after the divine session Grandma became well again, no one was more surprised than the attending doctor. To fulfil his pledge, not only he had donated substantial money to the building of the new temple, he was the driving force in the fund raising campaign for the project as well. The old temple was in a small hut behind a row of shanty shops outside the town centre. I had been there several times with my parents when I was a kid, and still have a good picture in mind of what it had looked like. With the donated money, a piece of land (which was a rambutan plantation) further down the road was bought and cleared, and the eventual new temple was build. The temple was architecturally designed, though not big, it was magnificent to look at. After the project was completed, my Grandma passed away peacefully - three years as granted. I was eleven and had just started my first year in high school.

With the success of the herbal product, the business had eventually expanded. While the plan for the new factory was on the drawing board there was a fallout with the original group of people who ran the old temple and who had now sought control over the new temple in which my father was elected as the first elder. Eventually he left the new temple in disgust, along with several of his closest friends who had supported him. Two of these friends were "divine writers" - Uncle Hoon Kiang and Uncle Soon Hai (as we called them). Consequently, not only the residence of the entire family was incorporated into the design of the factory, but also a home divine chamber as well, which was built on the top floor, together with a guest room. I was in my teen then.

The divine chamber at home was used frequently, and would open to the public who came to seek help. It was from this chamber that one of my sisters was granted a baby boy on request, and two baby boys to one of my brothers later.

I left home for Australia in 1969. It was on the third year here that my homesickness had gradually deteriorated into depression. Going home for holidays was not an option opened to me at the time. My high school art teacher, Mr Campbell, was very concerned about my exclusive use of heavy black and red (only two colours) in all my art works. My English teacher, Miss Hiatt, was worried about the depressive nature of my writings. I was obviously heading towards a breakdown. At the time I had thought of becoming a "hermit" (at my age?) I was then very fond of the Chinese saying that "a wise man would act as an idiot", and I had acted out as an "idiot". Then THAT day came when I broke down in a math class. Tears just poured out from my eyes uncontrollably. Mrs Prichard tried to console me but to no avail. It was in march 1971, exactly thirty five years ago. Soon after, I was offered a two weeks trip home. In hindsight, my condition must have been reported by my concerned teachers and relayed to my family, though I had no idea at the time what was going on, let alone that I was going to spend the Easter with my folks.

Although my homesickness was cured the moment I landed in Penang Airport, I felt as if there was something veiling over my entire being. There was a dullness in my mind that I could not wipe clean. I was not as receptive as I could have been when I met up with my folks. There were concerns in their eyes as if I were a sick man. I was definitely not the person they knew before I left in 1969. I spent the first week catching up with friends and indulging in activities that I was totally deprived off - Chinese movies, local hawkers' foods, books, music, etc. Life was starting to look up - my face got a healthy shine from the tropical sun. Then my father called me aside and had a long and serious chat about me and my life here. I told him what a deprived student's life was like here in Melbourne at the time. We ended the conversation with my agreeing to seek some help from the divine source.

I cannot recall in greater details what happened that night, but I was there in the divine chamber. Uncle Hoon Kiang and Uncle Soon Hai were there. They were the "divine writers" as usual. After we finished the two prayers the consulting session commenced. While the divine rod was drawing circle, my father put forward his request for the cure of whatever I had. I was asked to kneel behind the "divine writers" to receive the instructions. I must be deep in my own thought at the time, as I had not paid much attention to what was being read out and recorded. Then the writing ceased. What followed was quite an extraordinary experience that I still remember vividly today. The two "divine" writers turned from the octagonal desk and moved past me with the rod still in their hands rocking and shaking over my head. I was asked to bow my head, which I did, and with that the third arm of the rod landed right in the middle of my neck at the back. It was not hard, just a tap, then a gentle push, and I felt a surge of force or energy coursing up my neck and went straight up into my brain, spreading over the top of my head just beneath the skull, and as if there was a spark going off in my mind, suddenly the veil was lifted and gone in a flash. My mind cleared up instantly. Amidst the chanting of the prayer, I looked up and, for the first time, really saw my father's concerned eyes.

I slept peacefully that night, like an exhausted traveler.

When I came down for breakfast the next morning, my father was sitting in his usual seat reading something. He saw me and asked me to go over to his desk. As I got near I saw that he had been reading the message record book that he had kept for all the divine sessions that were held at home. He pushed the record book in front of me and said, "This was the message received for you last night. I am not sure what this line mean. Can you explain to me?" He was pointing at the first four words in the first line of the message. I looked at the four words and was staggered by what I saw. As I said, I had not paid attention to the writing the night before, and it was the first time that I had a good look at what was written. The first four Chinese words that appeared in the message were "a wise man would act as an idiot"!

I looked up and there were questions in my father's eyes. I thought for a moment and said, "There is no real explanation. It's between the deity and me. Only Him would know what it means." I knew he was not satisfied with the answer, but he let it go. There was no point to explain to him what I had been through. And judging by how I felt that morning, the subject was certainly no longer of any concern. I felt great.

When I got back to school in Melbourne, there was a growing quiet optimism inside me. This was reflected in my writings, and the colours I used in the paintings: pastel blue, yellow, and green, washed over with lots of water, light and airy - no more heavy black and red. All the teachers who were concerned over my welfare must have noted the changes in me with a big sigh of relief.

Throughout the entire episode, there was no medical or psycholoigical consulatations. There was certainly no medicine, drug, or herbs taken at any time - before, during, or after.

It's regrettable that I have not kept the divine message received that night, and I am not sure if the record book is still with the family after my father's passing. I certainly would like to find out now who the deity was who attended my need at the time, and the message imparted.

It was Easter 1971 when I experienced what amounted to my rebirth. Now, coincidentally, I am making a trip home in Easter this year (the last trip was in 1998 for my mother's funeral). Given my spiritual journey that I have embarked on thus far, may be there is something in the coming Easter trip that I can learn...perhaps it's not coincident at all. The three deities have been on my mind for some months now, and hence this particular writing today. Hopefully I would learn more in the trip for, perhaps, a second rebirth, albeit thirty five years later.