Ven Aggacitta answers some questions related to whether or not a person can gain benefits just through praying and performing rituals in temples as well as through their parents’ good deeds.
Question 1: Some Buddhist temples conduct special prayers and ceremonies to boost students’ performance in exams. Is there efficacy in such a practice? Will it help students to pass exams and to get excellent results?
Answer: This is a practice prevalent among the Chinese. The Buddhist scriptures say that if you do meritorious deeds you receive merits. This is all dependent on one’s actions. If we check the scriptures for specific reference to passing of exams, then we will not be able to find any because there were no exams in those days.
Logically, since our actions reflect our state of mind, it is the state of our mind that matters. We can look at this from two aspects.
Firstly, if parents are worried about their children’s exam performance, then they should encourage them to listen to the Dhamma. This will calm the mind, enable them to think more clearly and remember things better and as a result will enhance their performance in exams. If the mind is not settled, then one cannot study. This has a direct effect on exam results.
Secondly, the Dhamma has been proven to have power. For example, the Angulimala Paritta has been proven to be effective in helping mothers deliver their babies safely. Once, one of our devotee’s wife had complications during her delivery and after I chanted the paritta while in my office, the problem corrected itself. It works, although I do not understand how it works. The Bojjhanga Paritta is also chanted to help a person recover from illness. Of course it also depends on the faith of the person. If there’s faith, it will work.
The Angulimala Sutta heals through the power of truth. Angulimala was a serial killer who became one of the Buddha’s disciples after the Buddha stopped him from killing his own mother. As a monk, his pre-monkhood reputation many a time caused him to be deprived of food as people refused to give him any. In spite of this, he was compassionate, especially towards mothers who faced problems delivering their babies. He asked the Buddha’s advice as to how he could help them. The Buddha told him to say, “Since my birth in the holy life, I know not of having intentionally deprived a living being of life. By this asseveration of truth, may you be well, may the child in your womb be well.” This is healing by the power of truth.
There is a story about a healer in Burma. Usually, traditional healers carry around with them a bag-full of herbs. This particular one did not, yet was a very much sought after healer. One day, someone asked him, “What’s your secret?” He was on his way to see an old lady who was ill. So he asked his questioner to follow him and to have faith in him. The doctor instructed the old woman’s daughter to say. “I am my mother’s daughter. By the power of this truth, may she be well.” The old woman recovered.
Another incident happened in Burma during the Japanese occupation. Some soldiers went to a village and were treated with hospitality by the villagers who gave them the best food. After the meal the soldiers, who were very cruel, asked each villager to dig a depression in the ground. Then they just knocked each villager unconscious with the butts of their rifles and buried him in the depression that would be his grave. One of the villagers, after he was hit (but was still conscious), thought, “With all sincerity, I treated them well. By the power of this truth, may I be saved.” While the rest died, he was saved.
Thus faith is important. With faith, many things are possible.