Buddhist advice among buds and blooms

Photos: Ba Han

Vietnam Heritage, February 2011 -- I went with my mother to a Buddhist pagoda on Lunar New Year’s Day when I was a child.
From very early in the morning I and my brothers and sisters were excited waiting to put on new clothes. We romped along the road to the pagoda.
People in my village go to the pagoda to wish for the protection of their families and pick a lộc xuân, a piece of red, folded paper with a poem or a sentence from Buddhist scripture.
In the middle of the large front yard of the pagoda stood a large planter containing a mai tree, Ochna integerrima, bearing its yellow Tết flower, to southern Vietnamese. Beside the buds and blooms were red lộc xuân, on white threads, high and low, on the inside and outside of the tree. 
The representatives of my family first performed rituals of obedience before the altar of the Buddha. My mother held me high. I don't know whether a higher lộc xuân brings better luck. I was proud to pick a lộc xuân on behalf of my family.
We children were usually allowed to play in the garden, where there were lots of big, shady trees.
In a living room at the back of the pagoda a Buddhist dignitary opened the lộc xuân I had picked, slowly read out the message and explained it in a slow, low, gentle voice.
Every lộc xuân gives ways to improve oneself.
Some people are advised to charitable works, some to patience and, some to a vegetarian diet and prayers, some to refraining from telling lies.
A lộc xuân brings spiritual strength.
As soon as we got home, my mother repeated the recommendations to my grandmother and father.
I recall picking a lộc xuân that said that if we followed Buddhist teachings we would not meet unfavourable events and my brother would pass an examination. If we practised self-improvement we get what we wished for.
My mother has received a lucky lộc xuân every year, never an adverse one.
Nowadays, instead of picking a lộc xuân, people may consult an oracle or have their horoscope read.
For a Buddhist, which I am, the latter practised must be hard to understand. For those who have never read the Buddha's teachings, it’s fine to follow such superstitions. For those who have heard the very righteous and clear-sighted teachings of Buddha, it isn’t.

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