Monday, September 20, 2010

Books at Buddhist Temples

One of my more esoteric interests is in the literature left for free distribution at Buddhist temples. So great is this interest that I very nearly did my Honours Thesis on it - until common sense intervened.
At almost every Buddhist temple you will find a crowded, untidy shelf or two of free literature. The distribution of religious literature and images is a very old part of Buddhist culture. To print such material and distribute it is seen as one of the best ways of cultivating good karma.
In Thailand families will frequently print a religious book in memory of a recently deceased relative and distribute the book at the funeral, and then at temples afterwards. If you've travelled to Hong Kong or Taiwan you will know that these free books and pictures are seen everywhere. Indeed, the epicentre of freely distributed Buddhist material seems to be Taiwan, and it is the source of most free Buddhist material that you come across in Australia.
As well as books you also encounter small laminated cards featuring images of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and, less frequently, famous monks.

These days, too, it is common to see audio CDs and DVDs of chanting, Buddhist music and recorded Dharma talks.

Obviously this kind of media is much cheaper to produce than bound books, and it is also more accessible for older people, the less literate, or those who aren't inclined to read much.
Interestingly, the material left at temples is frequently non-exclusive, and not necessarily Buddhist. I came across this pamphlet dedicacted to the worship of the folk-God Guan Di, and a lot of the other material available is produced by Buddhist sects who aren't necessarily in philosophical agreement with the individual temple.

On occasion I even come across Christian literature, left there by hopeful missionaries!
Some temples even distribute small machines that contain a digital recording of a Buddhist chant.

You can switch these on and leave them going all day, thereby having your prayers said for you. The ones on offer at this temple chant Amitabha Buddha's, Kwan Yin's and Sakyamuni's name. In Vietnamese or Chinese - your choice!

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