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Planetary Post
Planetary posts are one of the intriguing features to be found at most pagodas in Myanmar. They represent a part of the belief of most traditional Buddhists. I mean those who are not are not too analytical about their beliefs. Whenever such people visit a pagoda, they never fail to propitiate the guardian-spirit of the planet under whose influence they were born or they have currently fallen. Most Myanmar believes in astrology, which implies that their destinies are controlled by the movements of the planets. If you want to look down upon those who believe in astrology and the like, you shouldn't forget that former U.S President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy are among the fervent believers of astrology. Besides, as far as I am aware, most American newspapers carry astrological predictions daily indicating that a considerable number of Americans read those columns. Paris is known to have plenty of astrologers, It appears that you cannot write off astrology and other branches of futurology as easily as you would like to, when you consider great seers like Cheiro and Nostradamus. I can also mention Jeanne Dixon if you want a contemporary seer.

Well, to get back to the planetary posts, there are eight of them occupying the eight points of the compass at the pagoda. The counting of the planetary posts beings from the northeast corner which is assigned to the sun the Myanmar astrology numbers the sun and the moon among the planets. You will see the figure of the mythical Galon-bird or garuda at the top of the planetary post in this corner. As you walk on, keeping the pagoda to your right, as it's the custom, you come to the east the territory of the moon, hence, the Monday corner. Its mythical symbol is the tiger. Next comes the Tuesday corner in the southeast ruled by the planet Mars and represented by the figure of the lion. The south belongs to the Wednesday morning, its mythical symbol being the elephant with tusks. The ruling Planet of this point is Mercury. But, here ends the orderly march of the days of the week, for the next corner_ the southwest is not assigned to the Wednesday afternoon as is to be expected, but to Saturday with Saturn as its planet and the fire-breathing dragon as its mythical symbol. It should be explained here that the Myanmar astrology splits Wednesday into morning and evening, so that there will be enough days to occupy the eight points of the compass. More inconsistencies follow as the next point is assigned to Thursday. Its planet is Jupiter and its symbol, the rat. Then comes the northwest corner belonging to the Wednesday evening and ruled by Rahu planet, which may not be known to the astrologers of other countries. This Rahu is an evil planet, which is supposed to swallow the moon either partly or wholly during eclipses. The symbol of this corner is the elephant without tusks. The last point - the north - is assigned to Friday. Its planet is Venus and its symbol, the guinea pig.

A visit to a pagoda by a Buddhist can be compared to that of a Westerner to a psychiatrist: both are seeking mental well being. When a Buddhist visits a pagoda, he or she usually has a dual purpose: to gain merit by doing good deeds and to ward off impending misfortune by performing certain mysterious rituals. Good deeds include saying prayers, offering lights, flowers, incense etc., telling rosary, sitting in meditation, donating money to mendicants, feeding the pigeons and striking the big bells to share the merit one has gained with one's fellow-creatures living on the thirty-one planes of existence. By doing some or all of these things, one gains confidence that they are sure to bring good luck to one.

As a rule, when a Buddhist visits a pagoda, he or she invariably sits and prays in his or her birthday corner- a Sunday-born in the northeast corner, a Thursday-born in the west and so on. The second part of the purpose is achieved by propitiating the Guardian-spirit or the planet under whose influence one was born or one has fallen currently. This ritual chiefly consists of pouring the age-equivalent number of cups of water on the planetary post concerned, reciting prayers or supplications at the same time. Those who are especially anxious to ward off impending misfortune may offer Eugenia sprigs, which are usually associated with victory, to the planetary post concerned for added protection. The planetary post of Saturn and Rahu are usually more crowed then the others as they are notorious as evil planets and are greatly feared. However, once the prescribed ritual has been performed, one feels better and goes home in a somewhat happier frame of mind.

Incidentally, do you know that psychiatrists for the common people are virtually non-existent in Myanmar? The reason is that the Myanmars simply no use for shrinks or counseling for that matter, since they have a better, surer and less costly way of allaying their worries and fears of what future might bring: a visit to the pagoda to do good deeds and to appease the Guardian-spirit of the planet concerned. They feel certain that the act of cleansing the planetary post will sweep aside all or some of the impending bad luck foretold by the positions of the planets. That's their safety valve that never fails to work. They come away from the planetary post feeling as if a heavy load has been lifted off their chest. I may be wrong, but in my humble opinion, a psychiatrist does little more than provide an outlet for the patient's fears and worries by listening attentively to what's eating the latter. The patient feels better after making an outlet for his or her pent-up feelings. A Myanmar who has performed the planetary post ritual also finds similar relief, sincerely believing that everything is going to be fine. Needless to say, that belief - that ritual- inspired optimism - contributes to one's mental or spiritual well being.

In my opinion, Myanmars are better off than most Westerners as far as mental health is concerned for the simple reason that they believe in astrology and its prescriptions, especially the planetary post ritual. They don's feel guilty or blame themselves as much as most westerners do after meeting with failures or making blunders since they believe that their successes or failures are primarily determined by their Karma, that is destiny, more particularly, by the positions of the planets in the heavens. This attitude prevents the guilt-complex and numerous mental problems arising out of it. Whether it is a mere superstitions or not, belief in certain astrological rituals appears to have its own rewards.

Here I am by no means trying to justify the belief in astrology. I have found out from personal experience that a large number of astrologers and their ilk are just bluffers, many of whom are good at making educated guesses because I have consulted many of them. I am not unduly impressed by their hit- or miss predictions. However, I am not hesitant to admit in my heart of hearts that the art of fortune telling can become an exact and credible science in the hands of experts or gifted masters. 


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