Know your fortune through verses and moon blocks
Let poems and wooden pieces reveal your future.
Whether it is the Chinese New Year, Vesak or some free time on a Wednesday, the Pien Hou Temple in Third Ward serves as a place for worshipers to reach out to the goddess Mazu, the bodhisattva Guanyin, the Jade Emperor and other guardians. You can also ask them if you will be doing OK in the coming times (usually the rest of the year) through “kau cim,” a practice that can be translated to “asking for fortune sticks.”
There are two ways for you to ask: simple or formal. Both are acceptable, and will require you to light incenses and share prayers to the deities and guardians that populate the temple first.
On the table in front of the Mazu, there will be number of cylindrical bamboo tubes with a plethora of flattened sticks. These are the “cim buckets.”
Pick a bucket of your liking, hold it in your head and start praying. Silently and truthfully tell the deity your name, age and wish. It is human nature to want many things, but for this occasion taking your most important wish to the front of the line is recommended.
Now bend the bucket away from your body and gently shake it until a stick falls out. Memorize the number on the stick that is written the painted end of the stick.
No two sticks will have the same number. At Pien Hou Temple, there are a total of 103 sticks or 103 fortunes.
Find the fortune with the corresponding number, which will be in the form of a yellow piece of paper. On it will be a poem, written in Chinese and translated into Sino-Vietnamese (Vietnamese words with Chinese origins) and Vietnamese, that will tell the condition of your year.
The temple usually has a supervisor who will be more than happy to give you the English version of your fortune. Ringing up your Vietnamese friend would also be great.
There are three types of fortune that you can get. “Xâm Thượng” means great, “Xâm Trung” equals to mediocre and “Xâm Hạ” refers to bad. Since there is no range for each type, the fortune you receive this year will be different to the next.
Right next to the cim buckets will be “jiaobei blocks,” also known as “moon blocks” due to their appearance. They are used in pairs, to be thrown and, depending on their formation when they hit the ground, offer a “yes” or “no” answer.
Once you have received a stick, hold the blocks in your hand and quietly ask the deity for permission to get the stick. Now let go.
A “yes” answer would be when there is one block with its flat side down and the other in the air. This resembles the yin and yang in Chinese culture. If a “no” is given, place the stick back into the bucket and ask for another one.
Since this process can be time-consuming, you can also just use the moon blocks to ask for what you wish for. Again, one thing at a time is preferred, and three queries in total are best.
Don’t forget to rephrase your wish from a statement to a question, from “I want to get an A in my statistics class” to “Will I get an A in my statistics class this semester?”
The Vietnamese temples I have visited in Houston all offer tools for “kau cim” to visitors, which is interesting since this practice isn’t found in Buddhist temples back in Ho Chi Minh City.
It is fine to view “kau cim” as a fun activity without higher meaning. It is also fine to receive a bad fortune as well since it will let you be more aware of yourself and the surroundings.
As with all faiths, foreboding moments are temporary, and should be regarded as guidance rather than threats.