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An omen is viewed as a sign from the natural world that delivers a message of some sort. Typically this message is seen as an indicator of coming good or evil events.

I know this has nothing to do with the Noble path and Buddhist practice in general, but I know that some lamas or highly attained monks from other traditions demonstrate psychic powers. Also, there are various rituals in Vajrayana which are performed to attain certain spiritual and mystical energies states.

So can we train our minds to read omens? Also, can we make use of omens to grow spiritually? Like for e.g. in India. if a black cat crosses our path we consider it as a bad omen and usually abort what we were set to do or become more cautious doing it.

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Omen reading, astrology, palmistry and other such things are considered "animal arts" and wrong livelihood for monks in DN 2 quoted below. In general, even for laypersons, this would be considered "animal arts", and therefore unskillful or unwholesome.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as: reading marks on the limbs [e.g., palmistry]; reading omens and signs; interpreting celestial events [falling stars, comets]; interpreting dreams; reading features of the body [e.g., phrenology]; reading marks on cloth gnawed by mice; offering fire oblations, oblations from a ladle, oblations of husks, rice powder, rice grains, ghee, and oil; offering oblations from the mouth; offering blood-sacrifices; making predictions based on the fingertips; geomancy; making predictions for state officials; laying demons in a cemetery; placing spells on spirits; earth-skills [divining water and gems?]; snake-skills, poison-skills, scorpion-skills, rat-skills, bird-skills, crow-skills; predicting life spans; giving protective charms; casting horoscopes — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as: determining lucky and unlucky gems, staffs, garments, swords, arrows, bows, and other weapons; women, men, boys, girls, male slaves, female slaves; elephants, horses, buffaloes, bulls, cows, goats, rams, fowl, quails, lizards, rabbits, tortoises, and other animals — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as [forecasting]: the rulers will march forth; the rulers will not march forth; our rulers will attack, and their rulers will retreat; their rulers will attack, and our rulers will retreat; there will be triumph for our rulers and defeat for their rulers; there will be triumph for their rulers and defeat for our rulers; thus there will be triumph this one, defeat for that one — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as [forecasting]: there will be a lunar eclipse; there will be a solar eclipse; there will be an occultation of [a conjunction of the moon or a planet with] an asterism; the sun and moon will be favorable; the sun and moon will be unfavorable; the asterisms will be favorable; the asterisms will be unfavorable; there will be a meteor shower; there will be a flickering light on the horizon [an aurora?]; there will be an earthquake; there will be thunder coming from dry clouds; there will be a rising, a setting, a darkening, a brightening of the sun, moon, and asterisms; such will be the result of the lunar eclipse ... the rising, setting, darkening, brightening of the sun, moon, and asterisms — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as [forecasting]: there will be abundant rain; there will be a drought; there will be plenty; there will be famine; there will be rest and security; there will be danger; there will be disease; there will be freedom from disease; or they earn their living by accounting, counting, calculation, composing poetry, or teaching hedonistic arts and doctrines [lokāyata] — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as: calculating auspicious dates for marriages — both those in which the bride is brought home and those in which she is sent out; calculating auspicious dates for betrothals and divorces; for collecting debts or making investments and loans; reciting charms to make people attractive or unattractive; curing women who have undergone miscarriages or abortions; reciting spells to bind a man's tongue, to paralyze his jaws, to make him lose control over his hands, or to bring on deafness; getting oracular answers to questions addressed to a spirit in a mirror, in a young girl, or to a spirit medium; worshipping the sun, worshipping the Great Brahmā, bringing forth flames from the mouth, invoking the goddess of luck — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these.

"Whereas some contemplatives & brahmans, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such "animal" arts as: promising gifts to deities in return for favors; fulfilling such promises; demonology; reciting spells in earth houses [see earth skills, above]; inducing virility and impotence; preparing sites for construction; consecrating sites for construction; giving ceremonial mouthwashes and ceremonial baths; offering sacrificial fires; administering emetics, purges, purges from above, purges from below, head-purges; ear-oil, eye-drops, treatments through the nose, ointments, and counter-ointments; practicing eye-surgery [or: extractive surgery], general surgery, pediatrics; administering root-medicines and binding medicinal herbs — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from "animal" arts such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue."

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The birth of a Bodhisatta is traditionally held to be associated with omens.

There are plenty of omens in the sutta texts.

For e.g. the Bodhisatta had prophetic dreams which can be taken to be omens in AN 5.196.

Furthermore in Itivuttaka 83, there is talk of omens:

“Monks, when a god is about to pass away from the company of gods, five omens appear: his flower garlands wither, his clothes become soiled, sweat comes out of his armpits, his bodily radiance fades, and he no longer delights in his heavenly mansion.

As to whether one can make use of it beyond recognizing these, this i doubt because if it is a true omen then it is basically prophetic in nature and there is nothing to be done as it is a precursor to an event which will occur.

If it is a precursor to something that might occur, then of course one could use it to avoid bad events.

However this, as i see it, is essentially like crossing a road and taking the traffic lights to be an omen.

A true omen, as exemplified by the texts i referenced, guarantees an eventuality whereas traffic lights may or may not ensure safe passage.

Therefore when we talk about omens and using omens, we have to be very precise as to differentiate between the various kinds of omens.

One should understand that some eventualities become inevitable, ie a car going at full speed towards a wall might or might not have time to stop, at some point the collision becomes inevitable.

Likewise a calamity or an auspicious eventuality to be experienced can become inevitable and might be preceeded by precursory signs.

The problem with precursory events is when people see a sign in what is not a sign. This is simply a result classical behavioral conditioning.

When dogs are trained with classical conditioning one will condition words to preceed agreeable & disagreeable events and the dog seeing these chains of events will eventually take the words to be prophetic of treats & punishment.

Likewise if due to randomness an event is preceeded by some sign then this might classically condition a person to think that there is a connection.

In a way people are by default victimized by randomness and become insane [supersticious] because of it.

I can make a parallel to conditioning a dog with e-collar to not cross a boundary and that by simply shocking the dog whenever it goes to cross the boundary. The dog will learn that bad things happen when he goes there and even if you were to take the collar off the dog would resist going to the boundary even if no pain will follow.

Here the dog is basically made confused and that to think crossing the boundary is a bad omen. The dog is made supersticious and in that insane.

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  • I was looking for that conditioning aspect in the answers. Otherwise, I was going to make the effort to answer myself with that in mind, amongst other things. What I had in mind regarding conditioning wasn't as thorough and concise as your answer. – NeuroMax Mar 3 at 17:20
  • It is one if my favorite topics because it ties to probability theory and behavioral conditioning. The implications of this have immense influence on how a person makes evaluations & decisions. – Letsbuddhism Mar 3 at 17:41

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