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This applies to all superstitious people in general, but especially to someone very close. My mom is extremely ignorant and superstitious. She comes from an uneducated village background from a third world country. Due to ignorance of facts and lack of experience, she falls for any hearsay and produces strong emotions based on them, chiefly fear and worry. Example, she would read in the newspaper that somewhere in the Western world there was a homicide of someone from our country and she would get worried for me. she doesn't understand I am thousands of miles away from the place she has read about. The way she would spin stories out of what is actually written is truly fascinating. For example, 'A homicide of our countryman in the West' becomes 'the people in the West kill our countrymen and throw them out on the streets!'

She also, unconsciously, tries to nudge me and manipulate me into seeing the bad aspects of the western world - when in fact the "bad" aspects she tries to tell me are due to her lack of understanding of facts and they are unfounded in reality. An example, she would tell semi-fabricated stories like that to me over call like the homicide one above. I have pointed out this mechanism to her multiple times to make her conscious of the fact-manipulation etc. even with examples. But I am now thinking she doesn't have the awareness to grasp this kind of "theoretical" understanding.

Anyways, usually I just point out the falsehoods and switch topics. But last call I was dumbfounded by the extent of this and in order to really make her aware of this I may have said some words which were true but may be hurtful. Something like "you are acting like a 5 yo child who doesn't understand the basic knowledge and gets scared like that". I remember persisting on it a little because I wanted her to see the mistake there, and I feel pity towards her for suffering constantly on these untrue things.

Now she is hurt from me because of this incident. I feel guilty and sad to hurt her with words and I have been crying. But at the same time I feel sorry for her for tormenting herself day after day and year after year due to ignorance of basic understanding of science and world. What should be done in this case? Should I ignore her manipulating and let her suffer although that doesn't seem right..? But I can't either try to show her truth for that either is ineffective or it involves hurt. Have you been in similar situation before?

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  • This problem might find some answers at interpersonal.stackexchange.com (but read their help topic "Questions must be specific enough to be answered" before posting there).
    – ChrisW
    Feb 4 at 16:13
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    Have you been in similar situation before? People tell me that they wouldn't use a bike because biking in the city is dangerous. It's because they don't have personal experience of having done it safely, regularly, that they believe that ... and the skill/ability from that experience/practice.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 5 at 6:58
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    My mother is well educated, not superstitious and is always rational... Except when it comes to my own safety. Then, she worries a lot and becomes a lot less rational than usual. Maybe you can cut some slack to your mother - being superstitious is one thing, but worrying about one's children is another thing and probably inevitable.
    – Stef
    Feb 5 at 15:41

3 Answers 3

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I write about an example of Buddhists dealing with superstition in an essay from 2011: Gesundheit! Making Accommodations with Custom.

In this example, lay people would say "live!" to monks who sneezed" And there was a formulaic response to this, "live long". The Buddha first bans the monks from participating in the superstition, but then relents when the lay people complain that the monks are being stuck up about it.

The key passage says

Gihī, bhikkhave, maṅgalikā. Anujānāmi, bhikkhave, gihīnaṃ ‘jīvatha bhante’ti vuccamānena ‘ciraṃ jīvā’ti vattu’nti (Vin II 139).

Monks, householders are superstitious. When a householder says 'live Sir' to you, I allow you to respond with 'long life'.

I conclude

I think this demonstrates one way that the Buddha, or at least the early Buddhists, handled superstition. Direct opposition was unlikely to be very effective, since it was deeply embedded in the culture. For those of us who commit ourselves to Buddhism, it is vital that we examine our beliefs; the conditioning that we have received from family, peers and society, and begin to unravel it in order to free our minds from those limitations. But there's not much mileage in demanding this from people who do not share our commitment. We could rail against superstition, and where we see it as definitely harmful we probably should speak out against it, but on the whole the main thing for Buddhists is dealing with our own belief structures. Buddhism is something we take on for ourselves - e.g. upasampadā the word often translated as 'higher ordination' really just means 'undertaken, taken on'.

Sometimes it's more important to be polite than to be right.

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About your mother, Buddhism teaches:

I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother & father. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder & your father on the other shoulder for 100 years, and were to look after them by anointing, massaging, bathing, & rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate & urinate right there [on your shoulders], you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. If you were to establish your mother & father in absolute sovereignty over this great earth, abounding in the seven treasures, you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. Why is that? Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduce them to this world.

Kataññu Suttas: Gratitude

You should develop patience towards your mother. Her views are an expression of her care for you. For example, yesterday I was with my 86 year old mother and she told me to be careful when I return home today because a lady was attacked by a shark in my mother's city; even though today I returned home, 2000km away from the shark attack.

Btw, the Western world is also full of bad superstitions.

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  • This is the heart of the matter. Thank you.
    – OyaMist
    Feb 4 at 23:12
  • @Dhamma Dhatu Thanks Feb 5 at 3:52
  • @OyaMist Care to share your view? Your answers are quite insightful Feb 5 at 3:52
  • @Kobamschitzo Ven. Dhamma Dhatu has found one quote that summarized where I would have needed to use two, so I cannot add any value here.
    – OyaMist
    Feb 6 at 16:50
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Nature of reality is such that apparently irrational beliefs can arise. Question is : Are you mentally prepared to face the reality ? There are three marks of existence.

  1. All conditioned phenomena are impermanent.
  2. All conditioned phenomena are suffering.
  3. All conditioned and unconditioned phenomena are not self.

Science describes the conditioned phenomena. Scientific truths are called Dhamma niyama. Scientific truths are not self. It is not self because even the scientific laws are impermanent!!

Therefore you should not judge “uneducated “ elders or laymen. Their perception of reality can be different. And any scientific perception which you have can change. In any case , you should have compassion for all. Compassion for those who are well versed in science and compassion for those who are uneducated. Because everyone is going to suffer independent of which Dhamma they follow.

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