Selling iPhones in the Underworld

When Steve Jobs died, a temple medium in Penang, Malaysia held a ritual at Pulau Jerejak so that Jobs could be reincarnated. The medium also announced that he was authorized as a general agent for iPhones in the underworld. He added that Yama, the King of the Underworld, would use an iPad to access the records of the living and dying.

The ritual required participants to take a bite from an apple and to observe three minutes of silence before throwing the apple into the sea. Some people ate their apples before the ritual was completed.

Other Taoists spoke out against the ceremony, saying that the only way that the dead could receive items was by burning them. The head of one association declared:

“Taoist believers burn only traditional items like houses and maids.”

As is so often the case, both sides in the story have muddled the situation. However, there are some traditional elements to be affirmed here. The idea of helping someone be reincarnated is a part of Buddhist practices and has been adopted into Taoist practices as well. Wanting to make contact with the deceased is a ritual that brings comfort and acceptance of death. Offerings to the dead are an important cultural practice. Unfortunately, everyone involved in this situation has distorted the tradition nearly beyond recognition. If anyone was even mildly interested in what Taoism has to offer, we would understand if they lost all enthusiasm after such a story.

We often seem to believe the most stubbornly to what we know the least. Let us ask then, is belief simply what we do to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know? Are we mere children, making up stories of demons in the closet, or reasons why a fairy star will come down and help us? This is the kind of belief that we must try to outgrow. Certainly, it makes for entertaining tales. A novelist ought not to lose touch with this level of consciousness, and even a spiritual teacher might spin entertaining fantasies that still have great teaching at their core. However, when we are alone and confronting the important questions in life, belief-as-fantasy is unreliable.

There is so we don’t know and will never know. As Laozi says, knowing that you don’t know is superior. Belief is necessary, but choose the belief of faith and not the belief of fantasy—even if it is has the name of your favorite religion. We need to move beyond telling ourselves stories to comfort ourselves and instead try to perceive the truth directly.

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