More to Auspicious Signs than just light orbs

by Lim Kooi Fong, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 18, 2006

I write in reference to Mr Jeffrey S. Brooks (Jhanananda) letter "A Preliminary photo analysis of Odd Sighting and Auspicious Signs at K Sri Dhammananda's Cremation". I felt compelled to write in since many of the orbs photos found in the photo blog were taken by myself.

Please note however that my reply shall only be refering to the article "Auspicious Signs at Chief's Funeral" (http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/signs-chief/).

Before I proceed to give a plausible explanation of the so called auspicious signs, I would like to clarify that I am a super skeptic when it comes to these "orbs" phenomenon captured on digital cameras (my main reference here is self explanatory - Light Orbs: http://www.assap.org/newsite/htmlfiles/Photos.html).

On another note, I've been sharing the Dharma as a lay teacher for more than 20 years in Malaysia. As a seasoned practitioner of Anapanasati Bhavana (Meditation on the in and out of breath), it is imperative that we put our mind on what truly matters in our spiritual training, i.e. to be focused on developing concentration, and using the deep calmness attained (samatha) to investigate the rising and ebbing of phenomenon (vipassana). Anything else apart from this is considered as "collateral" development and is to be regarded as part and parcel of threading along the path. As such, many who know me will testify that I am the last to pursue and promote "trivial" knowledge about the supernatural and paranormal, whether influenced by Buddhist sentiments or otherwise.

I would also like to put on record that my images were taken from a Canon Digital SLR Camera, model EOS 350D. Throughout the event, I only used a 18-55mm lens, never changing the lens given to the wet conditions. Due to the thunderstorm, daylight was pretty dim. I fixed the shuttle speed to 1/125, ISO at 400, set the aperture at 5.6 but never used the flash (which would have been a waste of battery anyway).

On the day of the cremation, I admit that there was thunderstorm (which began about 5.30 pm) and it had been raining heavily. The surrounding area was high in humidity. I stood behind a crowd, and was perhaps about 20 meters away from the pyre, camped beneath a canopy. I was never behind a window or any transparent apparatus. I had to constantly wipe the lens dry, something which we photographers always do when we are placed in such a condition.

I captured my first image of the orbs at around 5.45 pm. The scene was zoomed in with the intention of capturing the frame of the makeshift stupa and the umbrellas.

When I first saw those "orbs" through the LCD screen on my camera (captured in the first image), my first instinct was to wipe the lens dry. Then I snapped again about 45 seconds later. I noticed however, that the orbs kept appearing again and again in subsequent shots, despite the constant wiping of the lens and my efforts in keeping it dry.

I have to admit that in my 5 years of digital photography (the last 9 months using a Digital SLR), this is the first time that I've captured orbs in my photographs. As I reside in Malaysia, where humidity is high and sudden thunderstorm is something of a regularity, I frequently meet the type of damp conditions encountered at the cremation site. And so to capture "orbs" for the first time in a monumental event such as the passing away of a revered monk is obviously something very special. It is stuff like these that goads the mind to suspend disbelief and to believe in the supramundane.

Nevertheless, despite the high of the occasion, I remain a skeptic and strongly feels that the "orbs" are very much a technical creation.

However, we have to look at the photoblog in its entirety to appreciate some unanswered questions. There were about a dozen photographers on that day using Digital SLRs. Non but a few captured "orbs" images, despite being in the same prevailing conditions. All the images of orbs captured that day were shot by the four different photographers, at different locations around the pyre. The images were mostly captured between 5.45 pm and 6.45 pm, i.e. between the chanting and eulogy sessions, and just when the casket was placed into the pyre.

Apart from the "orbs", I believe it would be fair to look at other "auspicious" signs in its entirety, instead on just judging on one phenomena.

For instance, on August 31, 2006, drizzle began to fall just when the hearse was brought into the temple. Before that, the day for most part was cloudy and overcast. Just before dusk, when the funeral arrangements were underway, a huge rainbow was seen within the vicinity of the temple. The rainbow was seen within a radius of 20 km from the temple.

The days between September 1 and 3, 2006 (around noon), where many devotees came to pay their last respects at the temple, was generally fair, clear and sunny. Before this, a dull, hazy atmosphere covered most parts of Peninsular Malaysia due to the smog from the burning peatfires blown over from Sumatra, Indonesia.

On the cremation day itself (September 3), at around 5 pm, the day suddenly turned dark and a heavy thunderstorm brought huge inconvenience to the 4,000 plus people who gathered at the Semenyih Memorial Park, Selangor. It should be noted that many saw a huge, golden yellow moth hovering around the spire of the makeshift stupa between 5 pm and 5.30 pm.

When Ven. Mahinda was delivering his eulogy, a loud thunderclap shook the ground. It was the only time it happened on that day. And what about the moment when the fire was burning itself out in the pyre, the sky suddenly became brighter, as the dark clouds receded and was replaced by white clouds? To top it all up, an orange coated sunset appearing just before dusk, casting its glow behind a blue evening sky?

Coincidence? All these?

I leave to the readers to judge the natural phenomenon which displayed itself out most uncannily over the four days of the funeral. If you are interested to know, the haze came back to blanket much of Kuala Lumpur the very next day. And I have an image to prove it!

And so yes, to answer Mr Brooks query, the images published on the Buddhist Channel were not manipulated and was not implemented with any other design apart from documenting on camera the uncanny behavior of the environment during the four days of bereavement.

I sincerely hope those who have seen the photoblog would not put in too much into what have been published. I'm saying this because I feel that the true and only auspicious sign to be discovered at the end of the day is to study the "real miracle" behind the success of the Chief Venerable in promoting Buddhist development in Malaysia, and that is for us to study, practice and realize the Dharma (patipati, pariyati and pativeda).

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