The word “Tripitaka” refers to the record of all the things Buddha has ever said. It’s a word that lifelong Buddhists hold close to their heart and that includes Jvan Lee, proprietor of Tripitaka Galleria.
Jvan is an associate of my friend, M, who pointed me to him when I said I needed to interview someone about Thai Buddha amulets.
As it turns out, Tripitaka Galleria does a lot more than just sell Thai Buddha amulets. Although Jvan works alone, he frequently invites Thai Buddhist masters to come by his shop to help him out. With an expansive list of services including but not limited to traditional Thai tattoos, blessing ceremonies and fortune telling, Jvan needs all the help he can get.
Here’s my interview with Jvan, for this week’s #LocalBrandSPOTLight.
Hello Jvan. Thanks for doing this. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m just a regular local Singaporean guy in my late 30s.
What drew you to Buddhism? What drew you to Thai Buddhism in particular?
I was born in a Buddhist-Taoist family. My Dad was my main influence. It was he who gave me my first Thai Buddha amulet.
Why did you decide to set up Tripitaka Galleria?
My interest in Thai Buddhism grew as I wanted to know more. I started visiting various Thai Buddhist shops and got to know a few Thai Masters along the way. A few friends and I then decided to take the plunge and set up our own shop.
How long has Tripitaka Galleria been around?
Tripitaka Galleria has been around for more than 6 years.
How were you affected by the pandemic and the shutdown?
The pandemic has dealt us a cruel hand. My business depends on people’s spending power and no one was left untouched. Making matters worse is that flying to Thailand to restock amulets is out of the question. It’s making everything difficult.
Your Facebook page is updated very frequently, which shows that you have a very active community of people. How many clients do you see a day?
Before COVID-19 hit, I could be looking at between 10 to 20 customers a day. Now, I’d be lucky to have 5.
You offer a large range of services to your clients, including fortune telling, blessing ceremonies and you also sell Thai artifact and do traditional Thai tattoos. That is… a lot. How many staff members do you have on your team?
I work alone. However, I do have many customers who become friends and they would hang out with me at my shop. Sometimes, they will even offer to help me entertain waiting customers while I work!
Which would you say are your most popular products?
Everyone who comes to my shop wants to have more luck and wealth. They also want to improve their hand at gambling and attraction. I stock my artifacts according to their demands.
Let’s talk Thai Buddha amulets. Are they similar to triangular paper charms (Fulu Pai) you can get at Chinese temples?
All of them are a form of blessing from a learned person, whether they happen to be a monk or a layman Master. Just the administration is different due to cultural differences.
On your Facebook page, there are videos of your clients undergoing trances during the ceremonies. Do they remember anything afterwards and are they shocked by the video of themselves?
A lot of my customers are not new to trancing during rituals. They know that this is a possibility. However, I have also encountered a few who woke up in a daze. When they are shown the video of themselves trancing, they are completely baffled.
Up till the 18th century in Europe, mellified man and mummia were common ingredients in medicine. Both contain material from corpses. A local writer claims a Thai amulet seller sold her a cream that contained “corpse oil” or prai oil. How common is this in Thai artifacts?
I wouldn’t say corpse oil is a common ingredient in most Thai amulets. Also, using amulets which contain corpse-related paraphernalia usually come with a price. I will always be sure to let my customers know what they’re getting themselves into before selling such items.
You say that using such items comes with a price, what sort of price? What else is there aside from corpse oil?
Weekly offerings. Constant merit-making which will be dedicated to the spirits. Promises made to the spirits must also be kept or else the price to pay will be hefty. Loss of wealth, illness, heartaches, family issues, the list goes on.
Apart from corpse oil, there is also human bone fragments, hair and nails.
Do your clients typically know what it is they need when they walk into your shop?
Most walk in with their problems on top of their mind. I will coax them into telling me their problems and recommend them what’s best suited for their purposes, rather than just sell them what they think will help them. Let’s take customers who come in asking for morbid paraphernalia for increased luck in gambling, for example. Instead of just making the sale, I’d talk to them to understand more about them. Then, I’d suggest something to boost their luck and charisma for an improved work life.
I don’t advocate gambling to solve monetary issues.
A local witch I interviewed some weeks back said one of their best-sellers was a charm that wards against office politics. Do you have clients requesting anything like that?
However, stone upon stone only creates more friction. Instead of warding, garner more loving kindness. Enhance charisma. Understand and develop better social skills. Always remember, an amulet can only help you so much, but merit-making and developing loving kindness can take you a long way!
What would you say to stressed out and busy Singaporeans who want to earn merit and develop loving kindness, but don’t know how?
Do more good deeds. Donate to the needy. Do it constantly to accumulate good karma. With the internet these days, making online donations is safer and easier than ever. No amount is too small!
Finally, what would you like to tell our readers who are curious about Thai Buddhism and are looking to get a charm or an amulet?
Do not be over superstitious. Nothing is 100% guaranteed. The only thing guaranteed to make your life better is merit-making and developing loving kindness for all things around us.
Thank you, Jvan.
Thanks for the interview. All the best!
Developing a strong curiosity about Tripitaka Galleria? You can visit their Facebook page here.