BackStories » Vietnam » Vietnam Buddhist Association Slams Burning of Joss Papers as Ostentatious 'Superstition'

The Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam officially expressed its disapproval of the burning of votive papers in a recent document.

As Tuoi Tre reports, the official statement was signed by Venerable Thich Thanh Nhieu, the permanent vice-chairperson of the organization’s managing committee. It was directed to leaders of Buddhist communities all over Vietnam and followers of the religion.

The document suggests that temples and pagodas nationwide should give lectures that focus on “the preservation of positive points in national customs,” serving to “spread the value of compassion, generosity and religious tolerance.”

Moreover, in the statement, the Sangha also rejects the practice of burning joss papers, or ghost money, as a Buddhist custom, and urged local followers to stop the “superstitious” activity. Instead, they’re encouraged to celebrate in “a civilized, thrifty and non-ostentatious fashion in accordance with the Vietnamese and Buddhist traditions.”

The burning of joss paper is a ritual of offering of money and wealth to the dead that’s carried out by some families in Vietnam on special dates according to the lunar calendar. Practitioners believe that whatever they burn will become usable by their dead relatives in the afterlife.

However, over the last few years, the time-honored tradition has faced mounting criticism. Some consider the practice a backward superstition that’s incongruous with the modern Vietnamese society. Other practical detractors argue that the burning of ghost money only worsens air pollution in urban areas and is an ostentatious waste of resources. This is perhaps the case when some wealthy families channel millions of VND into elaborate “premium” votive products like paper models of iPads, luxury cars, and even intricate paper villas just to burn them to ashes.

The government, for the most part, agrees with the criticisms. Just a few days ago, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism issued a directive ordering local authorities to supervise spiritual activities in religious venues in their community to prevent excessive burning of joss papers and incense. This is to minimize air pollution and fire hazards during Tet.

In 2016, the Hue People’s Committee actually banned locals from burning or scattering votive papers on local streets and in public places. According to the restriction, these activities can only take place on private properties.

[Photo via VTV]

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