Mentom - Singapore 2012

© Mentom – May 2012

Hungry ghosts getting ecological

dimanche 5 octobre 2008, par Mentom

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  • français

This time of the year we are rushing from Holiday to Holiday. Just finished off with the Ramadan, already looking forward to the Hindi Deepavali ("festival of light"). And some weeks ago, all Singapore was beeing hold up by an army of Hungry Ghosts.

This popular chinese celebration happens on the 7th month of the lunar calendar, and is taken very seriously in China, Taiwan and Singapore. It is believed by the Chinese that during this month, the gates of hell are opened to free the hungry ghosts who then wander to seek food on Earth. Some even think that the ghosts would seek revenge on those who had wronged them in their lives. The reason why the Chinese celebrate this festival is to remember their dead family members and pay tribute to them. They also feel that offering food to the deceased appeases them and wards off bad luck.

The Chinese offer prayers to the deceased relatives and burn joss sticks. In Singapore, it is a common sight to see entertaining ‘wayang’ shows and concerts performed on outdoor stages in some neighborhoods. These events are always held at night. There is a belief that this entertainment would please those wandering ghosts.

The Chinese also do a lot of offerings to the deceased. These offerings are made by burning fake money notes, which are also known as ‘hell money’ and even paper television or radio sets. Some families also burn paper houses & cars to give to their dead relatives. The Chinese feel that these offerings reach the ghosts and help them live comfortably in their world.

The Chinese regard the 15th of the month as an important date to give a feast to the ghosts. On this date, the family will cook a lot of dishes and offer them to the deceased. This is done to please the ghosts and also to gain good luck for the family. 15 days after the feast, the festival will be over, as the Chinese believe that the ghosts return back to where they come from.

However, as concerns about the environment and global warming grow, the authorities and religious groups are calling for a change to the old ways of worship.

’We can’t ban a folk belief but we hope to change how it is practised to ease pollution and eventually to phase out the habit,’ said Ms Hsiao Hui-chuan from the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), Taiwan.

Environmental agencies are now urging people to burn fewer incense sticks and are offering to collect the paper money from households and temples to burn in state incinerators.

Monks are hired to perform rituals to ’cleanse’ the incinerators, which are normally used for disposing of garbage.

The popular Long Shan Temple in Taipei, which enshrines Buddhist and Taoist deities, is among the first to endorse the initiative.

’In the past, we burnt several truckloads of paper money brought by our followers during the Ghost Month. The stoves cracked after burning non-stop and the smoke was terrible,’ said temple spokesman Chang Chun-hung.

Paper money is no longer used in the temple, which now sends a small van of paper money - from those who cling to the old ritual - to the environmental authorities for disposal.

’It is difficult to stop an age-old custom but gradually our followers are accepting the change and using less paper money,’ he said.

Some religious groups, notably the Buddhist charity and environmental foundation Tzu Chi, encourage their members to donate the money meant for offerings to those in need instead.

Tzu Chi, which has made ’saving energy, lowering carbon emissions’ one of its priorities in recent years, called for a complete stop to burning paper money and killing animals in rituals.

’We believe that if a person is sincere, his or her prayers will be answered without such offerings,’ said spokesman Charlie Ke.

Studies have found that burning one tonne of paper money releases at least an equal amount of carbon dioxide, one of the main gases responsible for climate change, and other wastes including benzene, methylbenzene and ethylbenzene which could cause cancer and other diseases.

’Burning paper money not only pollutes the air and affects people’s health, but also causes many trees to be cut down,’ said the EPA’s Ms Hsiao.

There is no data on the amount of paper money burnt annually, but the EPA said Taiwan manufactured 113,000 tonnes of the offering, with a small piece of gold or silver foil glued to the centre, for religious and funeral purposes last year.

After an article in AsiaOne

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