The Buddhist perspective of burning paper items

Many devotees who carried boxes of joss money (saw USD too, wth), clothes and cars to burn for their deceased relatives also walked into the prayers area covering their mouths and noses in a bid to block out the smoke and ash spewing from the giant incinerator, where they burn those items. A most ironic sight I witnessed at the Ullambana Prayers held Monday, at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery.

Apparently, they believe the burnt items are going to be “delivered” (how? Hades Postal Service?) to their deceased relatives so they can use them in their afterlives.

Sorry to burst their bubbles, but

  1. there is no basis (scientific nor religious) that these burnt paper items will materialise into solid items
  2. even if they do materialise, they cannot be used in Hell, one of the 6 realms of existence in Buddhism. That’s because Hell is a realm of suffering, not a realm where its beings can drive Mercedes Benzs, use Nokia handphones and live in ornate mansions. Just in case you are interested, the other realms of existence are that of hungry ghosts, animals, humans, demi-gods and gods.
  3. unless these devotees have attained the power of knowing the past and future lives of beings through meditation, how can they be so sure their deceased relatives are going to need these items? Relatives reborn in the hungry ghosts, hell and animal realms can’t use them, while those with the good karma to be reborn as humans, demi-gods, and gods don’t need them. Who knows, some may have already attained enlightenment…..

Click here to learn more

You’ll be surprised to know many of the people bringing boxes after boxes of joss items to burn are young working adults. The power of superstition and age-old customs…sigh..

Luckily, though, many people were reading this poster with interest. I do hope some degree of public education/ demystification is attained!

The smoke and ash was so bad our eyes teared and turned red. It looked as if the haze hit again, this time with volcanic ash. And i only got rid of the smell in my hair after 3 washes!

Got friends/relatives who faithfully burn paper items every Seventh month? Now you have 3 very good reasons to save everyone from the smoke and ash…

In place of burning items that will never reach the deceased, a much more practical way is to do good deeds and dedicate merits in their name.

5 comments on “The Buddhist perspective of burning paper items

  1. johnson说道:

    It may have no basis… but It’s already a big part of our Chinese culture. Are we going to… say that since there’s no religious basis to it, that we are going to let go of these beautiful cultures?


  2. Miss Poh说道:

    Sorry, i dont think burning these things are exactly “beautiful”. just want to make the point that Buddhism discourages burning. Plus, it destroys the environment.

  3. johnson说道:

    Haha ok lah. Anyways, you’ve been tagged! Catch.

  4. al说道:

    In the Indian culture theyre is a practice of burning things to reach those who have passed but it is not paper items . However I do beleive that theyre is validity to this and I do think it can be practiced by many buddhists

  5. Oz说道:

    That’s interesting how you’ve made the distinction between a Chinese practice and a Buddhist view. My parents practice the two as though they were one and the same, which is understandable since the two practices of ancestor worship (visiting graves, burning the paper money, etc) and Buddhism have mixed and grown together in Chinese culture. Who should I be to discourage others from practicing thousands of years of tradition, history, and culture?

    Still, boxes and boxes is waaaaayyyyy too much. You definitely ended on an important point. One of the important innovations of the Buddha was that he grounded ethics, the good life, and the good afterlife on the quality of our intent and intentional actions rather than ritualistic deeds, which for some strange reason are intrinsically good. Good stuff Miss Poh.


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