A Buddhist monk stands in the courtyard at Tu Hieu pagoda in Hue on Nov. 15, 2018. Monks at a prominent pagoda further north in Vietnam have been ordered to stop karma-reducing rituals. (Photo by Manan Vatsyayana/AFP)
Buddhist monks at a prominent pagoda in northern Vietnam
have been ordered by state officials to stop offering highly profitable “bad karma-removing” ceremonies. Monks at Ba Vang pagoda, which stands on a mountain slope in Uong Bi City of Quang Ninh province, have been ordered to stop rituals where karma would be removed from worshipers who reportedly pay large sums of money. On March 24, the People’s Committee of Uong Bi City ordered the pagoda’s head monk, Venerable Thich Truc Thai Minh, to stop these rituals which “cause widespread discontent among people and danger of security disorder in the locality.” The next day the pagoda also closed down its website at the request of authorities. The monks from the pagoda have not publicly responded to the government order.
The pagoda’s monks had held regular two-day ceremonies to “summon wandering souls” and “remove bad karma
.” For someone to participate in the ceremony, the monks ask for financial donations or voluntary labor. Such acts supposedly constitute good deeds that help cure bad karma or resolve bad deeds committed in previous lives. Venerable Minh told a gathering — which was live-streamed on the pagoda's site on March 15 — that practices of “summon wandering souls” and “remove bad karma” are real and are mentioned in Buddhist teachings. He said Buddhists willingly make donations at the request of souls and they could pay or not pay. Those rituals have been going on for years, but the practice has drawn adverse attention as the amounts allegedly demanded by monks have rocketed to the point where they have been taking payments via bank transfers and in instalments. Local media reported that the pagoda receives 100 billion dong (US$4.3 million) per year from worshipers’ donations. The Uong Bi City committee has also accused the pagoda of not having registered those rituals for its 2019 plan with the local government. The pagoda belongs to a registered Vietnamese Buddhist association. Religions that are not registered with the government are prohibited. Local media reported that police are also investigating an inspirational speaker associated with the pagoda for spreading the practice. The speaker, Pham Thi Yen, attracted criticism for reportedly blaming a 20-year-old college student for being gang raped and murdered, saying it was a result of evil acts that she committed in a past life. Father Joseph Tran Van Yen, priest assistant of Yen Bai parish, said: “The practice [of paying to have karma removed] is not real and against Buddhist teachings.” The majority of Vietnam’s 95 million people follow Buddhism
or practice a form of folk religion that includes some Buddhist practices.
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