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Vietnam Authorities Clamp Down on “Exorcism” Rituals at Buddhist Pagoda

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Aerial view of Ba Vang Pagoda. From vietnamnews.vn
Aerial view of Ba Vang Pagoda. From vietnamnews.vn

Vietnam’s Committee for Religious Affairs has ordered Buddhist monks at the popular Ba Vang Pagoda to cease profiting from public ceremonies claimed to summon or exorcise spirits and undo bad karma, while an investigation into practices at the temple is underway.

According to the state-run Lao Dong newspaper, tens of thousands of worshippers have been paying between US$45 and US$13,500) to monks at the 18th century Buddhist temple in Vietnam’s northern Quang Ninh Province to have their bad karma erased.

“The ritual goes against Buddhist philosophy and violates Vietnam’s law on religion and folk beliefs,” the regulatory body said in a statement on its website. “It has a negative impact on social order and security.” (Independent.ie)

Three times each month, the monks at Ba Vang, who teach that all illnesses and misfortunes result from bad deeds in previous lives, hold a two-day ceremony to “summon wandering souls” and “remove bad karma,” purportedly to make up for bad deeds committed in previous lives. According to their teachings, illnesses and bad luck are also caused by “vengeful spirits” to whom a person was indebted in their previous life.

Lao Dong reports that the practice has been going on for several years, bringing Ba Vang Pagoda more than US$4.33 million each year.

In an interview with Lao Dong, the chairman of the Quang Ninh Province People’s Committee said Ba Vang Pagoda’s abbot, Venerable Thich Truc Thai Minh, had confirmed that the pagoda received payments, saying that “Buddhists voluntarily contributed money.” (Viet Nam News)

“Vindictive wandering souls follow people. They bring you illness, marriage problems, and make your children unwell,” the abbot told followers during a gathering live-streamed on social media last week. “We have the power to summon the souls and evict them.” (Independent.ie)

Separately, a reporter from Lao Dong reportedly recorded a video at the temple in which a monk is seen telling a woman who had lost her only child that: “It’s your karma. In previous life, you were a witch.”

Ven. Thich Truc Thai Minh, abbot of Ba Vang Pagoda. Photo by Viet Tuan. From vietnamup.com
Ven. Thich Truc Thai Minh, abbot of Ba Vang Pagoda. Photo by Viet Tuan. From vietnamup.com

Originally constructed out of wood in 1706, Ba Vang Pagoda is located on the slopes of Thanh Dang Mountain at an elevation of some 340 meters. Since being rebuilt in 1993, transforming it into one of the biggest Buddhist temple complexes in the country, Ba Vang has become a popular destination for tourists and spiritual pilgrims alike. Archaeological excavations at the site suggest that structures at the site may have functioned as a temple from as early as the 13th century.

Public outrage over activities at the temple was first sparked earlier this year when an inspirational speaker associated with the pagoda blamed a 21-year-old woman, who was murdered after being gang raped, for committing evil acts in a past life.

During a public address live-streamed over social media, the temple’s abbot, Ven. Minh, blamed the growing negative attention on the temple on people who were “envious and jealous” of the pagoda and were seeking to undermine its reputation. (Vietnam Up)

Meanwhile, the general secretary of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, Ven. Thich Duc Thien, confirmed that the practices and rituals being conducted at the pagoda were not in line with Buddhist teachings and that profiting from public donations would be investigated by state agencies. “I haven’t taken part in conjuring ceremonies at Ba Vang Pagoda, but through clips on social networks, I found various things unsuitable with Buddhism and social morality,” Ven. Thien said. (Viet Nam News)

“We cannot use an action in a previous life to explain a crime today. I don’t agree with that, especially when the teachings took place in such a popular pagoda like Ba Vang. People should do good things to bring themselves happiness in the present,” he said. “The Buddhist sangha looks straight to the truth to adjust Buddhists’ wrongdoings so as not to let more cases harm Buddhism’s reputation. The [Vietnam Buddhist Sangha] will examine and have conclusion on whether the head monk still has enough prestige and capabilities to fulfill his mission.” (Viet Nam News)

According to government data for 2014, 24 million people in Vietnam, out of a total population of more than 90 million, identify with one of the country’s recognized religions, amid a resurgence in the popularity of traditional folk religions that accounts for roughly 45 per cent of the population. Buddhism accounts for 12.2 per cent, Roman Catholicism 6.9 per cent, Caodaism 4.8 per cent, Protestantism 1.5 per cent, and Hoahaoism 1.4 per cent. Religions that are not registered with the government are prohibited.

See more

Culture Ministry asks authorities to stop superstitious activities (Viet Nam News)
Stop exorcisms, stick to Buddhism, pagoda told (VN Express International)
Woman’s karma comment puts pagoda practices in the dock (Vietnam Up)
Ba Vang Pagoda in Vietnam investigated over ‘karma removal’ for a price (Vietnam Insider)
Vietnam tells monks to stop karma rituals (The Manila Times)
Vietnam tells monks to stop profiting from ‘scam’ karma rituals (Independent.ie)

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