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Three religious groups urge responsible burning

SINGAPORE — Three religious groups — the Taoist Federation (Singapore), the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the Wat Ananda Metyarama — have urged their devotees to practise “responsible burning” of joss paper and incense sticks during the Hungry Ghost Month, in what could be the first joint advisory issued by these groups for this period.

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SINGAPORE — Three religious groups — the Taoist Federation (Singapore), the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the Wat Ananda Metyarama — have urged their devotees to practise “responsible burning” of joss paper and incense sticks during the Hungry Ghost Month, in what could be the first joint advisory issued by these groups for this period.

The advisory, which has been posted recently on the notice boards of Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks, reminded devotees to guard against potential fire hazards and damaging public property. It also sought to address the “customary throwing” of joss paper in the air to indicate “prosperity”, saying that such a practice is not needed.

The advisory, which comes in English and Mandarin versions, also noted the recent haze situation in Singapore, which “may return if high numbers of hot spots still persist in Indonesia” and wind direction changes. “In view of this situation, we wish to encourage devotees to avoid open burning and reduce the amount of joss paper and incense ... used,” the three groups said.

Venerable Kwang Phing, Secretary-General of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said the advisory served as a “precautionary move”, in light of the unhealthy air quality during the haze episode.

The Hungry Ghost Month, which started last Wednesday, falls on the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. During this period, devotees offer food, paper money and prayers to the dead.

In recent years, the Taoist Federation said it noticed more litter left behind after the burning of joss paper during this particular period, which prompted the joint advisory. Likewise, the Singapore Buddhist Federation also said it received feedback from members of the public about how the burning of joss paper affects the cleanliness of their surroundings.

Earlier this year, it was also reported in the media that the National Environment Agency received about 500 to 600 letters and emails annually about issues related to the burning of joss paper.

While retail assistant Madam Yee Get Choo, 52, has yet to see the joint notice, she said she has always adhered to the reminders sent by town councils and the authorities, such as burning only in the provided incense burners. She added that the notice could prove effective because “Singaporeans are quite particular about cleanliness” and will want to minimise the possibility of ashes being blown into their homes.

Mr Tan Thiam Lye, President of the Taoist Federation, felt that the advisory alone will not be an immediate solution to the problems caused by incense burning. “It takes times, but it will happen slowly,” he said, in reference to changing some of the unsafe burning practices.

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