Destroying Superstition within Buddhism

When laypeople go to the temple, they think that the more incense they burn, the more merit they will have. That’s wrong. Left-home people say that burning paper money gives the deceased money to bribe the wardens of the hells. That’s a vile tactic.

I feel that Chinese Buddhism contains a lot of superstition. The irrational ideas and practices that cause people to lose faith in Buddhism should be reformed. If sweeping changes aren’t made, I can hardly imagine what will become of Buddhism in the future.

For instance, when people go to the temple, they equate the amount of incense they burn with the amount of merit they will earn. That’s wrong. We offer incense to the Buddha to show our respect. It’s enough to sincerely offer one stick of incense. Why offer so many sticks? If our mind isn’t sincere, then no matter how many sticks we offer, there won’t be a response.

It’s not that Buddhas like the smell of incense. If they did, they would be no different from ordinary people. We have to change this trend; otherwise, people will think that Buddhas crave the smell of incense, and the lofty name of Buddhism will be ruined. That would truly be a great offense!

Ordinary people are doing the right thing when they bow before the Buddhas, but they don’t know the real meaning behind it. They only pray to the Buddhas for protection, a good position, good fortune, peace, a son or daughter, fame and profit. The things they seek show that they are selfish and only want to benefit themselves. They don’t think about benefiting people or helping the world.

Although the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas respond to all prayers and do not disappoint any living being, it is not right to be insatiably greedy. When I see this kind of situation, I have many feelings. I wish to change people’s views about bowing to the Buddhas. I want to teach them that they should bow to the Buddhas to show their faith and to pray for world peace. Their prayers should be proper, noble and bright. They should pray for others, not for themselves. That’s how true Buddhists should behave.

Some left-home people advocate the benefits of burning paper money, saying that it provides the deceased with money to bribe the wardens of the hells to reduce their sentences. Thinking that monks don’t lie, some people believe those Dharma Masters who tell them the more paper money they burn, the better. What they don’t know is that those monks make a hidden profit. Those monks maintain a silent conspiracy of cheating people out of their money. What vile tactics! I want to change the custom of burning paper money. I want to overthrow superstition; I don’t want Buddhism to receive undeserved criticism. Buddhism does not advocate burning paper money.

                                                          A talk given on October 15, 1982