Musing on Cheng Beng
Talking about Cheng Beng, one of the highlights of the festival is burning paper money and various paper paraphernalia like paper clothes and shoes for the dead. The dead are often viewed as being alive in the netherworld and like normal human beings, they need to be fed and clothed too. Offerings of food do not often go to waste since after praying, the food are consumed by the living themselves. Burning of paper money and other paraphernalia are however often criticized as a waste and a cause of pollution. In a church I visited once, the pastor announced proudly that the religion preached by him is different from Buddhism which encourages the burning of paper money. Only the Chinese practises burning paper money, I suppose, but it is more a custom than a religion. The Chinese are known to adopt all sorts of religion from Buddhism to Taoism, Christianity to Islam to shamanism, you just name it... and most probably you'll find some Chinese embracing it. Only Chinese Buddhists and Taoist would burn paper money and there is therefore the misconception that Buddhism encourages this practice. In some cases, many people do not seem to know that Buddhism comes from India and Taoism is more a Chinese religion. Anyway, even if a Chinese Buddhist knows that the religion does not encourage burning of paper money, most probably that person will just burn it as it is a custom very ingrained in the Chinese blood.