Eco-Friendly Worship in Taiwan

Eco-Friendly Worship in Taiwan
Photo Credit: Lyn Gateley CC BY SA 2.0

Translated and compiled by Yuan-ling Liang

Temples in Taiwan have been amending rituals and searching for alternatives to traditional practices due to concerns over pollution.

According to a survey conducted by the American Institute in Taiwan, around 33% of Taiwanese practice Taoism. Traditional rituals require worshipers to burn so-called paper money, incense and firecrackers to connect to gods and relatives who have passed away. However, environmental groups have been urging temples to amend their rituals.

Cutting down incense

Nan Yao Temple, located in Changhua, one of the most famous temples on the island, was reported by Health Air Action to have a dangerous level of PM2.5 density inside the temple. PM2.5 refers to air pollutant particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less, these can enter the respiratory system of the body and harm one’s lungs.

Nan Yao Temple is not alone. Founders of the Health Air Action told the press that the structures of most temples in Taiwan are similar and make it hard for polluted air to escape. Crowds each day burn thousands of sticks of incense, making the temple an unhealthy place to visit.

In August, 2014, Xingtian Temple, which is one of the most prestigious temples in Taipei and attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually, announced its prohibition of the use of incense.

People in charge of the Xingtian Temple told the press that incense producers usually add chemicals, such as benzene,  harming the health of worshipers.

Cheng Wen-bin, spokesperson for the Xingtian Temple, said that it has been promoting “worship from heart” for years. If one is sincere, not burning incense or preparing offerings is also acceptable.

Many local temples have also been restricting the number of incense sticks allowed to be used during worship. In the past, people used to believe that the more incense they burn, the closer they are to gods, while most temples now encourage worshipers to burn only three to ten sticks of incense.

Banning paper money for clean air and to save trees

Xingtian Temple has also removed its furnace to prohibit worshipers from burning paper money.

Some temples replaced their original furnaces with half-enclosed ones so the waste generated from the paper money wouldn’t spread.

According to the Taiwan Treehugger Association, every year in Taiwan, the paper money burnt adds up to about 2 million trees. And many ecologists believe that burning paper money outdoors can still cause health problems.

Each spring in Taiwan, the Matsu Pilgrimage Procession in several areas burns hundreds of firecrackers and generates smoke and noise. Therefore, local governments encourage participants of the pilgrimage to cut their use of firecrackers.

Some of the temples have also replaced firecrackers with CDs that play the same sound to create a similar atmosphere.

Edited by Edward White

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