Ancestor worship can be eco-friendly, EPA shows

GOING GREEN: Online altars, centralized burning services and large denomination paper money are putting a new slant on traditional rituals


Wed, Apr 01, 2009 - Page 2

With the Tomb Sweeping Festival approaching, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday held a press conference to publicize innovative, environmentally friendly ways to remember loved ones that are gaining popularity.

People can now choose to worship their ancestors online using digital flowers, offerings and incense that can be dragged and dropped on a virtual altar of one’s choice, or buy paper money that is designed with larger denominations so that less paper is burned, or incense sticks that are much shorter than traditional ones so air pollution is reduced, officials said.

“In the past few years the EPA has been suggesting worshippers forego burning paper money and incense, or lighting firecrackers, and instead pray with their bare hands and offer fresh fruit and flowers,” director-general of the EPA’s Department of Air Quality Protection and Noise Control, Yang Ching-shi (楊慶熙), said.

However, taking into consideration that some people may feel skipping these traditional rituals would be disrespectful to their ancestors and gods, Yang said the EPA has developed an array of alternative praying methods.

“For example, the Taoyuan County environmental bureau Web site offers a ‘virtual worship’ service for Web users across the country. Worshippers can personalize a digital altar, complete with the name of the deceased, offerings, a Christian cross or Buddhist sutras and background music,” Yang said.

Paper money, which is burned during ceremonies as offerings to gods and ancestors, but emits floating particles, heavy metals, benzene and methane during incineration, has also been revolutionized, Yang said.

“Whereas traditional paper money comes in thick stacks, the new paper money now comes in smaller stacks, with each sheet bearing a larger denomination. In one temple in Ilan County, the money is even made into a single sheet,” he said.

Other eco-friendly ways to worship include donating the money that one would have spent to buy paper money and other offerings to charities or playing firecracker sounds on a stereo instead of lighting real firecrackers.

Since 2005 twelve cities and counties have offered centralized burning services at local incinerators, Yang said.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to worshipping, what matters most is a sincere heart. I am certain that gods and ancestors would also approve of these modern methods of prayer,” he said.