Bad karma? Vietnam pagoda abbot suspended over exorcisms

By Viet Tuan, Gia Chinh   March 26, 2019 | 07:41 pm PT
Bad karma? Vietnam pagoda abbot suspended over exorcisms
Thich Truc Thai Minh, abbot of Ba Vang Pagoda. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Tuan
The abbot of a pagoda in northern Vietnam has been suspended for practices "bringing the Sangha into disrepute".

Thich Truc Thai Minh will be temporarily suspended from all his current positions, including abbot of the Ba Vang Pagoda in Quang Ninh Province and deputy head of the communications and information department of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS).

The practice of exorcism and other activities at the Ba Vang Pagoda in Uong Bi Town of Quang Ninh Province go against Buddhist philosophy, and abbot Minh and the pagoda have "damaged the reputation of the Sangha," VBS officials said at a meeting Tuesday.

Thich Truc Thai Minh has been the pagoda’s head monk since 2007.

The Ba Vang Pagoda has been organizing three sessions every month for exorcism and lectures on vengeful spirits. The events, often attended by thousands of people, have been held for several years, local reports said.

Followers needed to pay between one million to several hundred million dong ($45-$13,500) for monks to conduct rituals that would drive their bad karma away.

The rituals had been performed for years at the Ba Vang Pagoda, but they attracted adverse attention last week after Pham Thi Yen, head of a Buddhist group formed under the auspices of the pagoda, made a controversial statement at one of her lectures. She said that a young Vietnamese woman who was raped and killed in a northern province last month had suffered the fate because of evil deeds done in previous lives.

The suspension of Thich Truc Thai Minh is temporary and the final decision will be made at the coming conference of the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha’s council, but it is possible that he will resign from all current positions, local reports have said.

Yen, meanwhile, has been fined VND5 million ($215) by authorities of Uong Bi Town.

Exorcisms are good

Earlier, defending the activities of the pagoda, the monk said spirits are real and exorcisms are good for people.

"Vengeful spirits follow people often. They make us and our children sick and incite discord within families. We have exorcisms to drive them out."

He has also said that the pagoda never forces anyone to perform rituals, only encourages them. These are all done voluntarily, he said.

He has denied reports about the pagoda making billions of dong per year, adding that all the money given to the pagoda was spent on furnishing, painting statues, crafting bells and "doing good."

Some Buddhists have supported the monk, saying they have had illnesses cured and conflicts resolved because of the pagoda’s activities.

Buddhism is the most popular religion in Vietnam, with nearly 45 million followers, according to Vietnam Buddhist Sangha which is registered with the government.

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