The Flames of Beliefs 

You may call them joss papers, ghost money, or spirit paper. They all refer to the same thing. Chinese paper offering is a custom to most Chinese, and are often burned at funerals, on ancestors' memorial days, and during Chinese festivals and lunar days like the Qing Ming, 7th lunar month, and Lunar New Year, where food and joss paper are presented to deities or ancestors to honour and pray for blessings.

Burning joss paper and objects are believed as acts of sending “money” and “material wealth” to deceased relatives, and it is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. This is practised to cultivate kinship values like filial piety, and the opportunity to remember and pay respects to ancestors. It is also believed that doing this can appease the dead, benefit rebirth, and clear spiritual debts among other purposes.

Paper offerings are usually made from coarse bamboo paper or rice and are decorated in different ways. The traditional joss paper (for ancestor worship) is usually decorated using a square of gold or silver foil to represent money (also known as hell money or heaven money). Joss paper may be burned as is, folded in half, into ingot-like shapes, or stacked into elaborate pagodas or lotuses. People may write the names of the departed ones on the back of the offering.

Paper objects, sometimes bearing a high-end brand name or material wealth such as clothing, jewellery, mobile phones, cars (including a chauffeur), lavish houses, furniture, appliances, liquors, cosmetics, passports and credit cards can be found as well. These are burned with the belief that ancestors will be given all the luxuries that were eluded in life.

Usually, this burning is done in designated burners or purpose-built pits in our housing estates. Town Councils have introduced modified burners that can reduce emissions of smoke and fly ash in their estates. Most temples have large furnaces outside that are used for the burning joss paper ritual.

In 2014, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery (KMSPKS) installed an eco-burner with an environmentally friendly ash filtration system aimed at reducing the amount of ash produced from joss-paper burning.

Given the belief that this practice is folklore or superstition, Buddhists believe that it is not possible to alleviate the suffering of the dead by burning joss paper and things used by departed ones, on the belief that they would “receive” them. Therefore, the observance of Qing Ming and Ullambana would be meaningful to Buddhists, if they perform meritorious actions and then transfer merits to their ancestors and departed relatives out of compassion and filial piety.

Shrine offerings like lighted candles, burning incense, flowers, fruits and water to the Buddha and other Bodhisattvas are often practised by Buddhists. These offerings express one’s appreciation and veneration as well as a reminder of various values like wisdom, purity and virtue.  

As society becomes more environmentally conscious, the practice of burning joss paper has caused some controversy in today’s society. Though the older generation is more used to the culture of incense burning and joss-paper burning, over the years, the custom of burning joss paper has started to decline. The younger generation thinks that the deceased would have no interest in worldly items, and besides, burning offerings harms the environment, and exposure to air pollution from burning poses severe health threats that can cause illnesses like respiratory problems, eye allergies, sneezing, and headaches.

In recent years, some Buddhist and Taoist institutions have issued new guidelines on the burning of offerings in line with environmental considerations.

Since 2004, KMSPKS have been actively encouraging their devotees to go green through public education on the benefits of burning less joss paper. The monastery has also banned the burning of large paper box offerings since 2017.

In July 2022, supported by the Municipal Services Office, a new Alliance for Action on Norms (AfA) on Joss Paper Burning was set up to focus on getting people to be socially responsible when burning offerings.

AfA is helmed by more than ten Chinese religious, cultural and industry associations, including Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, The Singapore Buddhist Federation, Taoist Federation Singapore, and Singapore Religious Goods Merchants Association.

Religious customs aside, there are also good reasons to burn less, namely, being considerate to one’s neighbours and keeping the environment clean. This includes burning joss papers in designated burners, not littering, or scattering them on the ground, burning in small quantities at a time to ensure complete combustion and to reduce smoke and ashes; ensuring that all smouldering embers are completely extinguished after the ritual from public areas after prayers, and removing food offerings, candles, and joss sticks and to prevent pest infestation and fires.

Devotion does not encourage extravagance, waste, and harming the environment. From a Buddhist perspective, a pure mindset, sincerity, compassion, and displaying filial piety and gratitude towards ancestors are more important than the burning of paper offerings to the dead.

有些人称它为金银纸、冥币、或往生纸,但它其实意指同一个物品 —— 纸钱。在华人文化当中,焚烧纸钱是先人流传下来的民俗祭礼仪式,我们不难在葬礼、祖先祭祀、华人传统节日如农历新年、农历七月或清明节等节日中看见纸钱的踪迹。在这些节日中焚烧纸钱给神祇、冥界或先人,有着尊敬与祈福的寓意。










自2022年7月起,由新加坡社区事务署(Municipal Services Office)支持,焚烧冥纸规范⾏动联盟(Action on Norms)正式成立。该联盟致力于规范化焚烧纸钱,并计划将此规范通过公众教育运动传达给大众。




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Featured Event

Qing Ming Prayer Service  清明超度法会

Qing Ming is a traditional festival for the Chinese to remember and honour their ancestors by visiting their columbarium, graves or burial grounds.

As Buddhists, we can spend Qing Ming Festival recollecting the kindness of our forefathers and honouring them by remembering how they had lived a worthy life. In addition, we can also emulate the qualities of the noble ones who have come before us by observing their teachings.



Qing Ming – The Dedication of Merits to The Departed Puja 清明超度法会 

Date 日期:5 Apr 2023 (Wed)
Time 时间:8.20am
Venue 地点:Hall of No Form | 无相殿

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Registration 报名登记:

Enquiry 询问:6849 5333

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Dharma Q & A

What is the Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance Prayer?

The Dedication of Merits to the Departed Puja, held on the actual day of Qing Ming, begins with the chanting of The Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance Sutra in the day.

In the Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance prayer, water symbolises the great compassion of the Buddha, while one’s act of repentance is like using water to wash off the dirt on one’s clothing. 

The prayer is performed to repent one’s unwholesome deeds, including karmic actions created in body, speech and mind. The repentance prayer helps to eliminate negativity in life and dedicate merits to all departed ones.

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Instagram Feature
The Chinese typically make offerings as a way of paying homage to their ancestors and departed loved ones.

Do you know that various offerings have their respective significances?

The most commonly used offering are fruits, which symbolise the truth of karmic cause and effect. The fruits of spiritual attainment lead towards the ultimate fruit of Enlightenment, which is the goal of all Buddhists.

Fresh and beautiful flowers, which later wither and lose their scent and colour, remind us of the impermanence of all things, including our lives. Offering flowers reminds us to treasure every moment of our lives and not be attached to material things.

Burning incense fills the air with fragrance, which symbolises the virtue and purifying effect of wholesome conduct. Burning incense also urges us to cease all evil and to cultivate good conduct.

With this understanding, it is important to keep the Buddha's teachings in mind when making offerings during the Qing Ming Festival.

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