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May 26, 2017

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Taipei temple defends new green policy banning incense and food

TAIPEI -- A temple in Taipei visited by millions of worshippers each year defended on Monday its new policy to ban incense and food offerings amid protests that the new approach will hurt vendors who make a living by selling those items to visitors.

Xing Tian Temple (行天宮) is asking visitors to simply put their hands together in prayer instead of burning incense or offering food, said temple spokesman Lee Chu-hwa (李楚華), stressing that what matters is a sincere heart.

As long as a worshipper's prayers are said with sincerity, Lee said, they will be heard in the heavens, and those who say the prayers will surely be blessed.

The decision to remove incense burners and offering tables was reached after winning the approval of the deities through the use of divination blocks last month, he said.

Citing the need to protect the environment and reduce waste, the temple in downtown Taipei announced the new policy just two days before it was to take effect on Tuesday, to the chagrin of many vendors who ply the trade around the busy entrance to the temple.

"We've depended on this business to make a living," said one vendor interviewed on TV. "Where will we find a new way to make a living in such a short time?"

Xing Tian Temple honors Guan Gong, a 3rd-century heroic general-turned-deity as its main god, and has been one of the most visited religious sites in the capital city since it was founded in 1968.

Even in its early days, Lee said, the temple put an emphasis on "moral worship" rather than trying to win favors by making offerings to the deities. Unlike most other Buddhist or Taoist temples around Taiwan, Xing Tian Temple has never had a burner for spirit money, he noted.

The temple adopted the new policy after seeing pilgrims leaving hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of rice cakes on the offering tables, only to be thrown away, he said.

Beginning on Aug. 26, incense will be burned at the temple only during exorcism rituals, one of the services available there.

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