The state-run Lao Dong newspaper said tens of thousands of worshippers have been paying the 18th century Ba Vang pagoda in northern Quang Ninh province between £32 and £10,000 to have their bad karma vanquished.
The Committee for Religious Affairs, a government body, issued a statement on its website saying “the ritual goes against Buddhist philosophy and violates Vietnam’s law on religion and folk beliefs”.
“It has a negative impact on social order and security,” it added.
Monks at the pagoda teach that all illnesses and misfortune result from bad deeds in previous lives.
Three times a month, they hold a two-day ceremony to “summon wandering souls” and “remove bad karma”, demanding donations, supposedly representing good deeds, to help cure bad karma and make up for supposed bad deeds in previous lives.
Such rituals have been going on for years, but the practice has drawn unfavourable attention as the amounts demanded by the monks soared to the point where they began taking payments by bank transfers and instalments.
Public outrage flared when an inspirational speaker associated with the pagoda blamed a victim for being gang raped, saying she had committed evil acts in a past life.
The 20-year-old college student was taken hostage and raped by five men for two days before she was killed on the eve of the February 5 Lunar New Year.
“The teaching was hurtful and disrespectful to the soul of my daughter,” Tuoi Tre, another official newspaper, quoted the woman’s mother as saying.
The monks also teach that homosexuality comes from bad karma and should be “cured” by having people of the opposite sex spend time together.
“Vindictive wandering souls follow people. They bring you illness, marriage problems and make your children unwell. We have the power to summon the souls and evict them,” the abbot of the pagoda, Thich Truc Thai Minh, told followers during a gathering that was live-streamed on social media on Thursday.
A reporter for Lao Dong shot a video at the pagoda showing a monk telling another woman, who was distraught over losing her only child: “It’s your karma. In previous life, you were a witch.
“And the wandering soul says it will take your life, too. Not just your child.”
Ba Vang pagoda was built on a mountain slope in the Uong Bi district of Quang Ninh province. It was recently renovated and expanded to become one of Vietnam’s largest pagoda complexes.
Only a minority of Vietnam’s 95 million people follow Buddhism, but many non-Buddhists go to pagodas and temples and practice a form of folk religion that includes some Buddhist practices.
Religions that are not registered with the government are prohibited. The Ba Vang pagoda belongs to a registered Vietnamese Buddhist association.
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