Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Liberating Beings One Bucket at a Time

Here's a few paragraphs about an interesting practice from Tsem Tulku Rinpoche's community in Malaysia:

Once a month Kecharians (kechara members) and guests will put their money together and buy fish from the slaughter market to release. This month, they again purchased 150 kgs of fish, did prayers, blew mantras on to the fish and released them into a nearby large clean lake.

It was a wonderful spiritual and family event. This is arranged under the Kechara Care Dept headed by Liaison Su Ming.

It is something I started to create awareness for the sanctity of all life.

You can see the whole post, with more photos, at Rinpoche's blog.

Some might say this is just symbolic, but I bet those fish don't feel symbolic as they swim away. In any case, it's a great reminder that liberation is a shared experience - the fish need us and we need the fish.


Richard Harrold said...

For the most part, I find these "liberation" exercises very unskillful and self-centered. In Singapore, for example, there are groups that occasionally get birds from pet stores and then release them from their cages. This particular liberation exercise is done without thought to the increased suffering the formerly-caged bird will now experience because instead having its food supply taken care of for it, the bird must fend for itself, likely without any natural survival skills.

I don't know the details of the fish release and the original blog didn't provide a lot more. But the questions I have include are the fish native species to that lake? Just because it's a fresh-water lake and the fish are fresh-water fish doesn't meant the fish are well-suited for that habitat, and perhaps more importantly, that the lake habitat can support those fish.

This is why I view these liberation exercises with great distrust, as often the only thought taken seriously is regarding the participant's "feel good" experience. Did the exercise really reduce the animal's suffering? Will the exercise increase the suffering of other animals as a result of the release?

Dang, I think I just wrote a blog post, lol. But those are my thoughts.

Nathan said...

Hi Richard,

You bring up some valid issues. I certainly don't have any good answers either. It's very true that many animals in captive simply can't "hack it" in the wild, and such releases aren't really beneficial. And yes, failing to see the larger ecological picture of a given place is troubling and definitely can lead to invasive, non-native species taking over. I wrestled with some buckthorn a few weeks ago that was crowding out everything else in part of my garden.

At the same time, with these fish, they don't really have another chance. Maybe the "liberation" itself causes more trouble, or maybe they live longer, but under less than optimal circumstances. And maybe that's the best they can get. I don't know.

David said...

What is intended as an act of compassion can become an act of cruelty. The last time I had occasion to witness this sort of activity, some monks released doves. I do not think the doves benefited from this exercise, but the hawks sure did. Sometimes what dharma need is good old fashions common sense.

Nathan said...

I hear ya David. It's funny; I've made similar statements to what you and Richard have said plenty of times. I guess, this particular post was too one-sided.

That's what happens when you only have half an hour to do a bit of writing.