Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Virtuous and Meritorious Day to Remember

A regular activity of my wife's cohort of buddhist adherents is the monthly ritual of releasing life. While Buddhism advocates that one shall not kill and terminate the life of another sentient being, releasing life is considered as a virtuous deed that can accumulate merits to one's good karma, hence begetting good consequences in a future life.

The activity is carried out in the morning at the water's edge, be it bayside or riverside. First, the entourage will stop at a pre-determined fish bait shop in the vicinity of the chosen location. Using the donations received from fellow adherents, we will buy bucketful of juvenile fish, shrimps, and sometimes, crabs, all live ones (I always tag along as I'm the designated driver since my Minivan can seat 8 passengers, and also the photographer, armed with my Canon Powershot A35).

Now, a site reconnaissance is first conducted to ascertain that the proposed site is accessible, that there is a fish bait shop nearby and it opens for business early in the morning, and that the place is not frequented by either fishing enthusiasts or preying birds for obvious reasons.

Not obvious? Then for one thing, fishing enthusiasts have a nose for where fishes congregate and where fishes are found aplenty, the juveniles that we release would have vanished instantly into the food chain, thereby defeating the purpose of our efforts. While some may view this as a symbolic act, due diligence must be exercised that their chances for survival are maximized. As for the preying birds, we usually have a trick up our sleeve, by feeding bread crumbs to them first, which in itself is a meritorious deed as well. Having their appetites satiated, the birds are less likely to swoop down on the temporarily disoriented juveniles, which can be traumatized during the release operation.

One of the adherents always provides the pails and portable aerators for keeping the juveniles alive during the short transit to the chosen location. Once at the chosen location, the ritual starts with the chanting of the Great Compassion Mantra and the Heart Sutra. Then the juveniles are released when the contents of the pails are poured gently into the water.

Today is the first time we have the ritual at the river side, actually is more like a canal, the Tampa Bypass Canal, which shunts the river discharge from the upstream of the Hillsborough River directly into the Bay during high rainfall events. But we added a new life to be released: earthworms, which are bought at the same bait shop, four cans-ful of them. But instead of pouring the can contents into the water, they are poured into shallow holes dug near the river bank then backfilled where they can then burrow to their heart's content without having to worry about wandering birds/chicken.

We left the house at 7.15am and by 9.10am, the ritual of release life was over, for today. Seeing the juveniles swimming away in a carefree fashion, instead of being gobbled up as baits at the end of a fish hook, filled our hearts with compassion, and permeated our minds with wonderful thoughts of the benevolence of life.

But for today, that wonderful feeling continued. This time, at 10.30am, the destination was the first Annual Robe Offering Celebration of the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society held at Clearwater. Laden with cooked food ranging from fried noodles, vegetable dishes, to fresh-cut fruits (my wife prepared two bowls of water melon and strawberries), we arrived at the destination at the nick of time (my fault as I was busy talking about the recently concluded US election with my front seat passenger and missed the turn into State Route 60 from the I-275 bridge crossing the Tampa Bay. So instead of going to Clearwater directly to the north, we ended up at St. Pete at the south because there is no U-turn on the I-275 bridge and we had to make a long detour to the south first).

But as I said, we arrived just when the ceremony was about to start with food offering to the various Bhante (the equivalent of Venerable in Pali) monks (thirteen in all). The adherents stood on a line next to the serving table and the Bhantes then walked by in a line on the opposite side, their bowls gradually filled up by food items picked up and offered by the adherents.

This is the most meritorious of alms giving, offering food, clothing, shelter, and robes to the sangha, any community of Buddhist monks. That done, the bhantes then sat on two opposite rows, with the apex occupied by the white statue of the Buddha, seemingly presiding over the ceremony. This was the setting for the robe offering ceremony. The adherents took turns to offer the robes stacked neatly on a table in their names as sponsors to each Bhante in turn.

This was followed by the award of certificates to newly ordained adherents, each being given a Buddhist name in Pali with the meaning explained. The ceremony concluded with a Dharma talk on the significance of the robe offering and the associated merit gathering aspect, and lastly, an acknowledgment of appreciation from the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society (DWMS) to all concerned who had helped make this a solemn and virtuous event.

Thanks were also extended to the congregation of Unity Church, the ever helpful neighbor, for their continued support of DWMS. This inter-faith cooperation is especially credit-worthy and inspiring and should auger well for a peaceful world.

Today has indeed been a wondrous day, and we have all been blessed in more ways than one. May all beings be well, happy and peaceful, as written on the program sheet. And I extend the same to all those who visit my blog, and pray that you would likewise extend the same wish to all with whom you cross path.

P.S. I’ve been using the term "adherents" but the term used by DWMS is "practitioners". To the extent that Buddhism emphasizes the practice of the various Buddha teachings and their embracing as a way or philosophy of life, I would agree that “practitioners” would be a more appropriate and meaningful description than “adherents”, which may imply blindly following of a faith. Henceforth, I will use “practitioners”.


CY said...

Ah, yes, the Release of Life that I have heard so much about. Do the bait sellers ever ask why a bunch of small Asian ladies are buying bait? I bet they're curious! I like the inclusion of multiple pictures; there are some things that pictures can explain that words can't, or set a certain scene or mood.

Say Lee said...

You missed the "accompanied by a big chinese male" part.

Anyway I think to them it's just business. Either that or Americans are really not a curious lot.

Yes, a picture is worth a thosuand words, and a chance to exercise different parts of the brain too.

Anonymous said...

Good article. Well-written!

projectmanager said...

Well done! What a vivid description of the whole process of life release for the understanding of the whole process with great compassion and wisdom. Besides, the onlookers would have a chance to learn about the real meaning and philosophy of this practice and hopefully, the bait shop would gradually be convinced and closed shop, and open a restaurant instead.
Releasing lives to freedom is a traditional Buddhist practice which believes all sentient beings are equal and no one can terminate the lives of others except by nature. The main purpose of this practice is to save lives that are in immediate danger and to pray for their Enlightenment and transfer the merits to all sentient beings.

projectmanager said...


Say Lee said...

Thanks for all the encouraging words.

Buddhism is indeed a practice-centric philosophy of life. It doesn't have to be a huge deed, as along as it is a good deed underpinned by compassion and a willingness to lend a helping hand.

PL said... the reservoirs in Singapore there are signs explaining why it is prohibited to release aqua animals into the water due to unbalancing the ecological system you have observed, many of these cannot survive or became food for the existing creatures there...more worrying for the suthorities is that an alien fish/aqua creature may became the predator, multiplying and exterminating the existing species in the reservoir..during Wesak day each year, the rangers will be on the alert to advise those who release fishes or tortoises into the waters...or guinea pigs into the forested area...

Say Lee said...

Points taken, PL.

As I said in the article, due deligence needs to be done on the proposed site and this would include compliance with regulations such as banning against the introduction of esoteric species, which are necessarily more stringent for a lacustrine environment because of the largely closed water body.

For a river and a coastal site, the natural ebb and flow would ensure that aquatic life does enjoy a more open environment within which natural survival capability will dictate the balance of eco-systems.

As per the comment of the project manager, buying juveniles from a local bait shop would ensure that they are ecological compatible and also meet the immediate needs of the purchased juveniles for relief as otherwise they would soon end up as baits.