Saturday, July 14, 2007

Complementing Compassion with Wisdom

My wife received an email from a friend, inviting us to visit the Chinese Phoenix TV website. While surfing the website, I came upon an article that admonishes us to complement compassion with wisdom, via the example of a noble act, releasing life. I find it worthwhile to translate it into English to share in this blog. So here it is.

Releasing Life: We Must Complement Compassion with Wisdom
July 11, 2007 09:28 Life Forum

“Hey, boss, how much for the birds?”

“Three bucks each,” replied the pet shop owner. And when I pointed to another cage with a larger bird, the owner said, “Sorry, that’s not for sale. It has been reserved.”

“How come business is so good?”

“Because next week is the celebration of the birthday of Guang Yin [the Goddess of Mercy]. A lot of people have made their bookings, numbering in the thousands. So business is brisk indeed.”

My heart sank upon hearing the mass booking of live birdies. I and my friend bought some cicadas, small birds, and small frogs. Then we adjourned to the isolated riverside to release them. Small frogs are favored by anglers while fish aficionados feed crickets to their prized aquatic collections. The released crickets jumped onto the trees, incessantly devouring the leaves, a testimony to their famished state. The emaciated frogs frolic by hopping around, immensely enjoying their new-found liberation in a free environment they have been denied to for so long.

As a matter of fact, whenever the birthday of Guang Yin, or the First and the Fifteen of the lunar month is pending, those with vested interests are always busy hunting for these so-called hot items, the animals and the birds, for releasing life activities. Then they congregate at temples to sell their catches for quick profits. They always drive truck loads of these captured items and place them on parade at the temples nearby my house, their owners peddling to a captive market. Obviously some of these do not survive the trip. In this regard, both the sellers and the buyers are equally ignorant, and it is sad that both groups would have to shoulder some of the blame for the misdeed, and hence, suffer the karmic retribution.

A purely compassionate approach to releasing life is inadequate. It needs to be supplemented by wisdom. Then only then can any potential post-event harm be diminished. Making bookings for animals from pet shops for releasing life activities lacks wisdom. And compassion without wisdom is wasteful compassion. Just think about it. Pet shop operators will do their best to source for all kinds of animals to satisfy the demands and hence, maximize their profits. Thus, those doing the booking of these animals, albeit for a noble cause of releasing life, are indirectly abetting those performing the actual capturing. Would you consider this kind of releasing life as generating good merits? Maybe the birds are all screaming in their hearts: we all have to lose our freedom simply for people to act out their hypocritical rites of releasing life, and if such an expedient behavior is rewarded with good merits, where then is the natural justice in all this charade?

This is precisely why Venerable Master Lian Chi always stressed that we have to change the time, the place, and the animals in releasing life activities regularly, expressly to prevent those with vested interests from going on a catching spree in order to satisfy the demand. Those who subscribe to eating the three kinds of kosher meats (not killed because of me, the killing not seen by me, nor heard by me) are not supposed to make the booking. Instead, they should only buy those off the shelf, i..e, those already dead.

Of course, provided we adhere to the principles as laid down by Venerable Master Lian Chi, any untoward consequence after the event is clearly beyond our control. Regardless of whether there is any ready buyer, those who catch animals for a living will still engage in their daily business, the only difference being in the quantity. If there is a seasonal demand, and the market for certain animals is good, they will definitely catch more.

The targets of the releasing life activities are those fish, frog, turtles, cows, goats, chicken, duck, etc. destined for immediate consumption; and the juvenile fish, worms, cicadas, lizards, and small frogs in the pet shops. Then there are the birds caged in captivity. We buy these animals to be released into the wild precisely to eliminate their doomed fate because all animals and human beings are equal, endowed with Buddha nature, and hence have the potential to achieve buddhahood. They all can feel pain and are fearful of dying just like we all are.

We must always be mindful of the fact that just because they have their backs skyward, animals are not God’s gift to us as food. If such is the case, then animals should feel happy to serve our gastronomic needs. But the truth is worlds apart. There are reports of cows shedding their tears come slaughtering time, as if they could sense their immediate demise and are begging for mercy. In the wee hours of the morning, the shrill cries from pigs in a abattoir can make you stop eating pork for the rest of your life. As Confucius put it succinctly, hearing the sound alone is enough to move you to not eating the meat.

We can go to any pet shop, an aquarium, or a market, to buy animals for the purpose of releasing life. But we should not set our sight on a particular shop for that purpose, nor should we request for a particular kind of animals. All we have to do is to look at the quantity and assess our capacity to pay. Never place a booking. Otherwise we will bring suffering upon the animals, and upon ourselves (through the tenet of causality).


Kitty Girl said...

I suppose another way to do this, although more difficult and time-consuming, would be to adopt a rescued animal. There are many facilities that take in rescued or abandoned animals--horses, dogs, cats, to name the more common ones--and they try to give these animals treatment and good homes. Of course, there are only so many animals one can hope to adopt and take into their home, but that's another way. This way, one would be helping an animal in dire need, and in return, not only would you be rescuing a life, but you would also get loyal companionship (well, maybe dogs more so than cats, but still). Does anyone do this? It's rather different from "Release of Life" in which animals are released back into the wild, but these animals need rescuing too, just a different kind. There's also fostering, in which you foster kittens or puppies to help socialize them for adoption by other families. That's less permanent and not as long term, obviously, although some families do get attached to their foster pets and end up adopting them themselves!

Say Lee said...

Any action that benefits sentient beings are considered meritorious, including supporting SPCA activities through donation.

However, since our resources are limited, we need to be wise in our compassionate acts in order to maximize our impacts.

From a Buddhist worldview, it's better to release life than to keep animals, even domesticated ones, as pets since once we get too accustomed/attached to them, we might be reborn into the same animal realm as them, and that's undesirable as a buddhist will alway aspire to be reborn, if rebirth is dicated by one's karmic store of merits (or the lack thereof), into the human realm as that is the most reliable realm to attain buddhahood.

If this is too profound for you at this stage, just remember to do good.