It is a common practice, among Buddhists, to buy and liberate birds, fish, turtles and other living things as an ‘act of merit’. I would like to look briefly at this custom and its ramifications.

If it is considered good and ‘meritorious’ to release animals and birds, it must, as a corollary, be considered bad and demeritorious to capture and sell them in the first place.

Now, without buyers, there are no sellers; we can sell something only if someone buys it. Therefore, these creatures—which, in many cases, are just common sparrows and finches—are captured and sold to the people who buy them to release. Are not the buyers therefore responsible for them being caught in the first place? If no-one bought these birds, would they be caught like this? Are the buyers not involved in and responsible for the demeritorious act of trapping these wild birds and animals?

And to think of making merit from or through these animals: are we not just using them for our own ends? Can that be considered meritorious? We should think clearly about things and not be too hasty in our desire for merit.

If the welfare of the animals and birds is the motive for buying and releasing them, why wait for some time after buying them before freeing them? Why not release them right outside the shop and give them that extra period of freedom? Instead, they are kept for long hours in small cages until a ceremony is performed of which the birds and animals understand nothing and couldn’t care less, and in the meantime, often some die. Who, therefore, are we doing it for—the birds and animals, or ourselves? If we are using them for our own gain, then, far from ‘making merit’, we are making demerit! It is wrong to use others for our own gain like this.

If we are really concerned about the birds and animals, we would realize that the people who buy them are responsible for them being caught in the first place, and as long as there are people to buy them, there will be people to catch them. We can put a stop to the demeritorious action of catching them to sell for release if we refuse to buy them; in the long run, this would be the best way of helping the fish and birds.

When Prince Siddhartha was born, his father the King called in eight astrologers to predict his son’s future. After carefully scrutinizing the marks on the body of the child, seven of them raised two fingers and said that the child would grow up to become either a great monarch or an enlightened spiritual teacher. The eighth seer raised only one finger, however, and stated that, without doubt, the baby prince would definitely become a Buddha. We know that the prince later gave up his life of luxury in the palace to go out into the forest in search of truth, and that he finally became enlightened, becoming known thereafter as the Buddha.

If Prince Siddhartha had remained in the palace instead of going off into the forest to seek for truth, he would have been able to help a few people by ruling wisely and well, helping the poor, raising the standard of living of his people, and so on, but his influence would probably not have survived much longer than he. As it was, by becoming a Buddha, he was able to help incalculable numbers of people, and His benign influence continues until today. I am writing this, for example, because of the Buddha, more than 2,500 years after He passed away.

We must follow things through, and not see just the immediate results of our actions, but also their long-term effects. So, before you buy birds or animals for release, ask yourself why and for whom you are doing it. Are you really doing it for the benefit of the animals, or for your own sake?

While I was staying in a Chinese temple in Melbourne in 1994, some ladies from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) came there to complain about the practice of buying birds to release, saying what I have said above: that a high percentage of birds die in their tiny cages while waiting for the ceremony to be performed prior to freeing them. I told them that I was in complete agreement with them, but that the people in the temple were so attached to their traditions that they had refused to listen when I had tried to explain to them, and had even complained about me complaining, and told me not to talk about such things if I wanted to continue staying there. My responsibility, however, is to what I perceive to be right, and not to tradition and superstition. Dharma is not—or should not be—a thing of tradition, something of the past, fit only for museums, nor should it be something negotiable, but something of the present, to live by. In this case, I am on the side of the birds, and will say what I feel should be said, regardless of what other people say.

< Previous  -   Next>

Home  -   Against The Stream  -   As It Is  -   Because I Care  -   Behind The Mask  -   Boleh Tahan -   Just A Thought -   Let Me See  -   Lotus Petals  -   Not This, Not That  -   Parting Shots  -   Ripples Following Ripples  -   So Many Roads  -   This, Too, Will Pass  -   Wait A Minute!  -   Your Questions, My Answers  -   Download  -   Funeral  -   Links  -   Contact