A Buddhist Ritual Gets an Ecologically Correct Update

A Buddhist Ritual Gets an Ecologically Correct Update

"Release life," the practice of freeing caged animals into the wild to generate good karma, is now an environmentally friendly act of kindness.

By Rachel Nuwer
Published: January-February 2014

In North America the practice is more hush-hush. Few scientists have looked into it, but those in the know express concern. "Mercy releases are a growing problem," says Chris Harley, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia. Alien species, including snakehead fish and sea snails (which carry a potentially dangerous parasite), have turned up in waters around Vancouver, though the good Samaritans--Buddhist or otherwise--behind those invasions remain unidentified. "It is entirely possible that Buddhist releases were responsible," he says, but these practices "are not well documented and are completely unregulated."

Bent on finding a solution that is regulated, Benkong realized that certified wildlife rehabilitators often let animals go--unblessed. If Buddhists could join in, they could receive fangsheng credit without throwing a wrench into local ecosystems. He placed an ad in the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society's newsletter and found two local turtle rehabbers, Patricia Johnson and Lorri Cramer, who were willing to work with him on the idea, which he called "compassionate release."

"When you're dealing with cultural traditions, sometimes you can't say, 'You can't do that,' or 'This is wrong,' " Johnson says. "That's what I love about the compassionate release: It's taking something that serves a real spiritual service for a lot of people, and redirecting it just a little."

Benkong also took part in forum discussions in Taiwan, where Fengqing Yu and her group undertake educational campaigns in the Buddhist community and push for legislation to regulate releases. Mostly, though, he focuses on efforts closer to home. Since 2008 he has organized about a dozen turtle ceremonies. Now he's moved on to birds.

 

Back in Central Park, the wood thrush and yellow-bellied sapsucker had flown away and the autumn sun was setting. Before heading back to Chinatown, Abbess Jingyi Shi bid xie-xie to Rita McMahon, the Wild Bird Fund's director, and presented her with an offering: a check for $2,000. "This is a big, big help," McMahon said. "It keeps the doors open."

As Benkong likes to point out, temples have ample funds to give--something that rehabilitators tend to lack. "There are 145 Buddhist temples in New York City," says Benkong, adding that he is in the process of contacting all of them. But his ambitions reach beyond the five boroughs. He and Johnson are coauthoring short books about compas- sionate release--one written in English and Chinese and the other in the language of science--which they plan to send to temples, conserva- tionists, and rehabilitators around the country.

"My ultimate goal is for every Buddhist temple in the United States to have a rehabber or conservation group that they support and use to educate their community," says Benkong. "They just need to come knock on our door."

This story originally ran in the January-February 2014 issue as "Setting Free the Birds."

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Rachel Nuwer

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

FOR A RELEASING CEREMONY THAT

FOR A RELEASING CEREMONY THAT DOESN'T ENDANGER EITHER LOCAL SPECIES REGARDING NON-LOCAL PREDATORS OR THEIR DISEASES, THIS MIGHT BE A GOOD ALTERNATIVE. FOLLOWING BUDDHIST CHANTING DEDICATED TO THE AWAKENING OF ALL BEINGS IN ALL REALMS, AND SAFE HAPPY LIVES FOR THE RELEASED, ECOLOGICALLY SOUND AND AFFORDABLE EVEN TO THE VERY POOR; MANY CRICKETS WERE RELEASED ON A MOUNTAINSIDE FAR FROM LAWN MOWERS AND PESTICIDES SPRAYS. IF NOT FREED THE CRICKETS WERE TO FED TO REPTILES AND FISH. MAY ALL BEINGS AWAKEN TO THE GREAT PEACE AND JOY, THE WISDOM AND CARING OF BUDDHAS. SUE "JERUSHA" RAMSEY ROOMINYOURHEART92@GMAIL.COM

Amituofo! Ven. Benkong, Thank

Amituofo! Ven. Benkong,
Thank you very much for what you did for all beings!
Tammy with palms joined

Dear Benkong Shi Preserving

Dear Benkong Shi

Preserving life has always been part of your life. You have not only saved animal lives, but human lives as well. Remember the number of lives of children living with AIDS in Venda, Limpopo province South Africa. I have witnessed you saving lives of both the young and the old in my country ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

I love the article, I love the photos. Keep it up

Albert Mmbidi
Director: Official Development Assistance
Department of water Affairs
Republic of South Africa

Dear Benkong Shi Preserving

Dear Benkong Shi

Preserving life has always been part of your life. You have not only saved animal lives, but human lives as well. Remember the number of lives of children living with AIDS in Venda, Limpopo province South Africa. I have witnessed you saving lives of both the young and the old in my country ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

I love the article, I love the photos. Keep it up

Albert Mmbidi
Director: Official Development Assistance
Department of water Affairs
Republic of South Africa

Thank you Benkong for

Thank you Benkong for fighting ths battle. You are changing a now distorted and damaging ritual into something of value.

As founder of MickaCoo Pigeon

As founder of MickaCoo Pigeon & Dove Rescue, created to save the "mercy released" birds that were being killed by wild animals and overwhelmed animal shelters, I applaud this truly compassionate evolution. THANK YOU! Please- we would love to support and educate Buddhist temples in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I visited Thailand two years

I visited Thailand two years ago and I was surprised to find tiny cages full of little birds piled in the entrance of temples . I asked our guide and he told me about the custom of releasing animals for good karma , the problem is that it has become an awful business , you have to pay to release them , then they are caught again and many of them die in the cages.

"Compassionate Release" -- I

"Compassionate Release" -- I love this! Here in California we annually import some TWO MILLION American bullfrogs and perhaps a half-million freshwater turtles (sliders and softshells) for human consumption, sold in the state's many live animal food markets (usually in Asian communities).
Many of these animals are purchased alive from the markets and released into local waters, sometimes by "do-gooders," sometimes by religious sects. None of these animals are native to California, and they prey upon and displace our native wildlife, spreading diseases and parasites in the process. A particular concern is the fact that the majority of the market bullfrogs, in both New York and California, test positive for the dreaded chytrid fungus (Bd), thought to have caused the extinctions of a couple of hundred frogs and other amphibians in recent years.
These "compassionate releases" could go a long way toward fixing this problem. Many thanks for this article. I'd love to get copies of the books mentioned for circulation here in California.

x
Eric Mills, coordinator
ACTION FOR ANIMALS
Oakland, CA
email - afa@mcn.org

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