Why Buddhist ‘fangsheng’ mercy release rituals can be more cruel than kind

The Guardian, Sept 30, 2017

The case of two London Buddhists fined for releasing crustaceans into the sea has thrown the spotlight on a ritual that involves hundreds of millions of wild animals – and a huge industry built around their capture and supply

Brighton, UK
-- It was intended as a Buddhist act of mercy and compassion, but ended in a criminal conviction and significant environmental risk. The release of hundreds of alien lobsters and crabs into the sea off Brighton has highlighted the perils of a ritual that takes kindness to animals too far.

<< A Buddhist monk releases a lobster into the ocean.

Two London Buddhists, Zhixiong Li, 30, and Ni Li, 33, pleaded guilty last week at Brighton magistrates court to breaking the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by releasing non-native species into the wild, causing “untold damage” to marine life. The pair were ordered to pay a total of more than £28,000 in fines and compensation.

They, along with more than 100 other Buddhists, were taking part in a rite known as fangsheng, or “life release”, as the highlight of a visit to the UK of Taiwanese Buddhist master Hai Tao two years ago. The group hired three boats from Brighton marina, emptied their load into the sea a mile off the coast and returned to shore – presumably full of good karma.

The ritual dates back to the third century, but has seen a resurgence in recent years. Hai Tao, a champion of animal rights, advocates fangsheng – saving the lives of creatures destined for slaughter – as a way for Buddhists to demonstrate compassion, create good fortune and earn merit.

According to Humane Society International (HSI), hundreds of millions of birds, fish, monkeys, turtles and other animals are involved in acts of fangsheng every year. But these days, it says, “mercy release has become an industry built on the capture and supply of wild animals, for whom there are devastating consequences of injury, illness or death”. In Taiwan alone, 200 million wild animals are used every year in release rituals, according to HSI in 2012. Fangsheng is also practiced in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Nepal, the United States and the UK.

The organisation says many animals are fatally injured in the ritual, and those that survive release often die soon afterwards from exhaustion, injury or disease, or else become prey to other species. Some are re-captured after the ritual and re-sold. Release can also cause environmental harm, it adds. Animals “may be released outside their natural habitats and in groups large enough to establish breeding populations, often wreaking havoc on local ecosystems. Some are invasive species that may threaten the survival of the native species.”

A few days after the fangsheng ritual off the south coast of the UK, a Brighton fisherman was puzzled to find non-native lobsters and crabs among his catch. He alerted the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which chartered boats and offered local fishermen a £20-a-head bounty for every alien crustacean they captured. But only 323 out of a total of more than 700 were recovered, and there was evidence some lobsters had begun breeding in their new home.

Still, the Brighton incident is far from the worst case of fangsheng gone wrong. In 2012, followers of Hai Tao released hundreds of snakes in a mountainous area of Taiwan not native to them, leaving locals to deal with regular house visits from the serpents. “Releasing captive animals is good practice, but releasing snakes into the wild hurts society and contravenes the intention of mercy,” Hai Tao said at the time.

In comparison, dumping a few stray crabs and lobsters really does seem merciful.
We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv