It was Wesak Day last week and was a public holiday for our country. I decided to visit the famous Thai Temple in Petaling Jaya to pay my respects to the Lord Buddha and offer my prayers. I knew that the streets lining up to the temple would be jammed with many cars as thousands of Buddhist devotees would throng to this temple annually. We parked our car about half a kilometer away and walked our way up the slopes to arrive the temple which was like a sea of humans. I will blog about this later with more colourful photos.
Buddhists across Asia have always believed in the merit making rituals by releasing lives to clear some karma and making merits at the same time. Having grown up in Thailand during my childhood days, I had seen and heard much of their beliefs and rituals in many forms. Now that I am an adult today with matured thinking, I could agree and support the many temples which have often discouraged many devotees from releasing birds at the temple grounds. Instead, they are encouraged to release those caged animals elsewhere at anytime as soon as possible and not to wait for this auspicious date. Many temples have realized this method today has been abused while it has become a commercial aspect where hunters would capture and trap all these animals to sell them to vendors who would wait in vain for naive devotees to buy the poor animals.
Many big and small birds were squeezed together into small and suffocating cages. It made my heart so sick that I turned my head away quickly. So many birds had died unfortunately and the bad karma would obviously go to the bird vendor and their hunters! It confused my head and heart whether I should buy up all the cages of hundreds of birds to set them free? The hunters might be waiting somewhere to recapture the frightened birds again to resell them like slaves. It would never end just like human trafficking which has been around since ancient times. These horrendous humans would sadly never learn from mistakes when they do not have wisdom and compassion.
Now this poor bird above, was released at the temple grounds together with other feathered friends. Many of them fell onto the ground and parked cars right away, shaking uncontrollably as if they had forgotten how to fly after being in captive for weeks! It was a sad and pitiful sight indeed. I could not even help the bird to fly or chirp some comforting words to soothe its soul. Some people chose to believe that those birds and turtles were being bred in farms for sale, hence they won't know how to live in freedom. While others believed that they were being saved enroute to the cooking pots of restaurants' kitchens. In Thailand, one could find many of these commercial methods of releasing lives which I need not elaborate as I just had to blog this after witnessing it last week.
I read this story and decided to share its origin of Merit Making By Releasing Lives:
In the time of the Lord Buddha, there was a temple named Chetawan Wihan which was under the charge of Saributr. One summer day, a young novice went to pay respect to Saributr as usual. The abbot noticed an abnormal sign on the novice’s face and knew immediately that the novice would die seven days later. Out of pity, he told the poor novice about this and tried to console him. The novice then asked for leave to go home to bid farewell to his parents and relatives. He promised that he would come back to Chetawan temple within seven days in order to die there.
Two events happened on his way home. First, when he passed a water-hole and tried to get some water to drink, he saw fish struggling in the mud. He felt pity on them, so he took off his robe, caught all the fish and put them in his robe. He walked to a nearby pond and freed the fish there.
Later, when the novice reached an old farm he saw three birds stuck in snares. He wanted to free them, but he couldn’t because that would mean violating the second precept of the Buddhist moral code (i.e. to abstain from stealing). So the novice just stood still looking at the birds and prayed for their safety. He concentrated in praying for a long time until there was a gust blowing in the direction where the birds were stuck. The snares shook until the wires broke and the birds flew away.
When the novice arrived home and told his relatives about his expected imminent death, they were so sad that they decided to make merit for him. They weighed the novice and prepared a quantity of rice equaling the weight of the novice. They boiled the rice and presented it to the monks. They took good care of him day and night. Surprisingly, seven days passed and the novice was still alive and healthy, so he went back to Chetawan Temple.
When Saributr saw the novice, he was very surprised as his predictions had never failed before. So he asked the novice to explain to him thoroughly what he had done in the past seven days. After hearing the account, Saributr understood that the novice’s escape from death was due to his meritorious acts done from his compassionate heart – freeing fishes, helping birds to flee and presenting boiled rice to the monks. All these merits added together were strong enough to prolong his life. That is believed to be the origin of the Buddhist tradition of freeing fish and birds that has been observed by Thais as well as other Buddhists since the ancient times.
Source: “Thaiways” Vol. 18, No. 15, 2001