Monday, June 4, 2018

Wrong Way Of Merit Making

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



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24 comments:

  1. am not a buddhist but I do pity these animals and concern about animals welfare. I don't keep pets if I can't take care of them and provide adequate freedom to them. It's sad to see fishes sold in cramped aquarium & I couldn't do anything to help, except to boycott the business.

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    1. The world will have no ending of cruelty and abuses towards animals and even human beings. My wife would boycott all the zoos and animal shows as she would cry buckets of pitiful tears to see them.

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  2. One need to exercise wisdom in making merits, you are right to say this is not the right way, there are dos and donts of life liberation

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    1. I have been thinking about the method of life liberation which you had participated. It is quite similar to the ones in Thailand. It made me have funny thoughts of the animals waiting idly if there are no kind people to come forward to release them. Then I also thought about the whole group who created this and whether they gained merits from this. There is no right and wrong actually but the good intention that counts.

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    2. Sometimes good intentions are not enough.

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  3. It is indeed sad and also apalling to see animals treated that way in the name of merit making. 😞

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    1. I was asking around whether people from other religions do practice this life liberation in our country. I got no answer.

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  4. "...and have seen the best places & worst humans."

    So sad... I think you must be talking about the worst humans here in this post.

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  5. Yes, I saw many temples in Chiang Mai with caged birds for release .

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    1. Yeah they have many other living beings to be released for a price. Fishes, prawns, birds and so on..... It made me sick.

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  6. Its so sad... that due to mis-intrepretations by human beings of the holy books that things like that happen.

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    1. You are correct that some humans have always misinterpreted the religious teachings. This one is a good example.

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  7. Poor little things...it's awful that they have to endure such fate repeatedly. But it's good that many have come to realise that certain things must change.

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    1. I always doubt that humans would ever wake up and change without self realization. This is happening and makes the world a sad place to live.

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  8. It is sad that merit making has turned out this way.

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    1. It has gone commercialized with money exchanging hands all the way to make merits.

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  9. I don't believe in releasing lives and I think go for vegetarian is a better way to clear arma and making merits.

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    1. I agree that going vegetarian with dedication from our prayers would be good and meaningful too.

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  10. that's an interesting perspective to something i'm not aware of (i've never commemorated wesak or visited a temple where i saw these caged birds). i guess it boils down once again to the human initiative to find profits in every way possible, and as always, animals will suffer because of it.

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  11. I also don't this is the right way and I've never done this .

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  12. This has to change indeed and birds have wings to fly and should let to fly... this is a kind of disabling! I could connect with the birds there :(

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  13. So sad to see this. I never knew such a practice existed. Poor birds..

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