Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Purpose of Animal Liberation

I share a lot with a good dharma friend of mine and I thought maybe it's good to share here too, without naming who, something on animal liberation:- Slightly more than a year ago, I would have thought that releasing of animals is just releasing of animals out of compassion for their pain while in the trap or cage. In Mahayana, all these while, I see the release of animals as just that, i.e. release of lives from their cages, water tanks, aquariums, containers, cooking pot, etc. Then there are those critics who saythat by releasing some animals into the open/ natural environment, we would be opening them to even more danger. This group of persons says that we would be harming them more than reducing their pain. So, there is this controversy of whether you should release their lives if it’s just a matter of releasing of lives. Of course, saving from cooking pot is one thing. But is it just at that level? But now, my guru has opened a whole new understanding to me. Yes, by doing animal liberation, we are not literally liberating them straight to enlightenment. However, we are assisting them in planting good causes and condition for a better life or better chance to be reborn as a human or god in the next life. We are also helping them plant seeds for their own future practice so that they are able to meet with dharma in the next life and practice to achieve enlightenment. So, it is not about this life alone. In the long term, indirectly we are indeed “liberating” them. And because we are able to practice such compassionate activities, thanks to these animals, indirectly they are also “liberating” us. That is why it is said in the dharma verses that we should see all sentient beings as our precious mothers and fathers and more precious than the wish-fulfilling gem. That is why in certain dharma centers, before the animals are released, not only are prayers chanted for them, the animals are actually taken round stupas and other holy objects. Indirectly the animals are circumambulating the holy objects and these will result in some future good causes and condition. Yes, practically they may still be an animal after we“release” them and perhaps so (or even be reborn in the hell or hungry ghost realms) in their next few lives depending on their existing karma. But one thing is for sure, they have planted imprints or seeds that will one day surely result in a happy rebirth for them no matter how long it takes. If their animal karma is short, by chanting prayers and mantras to them, they may even quickly die as an animal and be reborn in the better realm or one of the pure lands. So, when you see animals dying after an animal liberation event, or after you recite some mantras to them, it may actually be a good sign. Don’t take it that your mantra is ineffective, or mantra is effective but your chanting is ineffective whichever way you see it. Don’t think of it like that. In otherBuddhist centers, the animals are not taken to goround holy objects, instead sutras and other prayersare recited. This is also good because even though the animals cannot understand a word of the prayer or sutra or mantra, it will create imprints for connection with the dharma in the future. And certain mantras are powerful for creating a strong imprint or seed, and will quickly bloom for the animal. Hence, it is not the term we use for this activity,whether Animal Liberation or Animal Release, the important thing is what we do to the animal. Yes, releasing a caged animal is good but it is of not much use from the Buddhist long term point of view. For that matter, it does not have to be confined to animals, we can apply the same practice to hungry ghosts (if you can take those that are trapped in bottles by local wih doctors, why not? And moreover, it’s the hungry ghost month, isn’t it appropriate?), and humans and even gods in the heavenly realms. Terminally sick persons such as cancer victims, they should circumambulate Buddhas and other holy objects as much as possible. In my area, we are fortunate that thereare so many places we can do that. The tiered pagoda at PBA (at the pool outside) and the large Kuan Yin statue are goodplaces to do “Human and whatever-Being Liberation”.

I have attended one animal liberation with KhenchenKonchog Gyaltsen several years ago and he brought my attention to an important point. It’s still there in my head after so many years. I kept thinking about it whenever there is animal liberation. He told me sort of in private after the chanting session, that there is not much point in doing animal liberation if you continue killing animals. You release some, you kill some (or maybe, more?), so if it is just releasing ofanimals, obviously there is not much point in doing so. Initially I thought of his comments from the vegetarian point of view. But then now I get a different understanding of what he could mean. Of course, being a vegetarian is good but then, there is this whole debate about this vegetarian issue, which I shall not enter. Rather I think it is not what you eat. It is how you are able to benefit those animals killed in the process of producing the food; be it meat or vegetables. Therefore, it is important for me to think before eating any food and see it as an offering. I won’t go into details here, but in summary, we should strongly think that we are grateful to all those alive or dead that results in the food on our table. And we dedicate it to the Triple Gem and by their offering their lives or service, we undertake to practice the dharma in return until we achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. By this simple motivation, all our food become pure and all the sacrifice for the food becomes worthy. And it is not only during eating. By reducing killing and applying dharma in every other aspect of our lives, our animal liberation activity becomes even more powerful. So, that’s my understanding now of the point made by my Khenchen-la. I’m sorry but my understanding of dharma is just up to this level. If there’s some mistake, please point it out.

Don’t be shy. So, peace and namaste!

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