Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Buddhist View: Consuming Shark Fins Soup

President Barack Obama of the USA was recently caught in an issue involving shark fins soup. In the almost global concern about consuming shark fin soup, environmentalists campaign to ban this Chinese soup for fear that the finning of sharks will dwindle the shark population to the point of extinction. They also think it is cruel to fin the shark and let it go still alive into the ocean. That is Buddhism's view point on this? I will explore on this issue here based on my personal views as a Buddhist. I only speak for myself.

1. I do agree that it is indeed cruel to cut off the fin and let it go into the waters. It will be unable to swim and will be like a human being cut off their hands. Unlike humans, who may have people taking care of their daily needs, will other fish feed these sharks who have been decapitated? I don't think so. Hence, it is really a torture.

2. In terms of committing killing karma, however, letting go of the shark into the waters will certainly result in less negative karma for the catcher than if he were to kill it. Killing another life will result in tremendous negative karma and will result in a worse hell than to torture another being. This is seen from the perspective of the catcher, although it certainly looks more compassionate to just kill the shark from our side, as non-catcher or environmentalists who may not be Buddhists. Buddhists must always think which action will result in less karma, and should think of the karmic burden of the catchers too.

3. Environmentalists seek to ban the consumption of only shark fins but they don't say eating shark meat is wrong. They are silent on that aspect. As a Buddhist, eating shark meat is also wrong, if not more wrong, because it involves killing the entire shark. And what about other kinds of fish? What about other animals such as chicken, pigs and cows?They think it is okay to catch and eat them? Nobody says anything about this, except the vegetarians.

4. In response to number 3 above, even though environmentalists think about only shark fins, it is better to have half-compassion, than none at all. But it is better to move towards applying our principles equally to all sentient beings. That is what Buddhism calls "equanimity".

5. Someday if there are people who can cultivate sharks and you don't have to cut their fins and throw them back into the ocean, just like chickens, pigs and cows, it is then right to eat sharks fins? By cultivating sharks, their population will not dwindle, since it is the environmentalists main concern. If cultivation is possible, and consumers of shark fins soup cannot be accused of driving sharks to their extinction, what then is the stand of environmentalists on this issue?  

6. Consumers only know how to eat. And they eat not only shark fins, but also shark meat, pork, beef, chicken and other animal meat and animal parts. Other than certain types of Buddhists, most people just consume meat without thinking of the welfare of the animals. I feel that if people cannot be 100%vegetarians, at least abstain from meat once or twice a month. That will be very good. Think about the lives of others that have been sacrificed.

7. From Buddhism's point of view, the extinction or continuation of any animal specie is not a major concern, at least it is not a spiritual concern. This is because being born as an animal is considered as being born into one of the lower realms. Meaning, it is not good for anyone to be born as an animal. Therefore, it is not a Buddhist stand to see the increase of any animal population. We believe in compassion on animals (hence the non-killing precept) but at the same time, we do not encourage the perpetuation of the animal specie. In fact, the lesser the population in all the lower realms (i.e. consisting of hungry ghosts, animals and hell-beings) the better it is from the Buddhist perspective. That is why Buddhists do the animal liberation prayers. It is done not so much to free the animals from captivity but rather to assist them to gain a better rebirth after their current lives as animals.

8. Hence, a Tibetan Buddhist may liberate a shark by eating shark fins soup and blowing a mantra on it. It is believed that the mantra will enable the shark not to be reorn anymore as a shark in its next life. The mantra is said to be effective even though the mantra is blown on a fin only. The shark may be dead and reborn somewhere else already, but it is taught in Tibetan Buddhism that it will still be able to receive the impact of the mantra through a long series of causes and conditions. The compassion of Buddhists is on the shark's actual being and not the continuation of its existence as a shark.      

I am not trying to defend either the consumers or the environmentalists, but only exploring the issue from different angles and laying out the facts as they are, especially from my view as a Buddhist. Did I miss any other angle of looking at this issue?

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