Does Animal Liberation Affect or Harm the Ecosystem Significantly?

If animal liberation affect or harm the ecosystem significantly, then surely commercial fishing does more harm.

National Geographic agrees to this.


Fish Crashes Due to Overharvesting

Christensen and his colleagues analyzed more than 200 models of marine ecosystems from around the world to estimate fish numbers between 1880 and 2007. They found that 54 percent of the decline in predatory fish populations had occurred in the past 40 years.

“Cod in the North Atlantic is a classic case of a crash,” he said. “You had hundreds of years of sustainable fishing of cod—on the order of 200,000 to 300,000 tons caught a season—and then we saw an increase up to 700,000 tons, beyond sustainable levels.

“Now it’s been 20 years and we still haven’t seen a recovery.”


Those who want to protect the natural ecosystem should stop commercial fisheries and fishing companies from upsetting the natural marine ecosystem.  A direct way is to stop eating marine life, and start campaigns to raise awareness about it.  As they say it, “When the buying stop, the killing stops”.

And when the commercial fishing stop, animal liberation of respective marine life do not and cannot even take place.

It is laughable when I read articles about how animal liberation can significantly upset the marine ecosystem when commercial fishing companies easily destroy the balance by wiping out tons of marine life every season.

So jog my memory again, how many tons of marine life have we liberated last year?

(Hint: Not enough tons.)

Animal Releasing vs Ecosystem Protection: A False Dichotomy

When I received personal snail-mail yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see a single page of The Straits Times (dated 21 May 2010) in the envelope. It was page C3, entitled “More people releasing animals into wild” by Grace Chua. The article focuses on the impact of releasing animals into the wild and how “More people are releasing animals into the wild, reversing a downward trend.”

Oh dear, oh my Buddha! We should call in the police to investigate this matter! The limited natural ecosystem is about to be overrun by these animals released by “people tired of their pets or those setting free animals in religious rites”. Take a closer look my friend, there was a drop from 44 cases in 2004 to 1 in 2007 and an INCREASE to 3 in 2008 for animals being released into the parks and reserves. Phew! ok, call off the search party for the culprits.

Now, if you read through the article, you will see various cases of different animals being released and how the very releasing can cause either harm to released animals or to the ecosystem. A group called “Operation No Release” is specifically targeting Buddhists’ religious practice of animal liberation during Vesak, the very day of celebration of Buddhism’s founder, the Buddha. Vesak celebrates the Buddha’s Birth, Attaining of Buddhahood (of Perfection) and Final passing into Mahaparinibbana (Great Cessation) and on this day of celebration, Buddhist take part in a variety of practices to strengthen their commitment to the Buddhist Teachings, and try to further develop qualities like Metta-Karuna (Loving Kindness and Compassion) and Wisdom.

These are part and parcel of the daily life of a Buddhist, to try to improve themselves through the cultivation of the mind and
purifying one’s bodily, verbal and mental actions. Amongst a whole range of practices, animal liberation is one of them and it is aimed at 1) Giving animals a second chance at survival and 2) to develop compassion towards all sentient beings, humans, animals, spirits, gods and hell beings alike. The article failed to share with the reader this positive aspect of such a practice, choosing to focus only on one aspect of it. Compare this with thousands of animals being killed at restaurants and slaughterhouses, I would choose to give animals a second chance any time.

There are hundreds of Buddhist temples, monasteries and societies in Singapore. Only one is quoted from Ajahn Brahmavamso, an Australian venerable serving as spiritual patron for Buddhist Fellowship. With respects to Ajahn Brahmavamso, I believe it will give readers a more comprehensive coverage of the subject matter by inviting comments from local Buddhist communities in Singapore. So, dear Straits Times and Grace Chua, in future if you need some thoughts on Buddhist practices, you can consult Singapore Buddhist Federation or any of the local Buddhists for advice and information.


The article goes on to highlight how even Secondary school students are also doing their bit to discourage the practice with “30 pupils from Fuhua and Zhonghua primary schools and enrichment centre Neumind” attending a workshop to learn why releasing animals harms the environment. Why are they discouraging the practice and not encouraging the RIGHT practice? Thousands of people are killed in car accidents each year, should we ban driving? No! We encourage drivers to drive safely and responsibly! I say, keep up the workshop but please focus on the positive motivation of Animal Liberation and educate people on the RIGHT ways, on BETTER ways to do it.

Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) students were also highlighted in the article highlighting how “they are working with National Parks Board to put up signs and exhibits in nature areas to explain the fate of released animals”. The RGS students came to SBF seeking the Buddhist opinions on the issue of Animal Liberation. Their request was channelled to me and we had an interview on 24th March 2010. Their teacher-in-charge, Mrs Raja, came with them and I shared with them the various aspects of animal liberation. When they use the word “issue” one too many times, I asked them what the issue was about and Mrs Raja quickly replied that they had no issue on it. It was clear from the interview that they wanted to discourage animal liberation. I cautioned them that if they are interested in protecting the ecosystem, they have to take a well-rounded view of as many of the factors involved as possible and that by zooming in on Buddhist animal liberation alone while not considering other factors, they may be missing the point and not achieving their original goal.

With the ST article, I understand what issue the RGS students may have with Buddhist animal liberation, but again I must highlight to them and others a moderate approach that will serve all better without inciting religious sensitivities. The intention and motivation behind the practice of Animal Liberation is a very positive and wholesome one. In the past twenty over years, Singaporeans have learnt a great deal about better ways to express this beautiful practice in a more positive way and with education, the methodologies and the motivation can be more inline.

Promote the positive motivation of Animal Liberation and educate people on the RIGHT ways, on BETTER ways to do it. Animal Release and Ecosystem protection being incompatible is a false dichotomy.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the water, along with Granny.

PS: I’ve kept the RGS students informed of this blog post so that they may freely comment on their positive work and perhaps how they have been touched through it. I am also hopeful that knowledge and dialogue will empower them to realise that protection of the ecosystem and Buddhist animal
liberation are not mutually exclusive that there is value in encouraging responsible animal liberation that will bring a wholesome and positive development of compassion in people while not damaging the ecosystem.

PS1: When RGS students mentioned to me on the displacement impact that animal liberation has on the ecosystem, I asked them if we should stop fishing since it causes a displacement as well. 😉

How About That Fish?

Recently when I was in Kuala Lumpur (KL) to speak at a conference, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of 50~60 nice folks from Kelantan, Malaysia.  Very friendly and lovely bunch I must say.

I noticed that some of the locals in KL were eating live seafood and so I quizzed them on how that relates to the first precept of non-killing.  After a very lively discussion, we concluded that eating live seafood crossed the line for non-killing.  Consider how the fishes were happily swimming around in the tanks … ok, maybe not so happily … but nonetheless, alive and swimming.  Then someone may come along to the restaurant and order a meal, resulting in one or more of them being killed for our consumption.  At that point, it became clear that the meal was quite the cause of death or at least the reason.  So far so good, as far as understanding how we relate to the first precept of non-killing.

Then someone pointed out that sometimes, actually most of the time, only one person do the ordering, so perhaps he is the only person bearing the karma of killing.  I threw it open to the floor for discussion and went through a few possible scenarios regarding the causal consequences of the meal.

Case A: Person ordering get 100% of killing karma, while the eaters get none.
Case B: Person ordering get a majority percentage of say N% of killing karma, while the rest share in the 100% – N% of killing karma.
Case C: Everyone gets an equal share of the killing karma.  So if there were five diners, each get 20%.

Then someone further suggest that those who eat more, should be more responsible!  So the formulae became

Case A: Person ordering get 100% of killing karma, while the eaters get none.
Case B1: Person ordering get a majority percentage of
say N% of killing karma, while the rest share in the 100% – N% of killing karma.
Case B2: Person ordering get a majority percentage of say N% of killing karma, while the rest share in the 100% – N% of killing karma on a pro-rata or weighted basis.
Case C1: Everyone gets an equal share of the killing karma.  So if there were five diners, each get 20%.
Case C2: Everyone gets a share of the killing karma depending on the amount they ate.

Things were getting complex!  In the end, we simplified and just considered the original three cases, although as you will see, the reasonings for each case would lead us to similar conclusions.  Bear in mind that we did not assume any of the case to be the actual mechanism behind how karma would or should work out; we simply cover all possible scenarios as much as we can.  So for the following analysis, we then look at each case and say, if this were true, how would or should we act differently?

Case A, while the person ordering gets 100%, should Buddhists who embrace values and qualities like Loving Kindness and Compassion allow someone to bear the brunt (100%) of painful results for one’s meal while one selfishly tucks into the meal knowing that someone else (both the fish and the orderer) is suffering for us.  While highly unlikely, we saw it unseemly for us to partake in such a meal as it is both selfish and unkind.

Case B, letting someone get the majority share and each diner receiving partial payout for the karma of killing didn’t seem to be such a good idea as well.  Nope.

Case C, for most people in the discussion, going pro-rata seem to be the most likely mechanism for karma, but it then becomes even clearer why we should not partake in the meal altogether!

We could have, and were tempted to, gone further and consider many other factors, including those who arrive late, those who fail to turn up but were on the diners’ list, those who were not, but turn up after the ordering, those who were not but turn up before the ordering etc etc.  But we did not.  Most were duly satisfied with the discussion and analysis and left it knowing how better to relate to the precepts in future.

So what did you eat today?

PS: I do not advocate eating as a means of enlightenment, and the discussion of food was really a day-to-day affair that to me mattered to some of those lay Buddhist I met.


Earthlings - Make the connection

Earthlings – Make the connection

EARTHLINGS is a feature length documentary about humanity’s absolute dependence on animals (for pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research) but also illustrates our complete disrespect for these so-called “non-human providers.” The film is narrated by Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix (GLADIATOR) and features music by the critically acclaimed platinum artist Moby.

So Does It Mean That One Have To Be a Vegetarian To Be a Buddhist?

Simply put, no. One does not have to be a vegetarian or vegan for that matter, to be a Buddhist.

Vegetarianism as a pre-requisite to being a Buddhist is a misconception that had been advocated directly or indirectly in the Chinese Mahayana tradition.

I’ve received many queries and responses from lay people about vegetarianism. Some wonder if it is a pre-requisite to be a vegetarian to be a Buddhist. Others wonder if it is a precept or by-clause under the No-Killing precept. All these questions plus some exchanges with a fellow Buddhist who is a vegan spur me on to write this post.

Here is a summary:

  1. To be a Buddhist, it is optional to be a vegetarian.
  2. To observe the First of the Five Precepts of “abstaining from Killing”, one does not have to be a vegetarian. It is still optional to be a vegetarian even if one observes the Five Precepts.
  3. To observe the Bodhisattva vows under the Chinese Mahayana tradition, it is *compulsory* to be a vegetarian.

Foot note to #3, it is not compulsory to be a Bodhisattva even if you follow the Chinese Mahayana tradition. It is only at a later stage that the Bodhisattva vow became a somewhat compulsory package for monastics. For lay people, the Bodhisattva vow is still *not* compulsory.

More after the jump.

Read More …

Is Giving Badges to Boy Scouts Right or Is Mock Meat Right?

Of late, a couple of folks asked me about eating mock meat and all. Some friends did ask me about it as well in the past, and come to think about it, this is a question that had been asked, since perhaps the start of mock meat itself! It seems contradictory to actually advocate vegetarianism on one hand and on the other hand, fabricate realistic mock meat to satisfy one’s taste buds. Why should one do this? Why can’t we be real to ourselves and just eat meat or vegetables depending on our inclinations? Can there be a middle-ground? Read More …