Fangsheng (放生), the release of animals that are slated for slaughter to save their lives, is not a practice of benevolence if it is not guided by wisdom, because it could harm the animals and the natural environment, environmental protection and religious groups said yesterday, urging some Buddhist organizations to stop the practice.
Yesterday was the first day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, marking the beginning of Ghost Month (鬼月), which, according to Chinese tradition, is when the spirits of the dead are permitted to leave the underworld and enter the human world once more.
Documentary maker Lin Jui-chu (林瑞珠) said that during this month, it is customary for people to prepare food to appease the spirits, while some religious groups hold fangsheng events, believing the practice allows devotees to accumulate good deeds and merit.
At a press conference yesterday, Lin presented a video clip showing hundreds of worshipers standing by a river, passing on buckets of live fish and releasing the fish into the water, while a Buddhist monk talked of how setting 500,000 milkfish and 500,000 earthworms free was a merciful act that would bring health and good fortune to the practitioners.
“However, fangsheng is actually setting something free to die,” Lin said, as many animals were hurt or died in the process of setting them free — not including those that were hurt or killed when they were being captured.
“The original purpose of fangsheng was to protect lives, but releasing large numbers of animals in habitats that they don’t belong in is an act of benevolence without wisdom,” Buddha’s Light International Association general secretary Master Jue Pei (覺培法師) said. “Many of the animals were captured for the purpose of being released.”
Taiwan Academy of Ecology secretary-general Tsai Chih-hao (蔡智豪) said although the custom should be respected, it could also lead to a widespread transmission of diseases because some of the released animals were imported from overseas.
“The best method to protect lives should be to protect the animals’ original habitats,” he added.
Huang Hsien-yi from the Taichung Buddhist Lotus Society, an organization that used to hold fangsheng activities, said they were considering promoting vegetarianism as the best way to protect lives and to transfer worshipers’ donations for setting animals free into support funds for wildlife rescue centers, animal shelters and stream conservation projects.
Lin Kuo-chang (林國彰), a Council of Agriculture official, said the three animal-related laws — the Wildlife Protection Act (野生動物保育法), Animal Protection Act (動物保護法) and the Fisheries Act (漁業法) — are not enough to put a stop to the practice as they only briefly touch on the issue of fangsheng.
The council is preparing to propose an amendment that would require groups to seek approval from the council before holding fangsheng events, he said.