Hope everyone is still doing fine! This week I will be taking a look at the religious practice of mercy release. Mercy release is a common practice amongst Buddhists in countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, and China, with China accounting for 50% of the world’s Buddhist population. Mercy release is believed to help practitioners accumulate good karma. However, the practice does not appear to be as ‘merciful’ as it seems. Traditionally, it involved the release of animals that were meant to be slaughtered or butchered. Nowadays, the practice has also extended to captured wild animals and pets. This has lead to many ethical and environmental issues being raised regarding this practice.
This article mentions that most of the released animals do not end up surviving for long after. Certain species may also disrupt the local ecosystems when introduced as they can out-compete the other endemic species for resources which puts the survival of the endemic species at risk. Furthermore, the demand for this practice has also fueled an industry based on the re-capturing and release of wild animals which leads to ethical issues regarding animal rights. The captured animals may be forced to endure poor living conditions before being released and meeting the same fate when they are captured again.
In Singapore, the practice of mercy release is better regulated than in some regions, such as Hong Kong, where the lack of regulation has lead to severe impacts on wildlife and biodiversity. Personally, I have witnessed the release of Eurasian Tree Sparrows which were bought from a pet store in Singapore. As I watched the act, I wondered how humane it really was…
It is ironic how Buddhist practitioners might be creating more ‘good’ when they choose not to partake in this practice instead. The practice is almost like a false act of goodwill, as the animals are being subjected to more harm instead when they are captured for release. It leads to a vicious cycle of capture and release of these animals to meet the demand for this practice. It also reflects an anthropocentric view, where Man has dominion over other creatures, with the power to determine the fate of these animals and grant them their freedom as an act of goodwill. The animals are seen as lesser beings and our kindness to them as a means to accumulate good karma or make up for our past wrongdoings.
To combat this issue, more attention has been placed on alternative methods to similarly accumulate good karma, such as by going vegetarian as mentioned in this article. Of course, changing to a vegetarian diet can be challenging to some since it is a significant change in one’s lifestyle choices. I feel that some believers might opt for practices like mercy release as it is much simpler to perform and all one has to do is pay for the release of the animals. In a sense, there is a monetary value being placed on the karma gained. I’m curious to find out what you guys feel about such practices, do share in the comments below!
Till next time!