01: Why do Buddhists practise life liberation?
Buddhists practise life liberation to give the priceless gifts of fearlessness (from being killed), freedom (from captivity) and the Dharma (by connecting them to the Triple Gem through offering repentance, refuge and a better future birth, especially in Amitabha Buddha's Pureland).
The Avatamsaka Sutra says, "If the negative karma (of killing in this and previous lives) is to take form, even limitless space cannot contain it." Because we have accumulated immeasurable negative karma through killing directly and indirectly in the past, life liberation (for creatures great or small, of insects or animals of the land, sea or sky) is the most efficient way of repaying our karmic debts of killing, especially in this Dharma-diminishing age. Life liberation has immeasurable merits because it saves the lives of animals, generating immeasurable gratitude. This practice also fulfills the perfection of generosity in the aspects of sharing wealth (in buying the animals), time, energy, fearlessness and the Dharma.
Because we have been reborn for countless times already, many beings, especially those we have the affinity to encounter, have been our parents in previous lives. Think of it this way, if we do not liberate our parents, are we not worse than animals? It is already very unfortunate that our parents are reborn as animals, much more to say, to die painfully through slaughter. Just as we take the trouble to save our present parents' lives, we too should save our previous parents' lives. When we save animals, we are also saving future Buddhas.
02: What are other benefits of life liberation?
The merits from life liberation are varied and boundless. Here are some, according to the Buddha and many Venerable masters -
One will be unharmed by war or die by violence.
2. One will attain longevity and healthiness with few illnesses.
(Many pains and illnesses come from the karma of killing.)
3. One will be unharmed by natural disasters and accidents.
4. One will have abundant offsprings for future generations.
5. One will easily attain what one wishes.
6. One will prosper in official positions without obstacles.
7. One will be a source of gratitude to other beings and a source of joy to the Buddhas.
8. One will dissolve vengeance, and vanquish evil influences and worries.
9. One will experience joy and peacefulness in all seasons.
10. One will be easier born in Pureland.
(With practices of developing faith and aspiration, practising repentance, vegetarianism and single-minded chanting of "Namo Amituofo")
03: If life liberation is so good, why do so many criticise it?
Life liberation is the easiest way to dissolve negative karma. Because of this, our negative karma of many lifetimes readily manifests obstacles to obstruct us from liberating life. As many who criticise the practice are plain ignorant of its benefits, we should share with them the benefits out of Compassion, so as to benefit them. We have to be careful not to criticise (or to let others criticise) life liberation as it creates great negative karma. We should not discourage the practice without understanding as we will be preventing many lives from being liberated.
04: How should we liberate life?
We can buy animals from any place selling them for slaughter (or plain imprisonment). Before releasing them into the appropriate natural environment, we (with venerable monks and nuns if available) should clearly recite (for the animals to hear), the verses of repentance, threefold refuge in the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and "Namo Amituofo" (Homage to Amitabha Buddha) and/or other mantras such as "Om Mani Padme Hum (the mantra of Compassion) as many times as possible. We can also carry the animals while circumambulating holy objects such as stupas, Buddha images and relics. We can also sprinkle blessed water on them.
Through repentance, we remind the animals to repent their misgivings which made them reborn as animals. Through refuge, we wish the animals to be disciples of the Triple Gem. Through recitation of "Namo Amituofo", we wish the animals to hear and be mindful of Amitabha Buddha, so as to create a strong karmic imprint to make birth in His Pureland possible in a future life. With repentance and taking refuge, this can free them from future births in the three lower realms of hells, hungry ghosts and animals. In Pureland, they will be able to attain Enlightenment and return to Samsara to help other beings be free of suffering.
05: Sounds incredible. Seems like an easy way out for the animals!
The workings of the law of karma are intricately exact but difficult to fathom. However, the fact that the animals we chose to liberate were chosen from among countless ones means that these particular animals actually have the merit to be liberated. However, when we choose to liberate them, we ourselves are actively creating positive karma by being part of the process of ripening their positive karma.
06 : But there are endless animals to liberate!
We should just do what we can in the moment. Just because we can't being peace to the world overnight does not mean we should not start with our family. Likewise, just because there are many beings in suffering does not mean we should not help any at all.
07: Won't life liberation over-populate the world with animals?
We do not eat ants and worms but they do not multiply in excess. They breed and balance naturally - without over-populating our world. We worry too much, when we should readily work in relieving other beings' suffering, in dissolving our own heavy negative karma. We are like a farmer who hasn't planted his crops yet, who worry about his fields being overgrown with crops.
A reason why there are many animals in our world is because many humans in the past have killed animals. For instance, when a man eats a goat, the goat in a future life might take a human form, who in turn eats the killer reborn as a goat. Thus is the animal and human world full of mutual killing. This makes it even more important to reverse the trend of killing animals, to stop perpetuating this vicious cycle.
08: But I'll rather use money to help needy fellow humans.
Helping any needy beings is no doubt very commendable. However, if you analyse, with an equanimous mind, the suffering of an average needy human and an average animal about to be slaughtered, which is more urgent to save?
09: I'd heard of released birds which fly back to their "masters", who re-imprison them for sale. What is the point of liberating such animals?
We should only liberate life with the best of intentions. Whether they get captured or not is another matter. For instance, when we feed a starving child, we cannot guarantee that he will not be hungry again. Similarly, a doctor who heals a patient cannot guarantee his healthiness forever. But he does it anyway because it should be done. Many matters are like that. We should not have the biasness or hesitation to liberate life, while we might not hesitate to do evil.
The shopkeeper's capturing and selling of animals creates his own negative karma, while we create our own positive karma. Of course, we should also try to dissuade him from continuing his wrong livelihood. We should even dedicate merit to him, in the hope that he can change his livelihood to one more beneficial for himself and others. We should also approach shops selling animals randomly and without pre-order, so as to avoid the shopowners from over-capturing animals for sale.
10: Isn't liberating animals through vegetarianism enough?
Without doubt, vegetarianism is a crucial part of the practice of universal compassion. In fact, if the whole world becomes vegetarian, there will probably be no need to liberate animals. However, it is only a passive way of liberating animals. In the mean time, there are countless animals which get slaughtered everyday for others' meals. The Buddhas taught us to "Avoid all evil, to practise all good, and to purify the mind." In a sense, vegetarianism (and veganism), which is the practice of not being directly or indirectly linked to killing, is just the avoidance of doing evil - it is not yet active doing of good! Animal liberation is Compassion in action, which also gives us golden opportunities to create positive karmic links with countless beings. Life liberation also prevents butchers from killing to some extent, relieving them of some negative karma, even if in a relatively small amount.
11: Isn't is spiritually hypocritical for non-vegetarians to practise life liberation?
Not really. Just as it is better for a non-vegetarian to be vegetarian, it is better to be a non-vegetarian who liberate some animals rather then be one who does not at all. For instance, one who liberates chickens is not likely to eat chickens again. The more kinds of animals one liberates, the more likely he will become vegetarian. This is how life liberation teaches one to respect and treasure the equality of all life, to realise that we all have Buddha-nature. In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha taught, "One who eats meat cuts off the seed of compassion." If one is serious about practising compassion universally, you should be vegetarian. Then one would be doing "animal liberation" from one's dining table all year round!
12: There are cases of liberated animals causing other species in its environment to become extinct. Isn't this harmful?
The fact that there are many animals means there are many beings (including humans) reborn as animals due to ignorance and negative karma. In this sense, a high animal population for every species in not necessarily a good sign. The diversity of species is not truly a "wonderful thing" as it means there is a wide spectrum of animalistic karma. In the Buddhist perspective, the extinction of an animal is not necessarily a good or bad thing. It means the particular animal has been reborn in another form in another life, for better or worse. But of course, it is important to survey the suitability of the environment before releasing animals into it, as the animals and plants in it play a part in supporting the interdependent web of life.
13: Don't we create bad karma when we liberate animals which get eaten by other animals in nature, or which eat other animals?
Unlike humans who kill for sport and to satisfy his appetite, animals do not kill unnecessarily, other than for survival. If you believe in the law of karma, the life and death of every being is the fruition of its karma. There is no death for no just reason. The laws of nature and karma are one. Animal liberation simply frees animals into their natural environment which is their real home. Every animal would rather have freedom than be imprisoned and slaughtered for food. Even if the animals were to die, wouldn't it be better that they die free in nature, especially after having strong karmic imprints of having taken refuge?
14: It still doesn't feel right that freeing some animals might mean sending them to kill or to die.
When we practise
animal liberation, we have to be mindful of the purity of our intention and our
well wishes. What we wish to do is to give freedom, fearlessness and the Dharma,
for this life and beyond. Any captive animal will be appreciative of that. It
is inevitable that some might die in the process of liberation through accidents
in handling. But because they have taken refuge, their next life will be better.
Because of this reason, it is believed that those animals who die shortly after
taking refuge are the most meritorious of the lot.
Anyway, most animals liberated properly do not simply die. We should not stop saving the majority out of fear of accidentally "conditioning" the death of a few. If we do not liberate any at all, they will all definitely die by slaughter. In this way, we are blameless. Remember - we are not just saving the present physical life of the animal we liberate; we are more importantly saving its "wisdom life" (spiritual life), giving it an uplifting boost.
15: Some people liberate the wrong animals into the wrong environment. For instance, releasing fresh water fish into the sea. Shouldn't this be discouraged?
Of course this is discouraged! Although it's the thought, above the consequences, that counts when we practise compassion, we definitely need to be more thoughtful than to simply release life indiscriminately. Compassion has to go hand in hand with wisdom!
16: It seems pretty hard to ensure that the balance of the environment will not be disturbed when we release life into it.
Indeed, it can be very tricky. However, everything we do disturbs our environment to some extent. For instance, using an non-biodegradable plastic bag plays a part in harming the environment for hundreds of years. Note that we should not break the law by releasing life in lawfully prohibited or protected areas. If seriously in doubt about finding a suitable place to liberate life, perhaps the best solution is to liberate sea creatures into the sea - which is limitlessly open and wide.
17: But some say there are sea creatures bred out at sea within nets which might not have the instincts for survival in open sea.
Nature is often more marvellous than we think. Animals have strong natural instincts. While we cannot be absolutely sure that they will survive on their own, we are also not absolutely sure that they will not. Maybe some scientific study someday will reveal accurate results to us. In any case, always remember to put yourself in the position of the captive animals... Will you rather wait for slaughter in a prison, or run to freedom despite fear of unknown "ground"? The choice is obvious.
18: How often should we liberate life? How many people should be involved?
One should liberate life or contribute to life liberation funds (if one is not free) as much as possible. There is no fixed occasion, though holy days are often preferred. Life liberation can even be part of birthday celebrations! The more participants there are, the better it is as more people coming together means more merits are created and shared with each other, including the animals and other beings.
19: The practice of mass animal-liberation on special merit-multipying days seem to encourage regular mass capture of animals. Is this a good idea?
Animal shopowners that we buy from can be approached randomly to avoid their discovery of obvious purchasing patterns. However, think of it this way - Isn't it terrific that many animals are brought together to be given the opportunity of a lifetime to take refuge and be freed? What's more, everyone's merits, both the released animals and their releasers will be multiplied! Of course, one should not be attached to accumulating merits, or it will taint the purity of intention.
20: Great! I have no more questions!
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu! What you can do next is to put your Compassion into action!