Thai Buddhists have believed for a long time that they will make good merit if they release fish and birds at a temple. The idea is that you are doing good by giving a creature its freedom. However, its often a short-found freedom as these creatures are often re-captured to only be sold again to the next person who arrives at the temple. The original idea behind releasing fish was to help those creatures left stranded in rice fields after the waters had receded from a flood. Villagers would save the lives of the fish by releasing them into a nearby canal or river.
These days, people don’t have time to search flooded rice fields or woods for trapped creatures. So, they pay other people to do this for them. When they arrive at the temple there are already fish and turtles in tubs and birds in small cages. However, these creatures haven’t been rescued. Far from it. They were trapped and caged by these sellers and then brought to the temples. The Thai Buddhists think that they are making merit by releasing the birds and fish. But, in reality, they are supporting this practice and the people that take away the freedom from these creatures.
I don’t know about you, but in my book it would be a sin to pay these people money. An increasing number of abbots also agree and they now ban these vendors from their compounds. It is actually big money for these people and presumably they give a cut to the temple. Several temples that I visited last weekend had many tubs of different kinds of fish. Each were labelled clearly telling the name of the creature as well as what kind of merit that you would make in releasing it. In addition, there were also charts telling you how many creatures you should release depending on what day of the week that you were born. Apparently, as I was born on Wednesday evening, I should release 12 creatures.
What do you think about this practice? Is it quaint and harmless or should it be banned completley?