by Iris Ho
Humane Society International has been working with Buddhist communities in both the U.S. and Asia since 2009 to address our concerns about the Buddhist practice of “mercy release.” The release ritual, based on the Buddhist belief that freeing a captured animal creates good karma and fortune, causes the suffering of millions of animals every year, as well as serious environmental damage.
Offering an alternative
In September 2011, we arranged for a group of more than 40 Buddhist abbots, abbesses, and congregation members from Chinatown in New York City to visit the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York. The purpose of the day-long tour was to demonstrate that supporting and working with animal sanctuaries or animal welfare groups—instead of participating in the harmful mercy release ritual—is truly the best and most compassionate way to help animals.
Located two hours north of New York City in the Hudson Valley, the sanctuary provides a safe and loving haven for abused horses and other farm animals. More than 1,700 animals have been cared for there since it was founded in 2001. The sanctuary also serves as a means for raising awareness about the mistreatment of farm animals and how this impacts all of us.
Making new friends
Kathy Stevens, founder and director of the sanctuary, took the group on an enchanting tour. We were greeted by all sorts of adorable animals, including horses, pigs, chickens, goats, cows, ducks and geese who seemed equally thrilled to see us.
Several pot-bellied pigs congregated by the fence to get acquainted with their visitors. A turkey and a goat followed the group around like self-appointed chaperones. Kathy told us a moving story about how the horses were rescued from their previous abusive owners.
Blessings, offerings and thanks
The visitors performed Buddhist blessings for their new friends. The Chinese blessing was led by the president of American Buddhist Confederation, the Venerable Shi Rui Fa, while the Tibetan blessing was led by the Dorje Ling Buddhist Center from Brooklyn. Holding back tears, Kathy said to the visitors, “I don’t know what you are chanting. But I thank you. I thank you for your love for these animals.” It was a moment that required no translation.
In addition to the spiritual blessings to show compassion, the visitors also generously donated to the sanctuary to help buy enough hay to feed the animals for an entire winter.
This visit could not have happened without the enthusiastic support from the Ven. Shi Benkong of Grace Gratitude Buddhist Temple, the Ven. Shi Rui Fa of Buddhist Peaceful Enlightenment Temple, member temples of the American Buddhist Confederation, the Dorje Ling Buddhist Center, and Joan Wai of Youth Buddhism Communications.
A bond between these rescued animals, the Buddhist community and the sanctuary was formed that day. And HSI is glad to have played a role in this wonderful experience, thoroughly enjoyed by all. In the future, we plan to roll out a series of such visits to local wildlife rehabilitation centers and animal sanctuaries for more members of the Buddhist community in the New York City area.
Read an excerpt [PDF] from Youth Buddhism Communications’ newsletter
Iris Ho is wildlife campaigns manager for HSI.