Here’s a letter I sent S China Morning Post; published a couple of days ago.
Suppose you were suddenly grabbed from your everyday life, shoved in a cage crammed with other humans, transported and sold in squalid conditions in which many others die and you could become diseased, and you were then moved again, and dumped in an area far from your home. And the only reason for all this was that the person releasing you could gain “karma”. Would you be grateful?
That’s akin to the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of wild birds that are traded in Hong Kong each year. Their plight has been highlighted lately as some of these birds – and local birds that have eaten them – have been found dead in the city, and tests have revealed they had H5N1.
The Buddhist practice of releasing captive birds and other animals as a way of doing good may have been worthwhile originally. But today, for the most part, it’s clearly a horrible practice – involving far more suffering and death than if these releases did not happen at all.
Despite concerns regarding H5N1, the government is loathe to legislate against the practice. Yet Buddhist associations have key roles to play as well. They can surely advise Hong Kong Buddhists that if they wish to help wild animals, there are many far better ways to do so than releasing birds – or even fish – into environments that may be totally unsuitable. If wildlife truly benefits, the Buddhists helping them really will merit karma.