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Catch, release, and catch again: Buddhist ritual of mercy turns ugly in Vietnam

Thursday, October 24, 2019, 16:00 GMT+7
Catch, release, and catch again: Buddhist ritual of mercy turns ugly in Vietnam
People trade animals for release in front of Dieu Phap pagoda in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Hoa / Tuoi Tre

A Buddhist tradition that originally encouraged the spontaneous release of doomed creatures in Vietnam is slowly transforming into an ugly commercial activity in which people catch, trade, release, and retrap animals in order to turn a profit.

According to Venerable Thich Nguyen Binh of Dieu Phap Pagoda in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, the institution has become chaotic during celebrations due to the traditional “life release” rite.

The practice of “life release,” in which Buddhists free captive animals to generate positive karma through an act of kindness, dates back more than 1,000 years in Vietnam.

However, the tradition has become increasingly commercialized in recent years as more people take a shot at cashing in on the practitioners’ empathy for animals.

Sellers catch fish after they are released by Buddhist followers into a canal in Ho Chi Minh City. Video: Tuoi Tre

Animals, usually fish or birds, are trapped and sold illegally for release before they are captured and put up for sale again.

Typically, scrupulous ‘sellers’ follow “life release” practitioners to wherever they free their fish.

Shortly after, the ‘sellers’ recapture the fish and sell them off to be released again.

The cycle continues to repeat itself over and over as practitioners seem to pay little attention to the origin of their animals and their fates, although Dieu Phap Pagoda has warned Buddhist followers of the situation.

The easy money earned from the animal trade also results in conflicts and even fighting among sellers to win customers, causing public disorder at the pagoda, according to Venerable Thich Nguyen Binh.

The pagoda has called for help from authorities at the ward, district, and municipal levels several times, but these administrators can only drive the animal sellers away temporarily.

A man uses electric equipment to catch fish after they are released by Buddhist followers into a canal in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Hoa / Tuoi Tre
A man uses electric equipment to catch fish after they are released by Buddhist followers into a canal in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Hoa / Tuoi Tre
A sign is put up at Dieu Phap pagoda in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, to warn people against trading animals for release in front of the institution. Photo: Minh Hoa / Tuoi Tre
A sign is put up at Dieu Phap Pagoda in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, to warn people against trading animals for release in front of the institution. Photo: Minh Hoa / Tuoi Tre

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