Saving lobsters?

I stumbled across this article of monks saving lobsters and find it interesting. The monks basically bought a lot of lobsters from market and releasing them. But erm…

  1. The location they release the lobsters might not be suitable and can actually kill them
  2. Easy money goes into market and to the hands of lobster catchers
  3. This encourages others to do the same and repeat step 1

What do you guys think? Is this according to the sutta?


i gather they’re Mahayana monks, are they bound by Vinaya? if not, they are free to do whatever they please

neither the Sutta Pitaka is particularly compelling in their respect

I’ve seen these stories from time to time out of Thailand. One article pointed out that some monks bought birds or chickens, released them to some fanfare, and the birds were recaptured the same day by the market vendors. Of course, the idea of saving these lives is a good one, but these stories can point to the need for there to be wisdom as a necessary companion to compassion.

If the monks’ intentions were pure, then we can applaud them for their good intentions, If the intention was some kind of public display that the monks knew was meaningless, then the quality of their kamma will reflect the presence or lack of Metta, Karuna, Paññā and Sati.

I do enjoy the occasional story of the pigs or cattle that are purchased from auctions and slaughterhouses, and then released on rescue farms to live out their days. Any action that saves a sentient being from suffering and death is a positive one. I haven’t seen a direct injunction in the Suttas or Vinaya on this issue before, but more often than not, it seems these gestures by monks in Asia are oftentimes symbolic, and as the OP points out, functionally empty.


All monastics follow essentially the same Vinaya. For the Theravadins, it is the Pali recension, for East Asians, the Dharmaguptaka, and for Central Asians, the Mulasarvastivada.

The differences between these texts are trivial. Almost all the differences you see in practice are because of cultural adaptations.


I think their course of action can be well-intended and even slightly beneficial kammically (what if they paid equal attention and effort to so much death and suffering of people in other parts of the world?), but potentially pretty… well… stupid, exactly for the reasons that you mention. Because hey, why can’t we do something wholesome and still silly? :slight_smile:

I think the appropriate reaction would be to investigate whether your ideas about the questionable efficacy of these actions are true, and if they are, we can calmly explain it to these venerable monks and suggest how they can improve on their method. I am absolutely sure they or most other Buddhist monks will react thankfully to constructive criticism.

On a side note, the issue of environmental activism creating problems is a huge one. It would be utterly unrealistic, near-sighted and even dumb to reject the notion of there being any environmental issues at all. There are many, and they are serious enough for us to be concerned and take necessary measures. On the other hand, environmental organisations and campaigns are run by ordinary people and can oftentimes lead to very negative consequences or be misused primarily for financial gain like some huge environmental organisations out there [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]. These organizations and initiatives should not be exempt from criticism - and sometimes appropriately harsh criticism - if they lead to harm. This is not only true for environmentalism.

The practice is called fangsheng (放生 = releasing life) which are popular in Chinese Buddhist countries in East Asian and influenced many Theravadin Buddhist countries in South East Asian too. This practice is recommended from many Mahayana sutras such as Brahmajala Sutra (not confused with DN 1/DA 21 Brahmajala Sutta), Golden Light Sutra, Ksitigarbha Sutra, etc. Chinese Buddhists usually do fangsheng at Chinese new year or other festival days (such as Qing Ming, Qi Yue, etc) to avoid bad luck and prolong life.

The practice has been a controversial issue since thousand years ago in China. Lie Zi, a Taoist text from 4th century CE, criticize fangsheng tradition. It said that buying animals for releasing again is a vain practice because this will attract people to capture animals then sale it again. Fangsheng is condemned as an action that is contrary to Buddhist concept of compassion (karuna).

Nowadays, many Chinese who are doing fangsheng forget the meaning of the tradition, only do it as mere ritual. It is more destructive to life than life-saving. In countries with significant Chinese communities, a whole industry of capturing wild birds so that they can be released again has developed. The birds are taken from their natural environment, shipped to the cities and set free in the ‘concrete jungle’ where they often soon die. Temple ponds are commonly so crowded that the fish and tortoises lead diseased and miserable lives. Several of the more progressive Chinese temples and monks now try to educate the Buddhist public about the proper way to practice animal release or even prohibit the practice within their premises.


I guess it’s a good lesson to learn here, just trying to be good without thinking things through just won’t do the job, one might end up doing more harm. But I think it’s a tough one, for example, there’s no way I can approach them and say saving the lobsters might not be a good idea, I might also do more harm!

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Just to add information that this is commonly practiced in Thailand, especially during some festivals and among people who are seriously ill.

Many people have made an argument that it’s not a good practice, but the fear of death overpowers. So, you will still see this practice, and many temples have the problem cited by Seniya.

As long as we don’t understand the law of kamma and our heart is still full of strong defilements, our delusions will make us do what we think will benefit us materialistically or physcially.



The Seventy-second Year (1617-1618)

I then journeyed to several beautiful places: Ling Yin, San Zhu, and Xi Shan where I was pleased to observe the Fish-Freeing service. In order to demonstrate their consideration for all living things, the Buddhists there would purchase fish that had been caught and liberate them during this ceremony.

from The Autobiography & Maxims of Master Han Shan (1546-1623) transl’d by upasaka Richard Cheung, paraphrased by Rev. Chuan Yuan (Ming Zhen) Shakya

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