The Buddhist Practice of
Releasing Lives to Freedom


Dr. Yutang Lin

 

Part I   A Ritual by Yogi Chen
The Ritual of Releasing Lives to Freedom

Following the oral transmission of the Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen

Under the supervision of Dr. Yutang Lin
Written by Dr. Juan Bulnes

 

The practitioner sends animals back to their natural state. They can be any animals which were in captivity, or condemned to death to provide food, etc. Among the auspicious animals are turtles to pray for longevity and fish to pray for Enlightenment. (The individual loses the ego and becomes one with the universe just as the fish, upon being released, become one with the ocean.)

1. TAKING REFUGE

On behalf of the animals, repeat three times the tantric formula of the four refuges:

NAMO GURUBEI
NAMO BUDDHAYA
NAMO DHARMAYA
NAMO SANGHAYA

2. DEVELOPING THE BODHICITTA

In order to free the animals from the six realms of transmigration, repeat 108 times the mantra (in Pin Yin ­) of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva who is representative of Compassion:

Weng Ma Ni Bei Mi Hong

3. PRAYING FOR REBIRTH IN THE PURELAND

Repeat three times the Mantra of Rebirth-in-the-Pureland (in Pin Yin ­):

Na Mo O Mi Duo Po Ye
Duo Tuo Qie Duo Ye
Duo Di Ye Tuo
O Mi Li Duo Po Pi
O Mi Li Duo Xi Dan Po Pi
O Mi Li Duo Pi Jia Lan Di
O Mi Li Duo Pi Jia Lan Duo
Qia Mi Ni
Qia Qia Nuo
Zhi Dan Qie Li
Suo Po Huo

4) DEDICATING THE MERIT

a) Repeat the Stanza of Releasing Lives to Freedom (written by Yogi Chen):

Send you from Samsara and Nirvana
To the original state of Tathata.
When one is sent, all beings are sent, too;
Born from non-born, same as the Buddha.

b) After dedicating the merit of this Puja to all sentient beings, the practitioner may then pray for any specific good intentions, such as long life, good health, accomplishment in meditation, etc.

Part II A Brief Commentary by Dr. Lin

Releasing lives to freedom is a traditional Buddhist practice which is very popular in Asian Buddhist communities. The main purpose of this practice is to save lives that are in danger and to pray for their ultimate Enlightenment as well as for that of all sentient beings. The ritual presented above was used by my late teacher Yogi Chen whenever he conducted such a practice. He released more than 350,000 lives during his lifetime.

The tantric formula of four refuges affirms our reliance on the guidance of our gurus, all Buddhas, the teachings of Buddhas, and the holy assembly of Buddhist elders. The beings that we release usually have no chance to be connected with the Buddhist teachings; by taking refuge on their behalf, we are placing them under the protection of Buddhism.

The six-syllable mantra of Avalokitesvara signifies the compassionate salvation of all sentient beings in the six realms of transmigration, viz., heaven, asura, human, animal, hungry-ghost and hell realms; each syllable of the mantra stands for the salvation of the corresponding realm in the given order. Although the beings we release are limited in number, the intention of our compassionate act encompasses all sentient beings.

Life is impermanent; the lives we save will eventually end. We chant the Mantra of Rebirth-in-the-Pureland to pray for their liberation from the sufferings of endless transmigrations; through Amitabha Buddha's grace they will gain rebirth in His Pureland.

The Stanza of Releasing Lives to Freedom entails the essence of this practice:

Send you from Samsara and Nirvana

We release these beings with the intention of freeing them from not only the suffering of transmigration but also the bondage of attachment to Nirvana. Full Enlightenment is beyond conceptualization, hence eventually one should not be limited by even Buddhist concepts--how thorough is the liberating spirit of Buddha's teachings!

To the original state of Tathata.

Liberation is simply returning to the original state of things as they are, free from artificial distinctions and valuations, and emotional entanglements and attachments; it is natural purity and innocence; it is all things in limitless oneness.

When one is sent, all beings are sent, too;

Our intention is to free all sentient beings even when only one life is set free to nature. A being will be ultimately set free only upon realization of Enlightenment, i.e., when he becomes one with all; thus, when one is truly free so are all.

Born from non-born, same as the Buddha.

Final liberation is like a new life but it is just one's returning to being pure and natural.

As soon as some lives have been released the merit is there, therefore, in urgent cases such as severe sickness, tragic accidents and fatal operations the practice of releasing lives is often conducted to generate merits for those in need, and thereby obtain effective results due to dedication of such merits.

Since our lives are just as fragile as the lives we are saving, when we engage ourselves in saving them we are practicing benefitting others despite ourselves. In the process of acquiring them, we are practicing alms-giving of material wealth and fearlessness. The care taken in their transportation and the choice of an appropriate spot for their release help develop our compassion and wisdom.

The number of sentient beings slaughtered for human consumption far exceeds the number that Buddhists have been releasing. Nevertheless, it is not a futile endeavor because the Buddhist ideal of universal compassion, which frees our minds from human-centeredness and opens our eyes to see the unity of the whole universe, materializes through such a practice. Besides, the onlookers would have a chance to learn about the philosophy of this practice and reflect on themselves. Gradually the community will be affected for the better.

The Buddhist teaching of universal compassion and the Buddhist practice of releasing lives are forerunners of the modern awareness of global ecology and environmental preservation. Nowadays the practice of releasing lives often faces conflict with local ecology preservation because the animals purchased from the market may originate from far-off places or even overseas. In Asian countries where such practices are abundant some merchants would follow the footsteps of the Buddhist practitioners in order to capture the animals released for resale. We should be aware of these problems and be prudent in conducting the practice of releasing lives. Participation in non-profit efforts to preserve the global environment and ecology may be considered a modern approach to the traditional way of releasing lives.


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