Rinpoche Teachings
Rinpoche Teaching on Life Release

Questions & Answers with Choegon Rinpoche on Life Release:

Many of Rinpoche students are keen on learning about the authentic Dharma approaches in life releases, and we are indeed very fortunate to have Rinpoche sharing with us briefly on the Vajrayana perspective on 'protecting life' in the act of life release.

Below are the transcripts of a recent teaching expounded by Drukpa Choegon Rinpoche in the form of 'question & answer'.

Student, Q1:

Rinpoche, why Buddhist always encourage the practice of life release? They often perform this type of activities, especially during the important Buddhist sacred days. What is the significance to engage in such an act? 

Rinpoche:  The very fundamental teaching of Buddha is not harming. Then, it will be automatically understood that protecting lives is the virtuous acts that should be adopted by all Buddhist.

Harming other, particularly killing with an anger mind brings incredible heavy karma, that the only possible exit for one upon death is the lower realms. From the Buddhist perspective, many who suffered and tormented by various incurable diseases in their lives are the direct result of the ripening of their negative karma of the present or previous lives. On the other hand, refrain from killing and sincerely engaging in protecting lives bring about good health, long life, peace and happiness in this life and lives to come. 

Student, Q2:

Some are criticizing our act of life release is actually doing more harm than good to the animal. For example, how do we ensure their survival after being released, etc.? 

Rinpoche: Their accusation may make sense to a certain extend. That's why when one intends to perform life release, one need to carefully plan and carry out the release. It's not just to acquire the creatures, and let it go; that's it!

We need to find out, at least, whether the place to be, is generally safe and suitable for the animals to live on. For example, if one wishes to release some fishes, and he or she went on to purchase some fishes and release it to a beautiful pond where hundreds of people come fishing every day . . . This obviously is not appropriate.

Even so, the act of offering protection and saving life is unquestionable a noble deed. Just imagine how the animals would feel if someone could save them from being slaughtered for food. We have to always put ourselves in the position of those animals - feel their fear; try to understand their pains and sufferings. Then, you will be able to decide yourself whether the act of life release brings harms or good to those animals?

Student, Q3:

But I saw . . . I guess it's more appropriate to say 'in my opinion'; I think some organizations are just doing it as a form of 'business'. They collect money, says for a 10,000 lives-release for so and so, on such and such reasons or wishes - mainly for terminal illness sufferers, for long life, etc.... However, when we look at the way they handled those creatures; it doesn't make us feel that it's an act of compassion.

Rinpoche:  For Buddhist, wisdom and compassion are symbolized as the two wings of a bird. Lack of either one, the bird will not be able to fly. Similarly, we need to develop wisdom and cultivate genuine compassion in all our acts, including in life release.

One may yet develop the wisdom and compassion per se, but one is definitely equipped with a kind loving heart and discriminating capability to distinguish between the genuine acts of loving kindness and commercial business dealing.

It's important for those who wish to engage in life releasing to find the proper, genuine organization to perform the life releases on their behalf. Otherwise, it will not bring much benefits, or may, in fact, cause additional piling up of negative karmas.

Student, Q4:

We know that as a Buddhist, we are prohibited from killing, and are not supposed to eat those meats that are sacrificed purposely for oneself, nor we are allowed to go to a restaurant pointing at a particular fish or any other living creatures to have it as our meal. However, unfortunately, sometimes this sinful act does occur unintentionally. For example, in business meetings, some of the business associates are particularly fond of 'live animals', so they always insisted in choosing their 'prey' as food. We have no intention of killing, but at the same time we could not stop them from doing so . . . and, we are eating at the same table. What should we do Rinpoche?

Rinpoche:  I totally understand this . . . It's not easy to convince those non-believers in adopting our way of life. And, they may think that we are very weird to some extend . . .

In those circumstances, it's utmost best if you could deter them from killing the animal. Otherwise, you should behave normal, and act totally natural. When the dishes of that sacrificed animals are served, you may take a small piece of their meat and with compassion in your heart, quietly chant 'Om Mani Padme Hung' or the Buddha Akshobhya Mantra for 7 or 21 times, and blow onto the meat. Visualize that by the power of the mantra, the creatures are liberated to a higher realm. After that, you may eat the meat or just leave it in your plate and continue your meal very naturally.

Student, Q5:

What if when we eat out, we accidentally ordered some dishes that actually involved killing of live animals . . . which we are not aware initially, but discovered later that our ignorance has cost the lives of many . . . ?

Rinpoche:  If that is the case, you should confess immediately when you discovered the truth. Then, you should engage in releasing or saving the life of the same of creatures you have unintentionally harmed.

Traditionally, in Vajrayana, one should perform at least three-time  life releases of the same creatures in three different occasions, preferably in the special days such as Buddha Medicine's day, Buddha Amitabha's day, Buddha Sakyamuni's day, etc.

One should feel deep remorse in one's heart, and vow not to commit the same sinful act again in the future, even at the cost of one's life. Genuinely regretful feeling of one's harmful action is a powerful and effective way to cleanse one's negative karma.

In the contrary, it doesn't matter how many times you performed the life release, but if there is no regret in your heart, and you do not feel compassion toward those creatures you have killed . . . The outwardly virtuous activities remain merely as a ceremony with little benefits.

Student, Q6:

Is there a timeframe for this 'mending' or 'remedial' life release to be done?

Rinpoche:  Generally, in Vajrayana, the confession of any negative acts should be done immediately when one realized it. Once it has passed three years, it's said that the negative karma will be very difficult to purify. 

As for the 'remedial' life release, beyond one year is considered too long. Best is to perform it right away, if conditions permit. However, there are many factors to look into in order to carry out a proper life release for a particular creature, to ensure their survival after it is being released. Thus, if possible, get it done within 3 days, 49days, 3 months, or maximum within 1 year.

Student, Q7:

Can Rinpoche please teach us a simple and yet complete way to perform life release?

Rinpoche:  One should prepare a bottle of clean water, and with single pointed mind and devotion, pray to Buddha Akshobhya, and chant His mantra ( or just chant "Om Mani Pedme Hung" if one does not have the oral transmission for Akshobhya mantra) for at least 21 times or more. Then, blow into the water, and visualize that Buddha Akshobhya's blessings dissolved into the water. If one has Dharma pills on hand, it would be very beneficial to add few pills into the water before reciting the mantra.

Then, bring along this water with you to perform the life release. In front of the animals or creatures that you are about to release, chant the mantra again to make them hear the sound of the mantra, and sprinkle the blessing water onto their bodies, best is into their mouths if feasible. After that, we should carefully and gently release them, to minimize inflicting any possible harm to them. Finally, you should conclude the session with a dedication prayer:

"By the merits accumulated by you and all sentient beings over the past, present and future, may you never again encounter sufferings in the current form. May you obtain a human rebirth in your next lives, meet with Buddhadharma, discover your own Buddha nature and achieved complete liberation from the cyclic existence."

Student, Q8:

What should we think in our mind during the life release time?

Rinpoche: We should first realize that, we and them are of no different; the Buddha natures in us are exactly the same. However, in such form, they are unable to realize that. So, we arouse a sense of intense compassion that it is indeed pity that they are incapable of discovering their true nature with such lives. You have to feel that you and those birds, fishes, etc., are equal, and how sad they cannot realize their Buddha nature in this life. How pitiful are these creatures having a body or life that does not enable them to learn Dharma or engage in merit accumulation? In fact, what they did in search of happiness will merely draw them to plunge deeper into samsara, where only more pain and suffering awaits them.

So, in our heart, we should sincerely feel their pain and misfortune. Knowing that their Buddha nature is of no different than that of ours, it's just because their current lives and conditions do not allow them to realize their primordially enlightened nature. From the depth of our heart, we pray that in future, they will be reborn in higher realms, in whatever forms that it may take to enable them to meet the genuine Dharma and master, develop Bodhicitta and realize their Buddha nature, and gain complete liberation from the samsara. That's the highest compassion.

Keep this strong wish and compassion as your source of motivation and power while reciting the mantra. And, have faith that by the immense power of the Buddha mantra, it will become the cause for them to realize their Buddha nature in their future lives. That's what you should hold in your mind while reciting the mantra and performing the release.

Student, Q9:

Does the number of lives being released matter in terms of merit accumulation from the Buddhist point of view?

Rinpoche: Yes and no. The number of life that one wishes or able to save is depending on one capacity. For real wealthy people, of course they are capable of saving a huge number of beings. And, if it's done with a pure heart, right motivation and genuine compassion, then the merit accumulated will be incredibly vast too. However, if the ceremony is performed mainly for selfish intentions, subsequently the virtue derived from the act will be minimal. In contrast, if the poorest person engaged to saving evens the tiniest insect for which he felt compassionate concern, will bring him inconceivable merits.

In Buddhism, one has to remember; it's not how the acts appeared to the eyes of the ordinary, but the underlying intention where one performed the acts. A seemingly positive action done with malicious or selfish motivation will not bring much benefits to the doers. On the other hand, a generally perceived non-virtuous deed could be concluded as a beneficial thing if the intention behind the act is right and noble - to benefit sentient beings at large!


Click here to view the prayer text and listen to Rinpoche's chanting on 'The Mantra to Bless Meat before eating'.

** If there is any errors or inappropriateness found in the transcriptions of Rinpoche teachings, they are attributable solely to the transcriber, writer, editor and web administrators; and are not a reflection of Rinpoche's teachings, which is flawless and insightful as always.

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