Thai New Year holiday sparks renewed call to end Buddhist practice of life liberation

- through Henry Oudin

Published on


Alongside the traditional Thai New Year celebrations known as Songkran, the Thai Fisheries Ministry has issued a warning against the practice of releasing fish and turtles into local waterways – commonly known in Thai as of "pla plo.” Despite the belief that this practice brings merit to the practitioner, government officials warn that it can lead to ecological damage.

Fisheries Department head Bancha Sukkaew stressed the need to avoid releasing non-native species, including certain breeds of catfish, pet fish, cichlids, turtles and crayfish, in plans natural water. He noted that some of these species might not be adapted to survive in their new environment, while others might disrupt the existing ecosystem.

“Exotic species can cause enormous damage to the ecological system, which is costly to restore,” Sukkaew said. (Bangkok Post)

Releasing animals into the wild, often called "life release", is a common practice among Buddhists during major holidays and events, as it is believed to generate merit that can carry over into the next life and beyond . However, such actions can have unintended consequences. In a notable incident in 2021, the release of catfish into a river during a Buddhist festival resulted in the death of many fish due to the impact of colliding with concrete steps and becoming incapacitated to survive in the river water.


While some consider the release of animals to be a meritorious act, others, notably a Buddhist monk interviewed by the South China Morning Post in 2020, argue that it is unethical to remove animals from their natural environment for the purpose of releasing them. “When you pay to release animals, you are not doing a good deed. You do the opposite,” said the monk. “Many of these animals are removed from their environments so people can let them go. It is not fair. » (Temps)

This debate highlights the complexities surrounding the Thai tradition of earning merit by releasing animals during Buddhist holidays. Ecology experts have expressed concerns about the introduction of invasive species into natural habitats through reclamation activities. The demand for animal release has led to the emergence of stores selling captured fish, turtles and birds, raising further ethical questions about the practice.

Across the region and beyond, environmental groups have urged Buddhists to reconsider the practice. In neighboring Cambodia, some bird species that became popular thanks to their merit practice have seen their numbers decline precipitously.

Meanwhile, on the Tibetan Plateau, non-native fish released into rivers have become easy prey for otters. “Religious release of fish may provide additional food resources for otters,” note the authors of a 2020 study. (Live Science) The study also noted that local authorities had banned the release of fish non-indigenous, but that the inhabitants of the region did not seem to know the law.

In addition to ecological problems, parts of Thailand are facing historic droughts this year. On the popular tourist island of Ko Samui, tap water has been scarce in recent days. “The water hasn't been flowing for two and a half days now,” said Wachirawut Kulaphetkamthorn, owner of the hair salon, who was unable to use his shower. “Last year the water came every other day, but this week it didn't flow for 2-3 days in a row. » (The Guardian)

The region is currently experiencing extreme heat, due in part to the El Niño weather phenomenon, which has caused unusually hot and dry conditions.

See more

Thai authorities warn that releasing fish into the wild will not bring good karma but ecological damage (Temps)
Recycling practices raise environmental concerns (Bangkok Post)
While Thailand revels in Songkran water fights, the tourist hub of Samui suffers from drought (The Guardian)
How animals suffer for Buddhists to gain spiritual points – in Cambodia, “liberation of life” rituals decimate birds (South China Morning Post)
Buddhist ritual saves exotic fish from slaughter – only for 'adventurous' Tibetan otters to feast on (Live Science)

Related news reports from BDG

Indonesian Buddhist Youth Association releases thousands of endangered animals into mangrove park
Environmental expert warns Buddhist practice of freeing life could trigger ecological crisis
Buddhists release marine animals near Boston, raising environmental concerns
Singapore Buddhist Federation promotes alternatives to lifetime release for Vesak celebrations

BDG Related Features

Pets, Animals, and Childhood Kindness
Rethinking the liberation of life

Thai New Year holiday sparks renewed call to end Buddhist practice of liberation from life appeared first on Buddhadoor Global.

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

Leave comments