Buddhists to Attone for "Sin"

Planned release of fish to pacify chickens' souls infuriates greens who fear damage to the ecology

by Antoine So

A Buddhist temple plans to free hundreds of fish off Siu Sai Wan this week to pacify the souls of the culled chickens. But conservations have condemned the move, saying it will threaten native species.

Western Monastery, in Tsuen Wan, will be the first Buddhist group to hold a ritual today to compensate for what it calls the sinful chicken cull.

"They are destined to die as they were born to be eaten but killing them in such a mass quantity in a single act is against the natural cycle of life," said the temple's head monk, the Reverend Wing Sing.

"The sin is going to effect Hong Kong and must be compensated for. The chickens' lost souls must be pacified or we will have more disasters to come."

Natural disasters such as flooding and typhoons would follow as punishment if no proper ritual were held, he said. The ritual would involve monks reciting prayers to pacify the culled chickens.

Later, the temple intends to release the fish near the Tin Hau Temple in Siu Sai Wan. The exact number of fish to be freed depends on followers' donations, the head monk said it would be "several hundred".

Richard Corlett, the associate professor Hong Kong University's Department of Ecology and Biodiversity, said the laws failed to adequately protect wildlife from the threat posed by the uncontrolled introduction of exotic species.

He accused Buddhists of the irresponsible mass release of exotic species every year, most of which die within days because they are unable to adapt to their new surroundings, The few that survive could cause ecological imbalance. Mr Corlett said that thanks to human interference five percent of Hong Kong's bird species were exotic and between seven and ten percent of plant species were introduced. A survey by his department found that 27 of the 145 freshwater fish were non-native.

Mr Corlett's accusation came ahead of International Biodiversity Day on Tuesday 22nd May, which this year will focus on the need to guard against introduced species. It also coincides with an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department pledge to set up a team to look into the issue.

A bird specialist, Michael Leven, said at least four alien bird species had bee established in Hong Kong due to Buddhist rituals. These included babblers, such as the blue wing minla, and the silver-eared mesia.

The Reverend Wing Sing said: "If the fish we set free die, they will die for a good cause and they will earn merit in the next life. But they could help to wash away the sin of killing millions of chickens."

Mr Corlett said he saw no justification for the releases. "I can't see how it's any compensation. A large number of chickens have to die, but what the monks will do is going to cause new suffering to other species."

The Hong Kong Buddhist Association is also planning its own ritual for the chickens soon. And it is understood other smaller temples are organising various bird releases for the chicken cull.

The supervisor of Po Lin Monastery, the Reverend Sik Chi-wai, said Buddhist doctrine allowed for changes of attitude in society, such as those towards animal releases. "Buddhism advocates change," he said. "If there's a change in perception in our society, I suppose monks can cater for this change. But Buddhism has thousands of years of tradition and if change is to come, it will require a long time."

The Buddhists had the support of bird-shop owners in Mongkok. "If they say alien birds should be prevented, then should we also stop expatriates and mainland migrants coming to Hong Kong?" said Ng Tak-shing, owner of the Rainbow Bird Shop in Mongkok. "We are talking about livelihood here." (Sunday Morning Post, 20. Mai 2001)

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