Stopping the Releasing Life Festival 罷放生會

The Yanxiang Temple in Tanzhou had celebrated the Releasing Life Festival for many years in the third, fourth, sixth and eighth months. On the third day of the third month in the first year Kangding (16 April 1040), the birthday of Zhenwu (the Lord of Profound Heaven), birds and animals of the water were bought in advance, taken in ceremonial order past the prefectural pavilion and approaching the Yangtze, led by bells and cymbals, they were set free with chants and praise. Among these living things some were hurled towards the void and took flight, some were scattered into the water and swam. Of those that flew, some sank back down, some lay on the river’s surface. Some of the birds had their feet or wings trapped by glue, and others were hunted and shot with bows and arrows or catapults and pellets; when they are injured and killed in this way, the sound of their lamentations and cries cannot be borne. When the aquatic creatures are lured into the broad net and seized, or hunted with the bamboo basket and taken, scales, shells, heads and tails all torn and damaged, leaping and jumping with mouth wide but cries unheard; this sight cannot be borne. People from the four distant quarters having just heard of this release of life, vied with one another to stretch their nets and sell in the market, this having the contrary result of causing harm to living creatures. When the monk Sun Yuan’an was presiding over the hall, a mendicant priest approached the foot of the pulpit, intending to speak on the cause of the gathering, opposing Yuan’an’s offerings to the release. The priest said: “It should not be called ‘releasing life’, as it is premeditated murder.” None among the whole group opposed this, and afterwards the ceremony was abandoned. In the main this thing called release of life is actually the sale and purchase of animals and fish, bringing great wealth to hunters. Fulfilling this sees nets stretched wide for later release; how can this be right?

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.72 (Tale 126):

罷放生會

潭州延祥宮,遞年三月、四月、六月、八月有放生社會。康定元年三月三日真武生辰,預買飛禽水族,例往州亭,臨大江,用磬鈸引導,讚詠放生。諸般物命或向空而飛,或漾水而遊,其飛沉之物,或向空復墮,或水面仰浮,飛禽者翅與足或被膠黏,或弓彈射獵,如有傷折,哀鳴愁噪之聲不忍聞也。如水族者罾釣張取、籮籃采捕,鱗甲頭尾皆有破損,跳躍張口之狀但叫嗸不出,不忍目之。四遠之人纔聞放生,爭競張捕以賣於市,反至損害物命。道士損元宴升堂,有雲遊道士至講下,願講此會之因,元宴遂以放生祝壽為對,道人曰:「非曰放生,即是故殺。」周無以對。後此會遂廢。大抵放生之說,遇有禽魚之類出賣者,買而放之則獲福無量,發章張羅網捕之而後縱之,豈可乎!

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

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Author: Geoff Humble

Hobby translator of mosty 14th century Chinese texts. Enjoys strange tales. Image is my doodle based on an element within this work: http://archive.asia.si.edu/collections/edan/object.php?q=fsg_F1938.4

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