During the stay of Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, in Hong Kong in 2013, he performed a traditional fish release ceremony. Releasing live animals from captivity is an ancient Buddhist practice that is said to generate large amounts of good karma, or merit.
In this video, Karmapa first greets the attendees in Hong Kong in Chinese, and then explains in English the meaning of the ceremony:
“I think it is a good thing, a wonderful thing, that we participate in this activity with a kind intention. We should offer our aspirations that these animals that we release gain peace in this life, freedom in this life, and at the same time, may they take rebirth as human beings, and also onwards, towards the pure land.
And may we always be able to offer support, not just today but at all times, that we may be ready, that we may have time and energy to be always there whenever it’s needed. Not just in terms of releasing fish, but supporting all forms of life.
So during the actual release, I would like to ask all of you to offer your practice, offer your merit, offer your wisdom, by recitation of the mantra of Kuan Yin (Chenresig). Recite the six syllable mantra slowly and clearly. Meditate that Chenresig is above your head. The merit that you generate will be timeless, meaning that it can never be exhausted because it is coming from a pure intention.
Through this activity today, whatever timeless merit we accumulate, we also dedicate it once again to all sentient beings. In this way, our dedication, our merit, is ceaseless, it’s continuous, So at all times, try to be aware of sentient beings who are present, who have passed away, who are taking rebirth. Try to be aware of all of them. Those who are present in this world in many different forms, many different existences, such as human existence, animal existence, and so on.
Everyone is going through the process of life, at the same time pursuing happiness. In your meditation, try to be aware of it. And then there are those of course who have passed away. Or are in many different stages of passing away. So again, try to be aware of them. Try to relate to them and understand what kind of experience they might be going through, or must have gone through, due to various circumstances – some by time, some by illness, some by accidents.
And then of course there are countless sentient beings who are, as we speak, taking rebirth. And again it is a very challenging journey. So also try to be aware of them. So to all of them, concentrate on the six syllables and offer your merit. So this activity of releasing life itself is meritorious, it’s virtuous. At the same time, what is even more meritorious is that it reminds you of the nature of life. The three stages of life. So in this way, due to this activity that we do today, it helps us to remind ourselves and connect with all sentient beings.
So therefore rejoice, and have gratitude that this very existence, no matter how challenging it is, always continues to offer positive opportunities like this. That’s what I’d like to ask of all of you.”
Afterwards, Karmapa pours blessed substances on the fish and other sea creatures, and along with the other attendees, releases them into the sea.