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Young Buddhist Association of Indonesia Releases Thousands of Endangered Animals in Mangrove Park

All images courtesy of the YBAI

Working in collaboration with the eco-activism foundation Ecoton, the Young Buddhist Association of Indonesia (YBAI) recently conducted a large-scale life release operation to freeing thousands of aquatic animals in the Gunung Anyar Mangrove Botanical Garden in East Java. 

One of the organizers of the life release, conducted on 9 December, from the Young Buddhist Association of Indonesia, Herman Pranata, explained that the thousands of released animals included catfish, eels, monitor lizards, and crabs, which were purchased from various suppliers of supermarkets, markets and restaurants in the seaport of Surabaya and surrounding areas.

“This was done to help maintain biological ecosystems—especially in the largest mangrove area on the island of Java—and also to preserve the Buddhist fangsheng (Ch. 放生) tradition,” the YBAI shared with BDG. “We collaborated with a number of organizations, ranging from the Gusdurian Network, Samanera and Atthasilani from Padepokan Dhammadipa Arama Batu, students from the Buddhist spiritual activity units of various universities in Surabaya, religious studies students, and monastics from various monasteries in Surabaya.”

The Young Buddhist Association (YBA) is the leading Buddhist youth organization in Indonesia. Through a deeply held conviction in the Buddha’s message of compassion, growth, and liberation, the association promotes a positive lifestyle among the young in order to cultivate a society founded on wisdom, compassion, and gratitude. The association is involved in establishing Buddhist organizations nationwide, propagating the study of the Dharma among young people, and providing leadership training. 

“Donations from 162 donors totaled: 96 kilograms of crabs; 86 kilograms of monitor lizards; 5 kilograms of Bivalvia molluscs; 470 kilograms of eels; 35 kilograms of cork fish; 27.5 kilograms of catfish; and two asiatic soft-shell turtles,” Pranata explained. “During the release, we joined Bhante Jayamedho Thera and Lama Kunzang to pray together, so that all the animals would be blessed because they have been matched with participants who had the noble intention to release them in a suitable ecosystem that has been validated by Ecoton.”

Pranata said that the objective was to return fish that would have been killed and consumed to their original habitat, thereby relieving their suffering. The hope is that these fish will continue to live, breed, and provide many benefits to nature, he added.

“This activity is a Buddhist ritual known as fangsheng, releasing captive animals that are due to be killed back into the wild so that we as humans are spared from danger and get goodness for helping suffering creatures,” he said. 

Pranata noted that he had invited various non-Buddhist groups to participate in the Buddhist practice in order to establish friendship between religious communities in a joint activity that would benefit all.

Meanwhile, YBAI Religious Patron YM Bhikkhu Jayamedho Thera observed that the act of life release was a symbol of love before the upcoming new year. He also called on the participants to look back on what virtuous and good deeds had been done, especially to themselves, and on whether they had been able to let go of any anger, greed, malice, noting that this was more important: “Letting go of animals is easy, if you have the money and the intention, you can do it. But letting go of hatred, malice, and envy is much harder, so this fangsheng has physical and spiritual meanings—and the two must be balanced.”

He also stressed that the merit associated with the act of life release: “Keep doing good things so that next year we can face a year full of hope and full of challenges and persistence so that we can gain happiness, peace and prosperity.”

The head of Surabaya’s Food Security and Agriculture Department, Antiek Sugiharti, expressed appreciation to the organizers for taking action to care for the environment and local ecosystems in an atmosphere of interfaith tolerance.

“This is an extraordinary collaboration for us by releasing fish and other animals so that we provide opportunities for the fish and animals to survive,” she said. “Hopefully Surabaya’s environment will benefit and so may we all be healthy, protected by God, and may we always be a better, bigger family in the future.”

Although officially a secular state, Indonesia is home to a diversity of communities and religious and spiritual traditions. Islam is the most widespread religion, observed by 87 per cent of the population, according to national data for 2022. Christian traditions account for a combined 10.5 per cent, Hinduism 1.7 per cent, and Confucianism, folk, and other traditions account for a combined 0.07 per cent.

Buddhism, practiced by 0.73 per cent of the population—roughly two million people—is the second oldest spiritual tradition in Indonesia after Hinduism. According to historical accounts, Buddhism first flourished on the archipelago around the sixth century, which was followed by ascent and decline of a number of powerful Buddhist empires, including the Shailendra dynasty (c. 8th–9th centuries), the Srivijaya empire (c. 7th–12th centuries), and the Mataram empire (c. 8th–11th centuries). Today, the majority of Indonesian Buddhists are affiliated with Mahayana schools of Buddhism, although communities of Theravada and Vajrayana practitioners also exist.

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Young Buddhist Association of Indonesia
Young Buddhist Association (YBA) of Indonesia (Instagram)
Young Buddhist Association of Indonesia (Facebook)
Pemerintah Kota Surabaya Dinas Ketahanan Pangan Dan Pertanian

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