When we say we love animals, how do we actually show this love towards them? Is it just to a selected favourite ‘pets’ like our dogs and cats, or is it across the board? And how far would we go to help an animal? Would we go to a pet shop and buy an animal just to set them free? Well, that’s exactly what Tsem Rinpoche did one fine day when we were in Bentong.
This was during the days when Kechara Forest Retreat was at its earlier phase of construction; Rinpoche would often visit, and at times stay to oversee the work in progress. One day after having lunch, Rinpoche wanted to pop into a nearby pet shop. This was just a few doors down from where we had lunch. Then Rinpoche asked us to count how many Betta fishes were on the shelves. Next thing we know, Rinpoche has decided to buy all of Betta fishes in the shop!
I cannot remember exactly how many there was, but it was definitely well over 20 Betta fishes. The shop owner was obviously thrilled we were purchasing all of his fishes; little did he know we were going to set them free.
After purchasing all the fishes, we went to a nearby trench where Rinpoche had recently released a previous batch of Bettas. Rinpoche then asked us to gently release our new batch of Bettas into the water while chanting Medicine Buddha’s mantra and blowing it on them. Blowing mantras on the fishes blesses them to take a better rebirth in their next life, and hopefully be able to meet the dharma. Rinpoche have always asked us to set a good motivation before doing any good actions such as feeding an animal, or liberating them. The motivation is making an aspirational prayer that these animals may be reborn in the future to become great Dharma teachers. So with that in mind, we create the causes for great masters to arise and to continue to spread the Dharma into the ten directions. Everything we do must be with a good motivation then it becomes meaningful.
Not only does Rinpoche show us what it means to be compassionate, but Rinpoche also gets us to do the very action. This is how compassionate Rinpoche is towards all sentient beings. Even for us who took part in releasing the fishes, we created the causes to do something beneficial for others and to nurture our own compassionate nature. You could say the Betta fishes gave us this opportunity to collect some merits.
I believe if Rinpoche could, Rinpoche would probably buy up the whole pet shop to release or rehome all the animals. Rinpoche always wants the best for all animals; for them to be free and for those that need care, to be cared for. Hence, in Kechara Forest Retreat we even have a huge aviary for abandoned and rescued birds, while students like Jace and Khoo initiates animal rescue missions whenever they can. Animals are just like us human, they too want freedom, love and happiness. They are also a sentient being.
I am so honoured to be able to participate in this compassionate act, where Rinpoche teaches us to focus out and to go beyond just understanding what compassion is. These Bettas may not be able to say “thank you” back to us, yet that is the beauty of it. Be it a person or a Betta fish, the point is to always do as much as we can to help or benefit someone, and to do it without expecting anything in return, without any agenda. Thank you Rinpoche for these precious teachings.