Life release is a traditional Buddhist practise of saving the lives of beings that were destined for slaughter. This practise is performed by all schools of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. It is known as "Tsethar" in Tibetan Buddhism.
While this practise of life release may naturally need to be spontaneous to successfully save an endangered life, life release can also be planned. Planning often involves purchasing an animal directly from a slaughterhouse or a fishermen; this can often take place on auspicious days in the Buddhist calendar in order for the merit of the act to be multiplied thousands of times. Animals are blessed before being safely returned to their natural environment as prayers are made and often dedicated to someone who is ill or has died, with the belief that person will benefit too from this dedication.
In Tibet an animal is often marked by a ribbon to indicate that the life of the animal has been liberated, with the general understanding that it will be allowed to die of natural causes. The practise in Tibetan Buddhism has been championed in recent times by Chatral Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche and Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Although this is seen to be the traditional way of carrying out this practise, Ogyen Trinley Dorje has commented that the meaning is broad and that people can use their intelligence to expand the practise in other ways; indicating that planting one tree may be more beneficial that carrying out Tsethar for many beings.
It is increasingly recognized that animal release has the potential for negative environmental impacts, including as a pathway for the introduction of invasive species into non-native environments. This may lead to biodiversity loss over time. For example, competition from American red-eared slider turtles released in China's lakes has been reported to cause death of native turtles.
It has also been performed in Japan since 676. It is called "Hōjō-e."
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- Releasing birds. Merit or sin? (Video)