Buddhists May Have Disturbed the Passaic River’s Ecosystem, by Releasing Hundreds of Reptiles into it.

14 08 2007



arrowIn Paterson’s West Side Park Sunday, followers of a New York Amitabha Buddhist sect took part in a ritual in which live reptiles were released into the Passaic River. Environmental officials in two states are trying to track down the group.

Ancient ritual met with modern consequence Monday, as state environmental authorities said they were searching for a religious group that released hundreds of live reptiles into the Passaic River on Sunday as part of a Buddhist rite.Members from a New York sect of Amitabha Buddhists — devout vegetarians who believe in the sanctity of all living creatures — said Sunday they had purchased the creatures in New York’s Chinatown for the purpose of setting them free. Ann Chin, a member of the group, said on Sunday they chose the Passaic River because it was the nearest body of freshwater to New York City, where the eels, frogs and turtles they let go had the best chance of surviving and realizing their full karmic potential.


Monday, Aug. 13, 2007 Buddhists release creatures into Passaic

State officials said Monday that the practice was illegal and that they were working with New York authorities to track down the group. Jim Cussen, a captain in the law enforcement arm of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, said Monday there were no permits on file for the group and that the illegal stocking of fish or other species was a civil offense punishable by fines of up to $1,000.He added that the NJDEP would also try to determine the origin of the reptiles, to gauge their potential impact on the river.Mark Boriek, a biologist with the NJDEP, said species introduction permits are issued only in limited and controlled circumstances — such as stocking a private pond with fish — and probably would not have been issued to the group had it applied.”We’re dead-set against it,” Boriek said. “It’s even illegal to stock any kind of carp or goldfish in New Jersey in a place with an inlet or outlet (from a body of water).”Boriek said Sunday’s incident brought to mind several recent cases around the country of non-native invasive species, such as snakehead fish, that have disrupted ecosystems.He stressed he did not know the origin of the reptiles released into the Passaic and that they might not necessarily be harmful. The Passaic River has been cleaned up in recent years, and up to 27 native fish species now inhabit it, according to the Passaic River Coalition. Boriek said the creatures released Sunday might have a chance at survival. Boriek said he hadn’t heard of a release of this size in New Jersey, but added that immigration could change that.”I could foresee it coming, though, with more ethnic groups moving into the country,” Boriek said. “It is more of an issue these days.”Calls to various Amitabha temples in and around New York were not returned. Chin, the Amitabha devotee who participated in Sunday’s ritual, said the group’s members believed in letting the earth’s creatures complete their natural life cycle. Rescuing them from fish markets before they were prematurely killed meant giving them a chance to fulfill their true karmic purpose. “When I pass by the fish market, I cry,” Chin said. “I tell people: ‘Stop killing them.’ Then: ‘Don’t eat them.’ Then your heart goes to mercy.” Amitabha, also known as the Pure Land Study of Buddhism, is heavily focused on cause and effect, and the cycle of transmigration. Chin, who is a vegan, said she does not even kill flies or other bugs, but catches and releases them to restore nature’s harmony. She said Buddhists believe that reptiles are the reincarnation of humans who did bad things, and that the ritual would give them a chance to “go back to the world as good people and go to heaven” in the next life. “These practices that may seem strange to the Judeo-Christian tradition, are very common to other traditions,” said Charles Ryerson, professor emeritus of the history of religion for the Princeton Theological Seminary. “We Jews and Christians and Muslims make sharp distinction between humans and other beings — not East Asian religions, who believe all life is to be treasured.” Ryerson, who said he had no knowledge of the Passaic River incident, said the ritual was a common one among Buddhists, whose worshippers believe they gain merit by releasing other beings from a premature death. Ryerson added it was an example of America becoming an increasingly pluralistic society.”They probably thought they were doing a good deed and didn’t think about permits,” he said, stressing that he was neither defending nor attacking the group. “The Buddhists are probably going to learn they’re in a non-Buddhist culture, and the Americans will learn they’re in a culture with a lot of Buddhists.”




2 responses

14 08 2007

Good Idea. Help the snakes, and as a result kill our ecosystem.

17 08 2007
lee stern

are these poisonous snakes?

thank you

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