Friday, July 13, 2007

Sport Fishfeeding

Fish Feeding at Wat Sanku
Now this is a real sport. After almsround there's always some biscuits in my bowl which are just perfect to scrunch up and sprinkle in the Uposatha lake and let the fun begin :) There's real technique to it, though - this is not a beginners sport, and takes true sobriety and keen wit. Any idiot can just dump the whole bag of breadcrumbs into the murk and wait for the splashes to commence. I personally sprinkle a few crumbs about in the area just outside of the shade, so as to be afforded a good look at the sportsfish, but not so far out so that they refuse to leave their cool shady home. Then when the quick ones have made their noise darting back and forth and flinging water into the air in their excitement, I wait. Slowly, but surely, the leviathan come, knowing better than to dart out and be gobbled up by a mean long-legged bird; they are the ancient ones whose broken whiskers show like battle scars and whose mouths open like submarine vessels ready to receive their freight. I sprinkle some more out of appreciation for these, and squat down to tap their snouts with a finger as they gobble up their meal; but still I hold back a portion, waiting for the king of fish - a golden trout whose back can be seen a far distance off. When he comes I show my appreciation to him, giving him the victors share. So far, no snout taps, though; he's a cautious one, guarding his golden hide well.

The scene quickly disperses as it becomes clear the fare has been depleted. I have a brief moment to reflect on the slick, watery feeling of my brief physical contact with these beings, once so foreign and robotic. These are my friends, now; and I am theirs. Then a moment of reflection on some of the terrible things I've done to their kind, a moment of shame, and then gone. How impossible it seems to imagine one of my new friends on the end of a hook. How terrible their fate. I have stopped eating fish now; it doesn't sit well in my stomach any more :)

The Anguttara Nikaya mentions five great gifts which have been held in high esteem by noble-minded men from ancient times (A.iv,246). Their value was not doubted in ancient times, it is not doubted at present, nor will it be doubted in the future. The wise recluses and brahmans had the highest respect for them. These great givings comprise the meticulous observance of the Five Precepts*. By doing so one gives fearlessness, love and benevolence to all beings. If one human being can give security and freedom from fear to others by his behavior, that is the highest form of dana one can give, not only to mankind, but to all living beings.


The Buddha once explained that it is a meritorious act even to throw away the water after washing one's plate with the generous thought: "May the particles of food in the washing water be food to the creatures on the ground.".


* The five precepts are not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to lie and not to take intoxicants


  1. Anonyrod7:53 PM

    While I agree that fishing for sport is pointless, I think that criticising fishing as a whole is extreme. I have a friend who is a vegan, and whenever we meet for lunch I eat whatever 'road kill' of the day is available and he just eats a plate of rice. Some of this has also crept into Western Buddhism, where many monks now eat only vegetarian food. They are obviously monks who do not require the energy to practice, as they don't practice (ok an hour here and there). None of the Ajarns in The Sangha who became fully aware were vegetarians, including The Buddha himself, and the top Hindu teachers also ate meat. While it might be politically correct to be a vegetarian, saving the world is not the aim of Buddhist practice. Plus, if you really want to be exact and extreme then you probably shouldn't eat anything at all.

    Such views merely become attachments and distractions to the real objective; saving your own being.

  2. Anonyrod8:33 PM

    P.S. Regarding your article, I am sure that if your Ajarn had been there he would have told you to "Stop playing with the fish and do some practice!"

  3. Dear Anonyrod (if that is your real name),

    Thanks for the comment. I've stopped playing with the fish, it was just a kind gesture that one day, and they didn't appreciate it anyway. I still go down every morning to feed them on my way to the Uposatha to practice meditation (it's a mock-boat in the middle of the pond), and I'm still not eating fish. The Buddha allowed the eating of meat, as I'm sure you are aware, when one had not seen, heard or was suspicious of it being killed for their benefit. I'm not out to save the world, or even be politically correct, just to be kind and gentle and do a good turn daily (wait, that's boy scouts...) I walk through the village every morning on almsround and see live fish slaughtered in front of me, hand-picked by customers. I don't know what fish goes into my bowl, but I certainly am suspicious, and that is enough to stop me from eating the fish I get. (As an aside, the three men we found walking up the river to our uposatha pond looking for fish probably deposited their catch at the same stall I walk by every day in the market.) The Mahasi Sayadaw, a very famous meditation monk, refused to eat meat for these reasons, and so did Kruba Srivichai (a very famous "arahant" in this part of the world, who dedicated most of his time to practice). Personally, I am not so devoted, and probably would eat ethically pure meat if the only alternative was a plate of rice. After all, it IS dead.

    But your comment conflates two issues - fishing and eating fish. You say that criticizing fishing is extreme, yet the Buddha himself is guilty of such an extreme:

    While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (270) of this book, with reference to a fisherman named Ariya.

    Once, there was a fisherman who lived near the north gate of Savatthi. One day through his supernormal power, the Buddha found that time was ripe for the fisherman to attain Sotapatti Fruition. So on his return from the alms-round, the Buddha, followed by the bhikkhus, stopped near the place where Ariya was fishing. When the fisherman saw the Buddha, he threw away his fishing gear and came and stood near the Buddha. The Buddha then proceeded to ask the names of his bhikkhus in the presence of the fisherman, and finally, he asked the name of the fisherman. When the fisher man replied that his name was Ariya, the Buddha said that the Noble Ones (ariyas) do not harm any living being, but since the fisherman was taking the lives of fish he was not worthy of his name.

    Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

    Verse 270 . He who harms living beings is, for that reason, not an ariya (a Noble One); he who does not harm any living being is called an ariya.

    At the end of the discourse the fisherman attained Sotapatti Fruition.


    And all of your arguments merely point out that eating dead fish is not wrong, which was something I never denied.

    Anyway, I'm sorry, I must seem like a sorry excuse for a monk; writing weblog posts, feeding fish, etc. Well, I do practice meditation, and do do good deeds daily. I try to keep to myself, though I occasionally go out on a limb and (gasp) take a stand on issues close to my heart. But, your comments are well taken, thank you for pointing out what you perceive to be my faults.

    Best wishes,


  4. Anonyrod11:36 AM

    As for fishing, you have to realize that probably more than well over half the planet survives on fishing. I doubt that they do it with any particular enjoyment or sense of sport, other than the fact that they can eat the fish, and probably sell some of them to buy rice and other food. In certain instances fishing can be criticized if it includes over fishing by factory ships, but in general most people do it to survive. It is not the ideal situation as far as Buddhism is concerned, but welcome to samsara, where only a minority of people actually have the four requisites of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine.

    As for me considering you a ‘sorry excuse for a monk’, hardly, in fact I am happy that you did become a monk. I can imagine that it is not the easiest thing to do, and therefore you have my respect in doing so.

  5. Dear Anonyrod,

    I guess we'll have to disagree... I think fishing can be criticized for the inherent cruelty, whatever the fisherman's excuse. I don't think Buddhism has any problem addressing the issue of why the majority of beings in this universe suffer from lack of the four requisites, and teaching them to fish certainly won't change things. Torturing others leads to being born sickly, and killing leads to being born with a short lifespan. Miserliness leads to lack of requisites and generousity leads to abundance.

    Further, the argument against factory fishing specifically seems somewhat akin to what you were criticizing me for - trying to save the world. Factory overfishing is perhaps less cruel to the fish because it involves no hooks (I assume), and overfishing even to extinction is not for that reason any less (or more) ethical than any other kind of fishing by Buddhist standards, unless it involves greater greed, anger and/or delusion. Extinction is not a bad thing :)

    Thanks for your kind words :) If I had your real email, I would write something in private to you.

    Best wishes,