Ask A Buddhist: Is it OK to go fishing?

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By Tenzin Tsepal

Are Buddhist allowed to pick up fishing as a hobby? If not, what are the reasons?

When asked, most people will agree that “what goes around, comes around.” The Buddha did not invent the law of karma and its effects — the internal, ethical law of cause and effect, but he explained it in great detail. From his awakened state, the Buddha realized that the results of our actions are definite, meaning that positive actions always bring about happiness, and negative actions always bring about suffering. When we harm others, we create the potential — when all the causes and conditions come together— to be on the receiving end of harm ourselves in the future. And since none of us want to experience suffering or any dissatisfaction, it is in our best interest to avoid harming any living being, even in the slightest. This is why the Buddha taught abstaining from harming others in any way.

Killing of any kind is considered a very non-virtuous action because it robs the living being of its most valuable possession — its life. Each year, countless fish die on barbed fishing hooks or in gill nets, or die by suffocation on the decks of fishing boats, or die slowly on ice or due to being gutted during processing. In her book, “Do Fish Feel Pain,” Victoria Braithwaite does a great job exploring the extent to which fish feel pain and suffering, and the related ethical issues involved in how we treat these animals.

We might think of fish as simple brained, non-feeling creatures, but scientific evidence challenges these stereotypes, showing fish to be smarter and more cognitively competent than previously suspected. Some species show surprising intelligence and long lasting memories. Fish respond to stressful situations similar to the way humans do by releasing cortisol into the blood stream. Fish have specialized pain receptors located in their mouths. Because the pain they feel is just like our own, shouldn’t we avoid harming them? For this reason, Buddhism discourages catching and killing fish as a hobby or commercially.

About Ven. Tenzin Tsepal

Venerable Tenzin Tsepal met Venerable Thubten Chodron, founder of Sravasti Abbey, in Seattle and studied Buddhism with her from 1995 to 1999. During that time, Venerable Tsepal attended the Life as a Western Buddhist Nun conference in Bodhgaya, India in 1996 as a lay supporter. An interest in ordination surfaced after she completed a three-month meditation retreat in 1998. She lived in India for two years while continuing to explore monastic life. In 2001, she received sramanerika (novice) ordination from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

While Venerable Tsepal was in India, some Australians friends introduced her to the 5 year Buddhist Studies Program at Chenrezig Institute (CI) north of Brisbane, Queensland, where she subsequently lived and engaged in intensive residential study from 2002-2015. As the Western Teacher at CI, she tutored weekend teachings and retreats, and taught the Discovering Buddhism courses.

Prior to ordaining, Venerable Tsepal completed a degree in Dental Hygiene, and then pursued graduate school in hospital administration at the University of Washington. Not finding happiness in 60 hour work weeks, she was self-employed for 10 years as a Reiki teacher and practitioner.

Now a member of the resident community at Sravasti Abbey, Venerable Tsepal is compiling and editing the many years of Venerable Chodron’s teachings on monastic training as well as leading a review on the Buddhist philosophical tenets for the residents.

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