SSI UK Fish Release with Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche

On July’s full moon, at Bagnas tal lake in Nepal, we had the good fortune to have a fish release and blessing conducted by Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche.

Thousands of fish, endemic to the region, were released into a beautiful lake. They were first blessed with mantras and given sacred myong-drol (liberation through tasting) substances, this was to create a good cause for their future before being released into the wild.

Tshe thar, life release, is a well known practice in Tibet and in Buddhism in general.

Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche is a reincarnate master in the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. He first went to Merigar in 1986 and some years later gave a teaching on Yeshe Tsogyal. He is renowned for his art and was invited by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu to paint the panel of the Twelve Primordial Masters in the Gönpa in Merigar.

You can read about the lineage of past reincarnations of the Dugu Choegyal Lineage here:

Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche gave a spontaneous teaching about saving of lives and the importance of compassion.

Please see below for the transcript of his teaching.

Our deep gratitude goes to Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche who came out of his retreat to oversee the fish release and thank you to everyone who participated in this fish release organised by Shang Shung UK. We have been organising fish release in the last years and all funds raised go towards our cultural activities.

To learn about our upcoming activities please visit our website:

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Transcript of Drugu Choegyal’s words on liberating the fish.

I want to say this to all human beings on this earth, our brothers and sisters, Indians, or Chinese, European, American, or Alaskans, everyone, as members of our [human] family. This is how I feel. 

I was born in Tibet around 1946-7 and only came to India in 1958/9. In Tibet where I was born, in eastern Tibet, we had no concept of killing, [Rinpoche later pointed out that by ‘concept of killing’ he meant to say that at the time in Tibet there were no meat and poultry farms, or fish farms] no concept of my religion or my nation. We had very innocent minds because Tibet was very isolated and there was no influence of nationality and all these things. 

I still have this feeling that all human beings are a family, not only of this planet but of the whole universe, all beings as family members. From childhood, our parents and everyone taught us to love all sentient beings as our mothers and parents and to make no discrimination. This was very deeply rooted in our minds because it was taught from childhood. We were not taught this just because it was Buddhism or Dharma practice. It was taught as something normal, something very natural. From childhood we were taught by our parents and by everybody to love all animals, even small insects, small creatures. We were taught not to step on them or kill them, because they are like us. They have feelings, they have the desire to live, they feel pain just like we do. So this was something we learned from childhood.

And also regarding all human beings we were not taught that we are Tibetans, they are Chinese, these are Indians, and so on. We were taught that we are all members of the same family. I really cherished this. It was only after many years of being in India that I slowly learned about this concept that we are Buddhists, they are this or that, because it was quite new to my mind. 

I want to express my feeling. I am speaking just as one human being, not as a Buddhist teacher or a Tibetan Buddhist but just how I feel as a human being, how we feel toward other animals. 

The most important things for human beings, for the heart, is to have mercy. If there is no mercy, no compassion, the heart becomes half dry because half is overpowered by ego. Ego is ignorant. It is actually very deceitful to us. It makes alot of suffering for us. All the suffering we have in life is mostly from anger, envy,  jealousy, desire, and greed. All these things come from ego.  Ego makes us blind and this makes us unhappy. So all human beings, regardless of whether they are religious or not, of whether they are male or female, from the east or west, need to have love, compassion and mercy. As long as we are human beings we must have mercy and love to make our heart fully develop. The heart is fully developed when it is happy and the heart can only be happy when there are no negative emotions, which come from self-cherishing. Therefore this act of saving animal life is an act of love and caring for others.

There are three points. Firstly, as human beings we must have mercy and we must have compassion because this is the real wealth and happiness and meaning of human life. Human life without love or caring for others, without mercy, is not a good use of human life. Human life should be of benefit for others, not only for oneself, not only for one’s own family, not only for one’s own country, but for the whole world, for everybody. If everyone was taught from childhood to love all, then naturally the whole world would become very harmonious and friendly and happy. All the trouble, all the sufferings, all the fighting in this world come from the lack of education in childhood to love others. Educating [children] to become rich, to become greedy, to become selfish, increasingly brings suffering and disaster. Initially we think it will bring good things to us but eventually it brings bad things to us. Whatever bad things we do to other people will eventually turn back on us. We cannot escape. So first of all we shouldn’t think “I’m Tibetan”, “I’m Buddhist” or I’m this or that, but we should feel love and compassion as human beings and have the feeling of family towards all.  Whether we are Indian or Chinese, or European, or American we are all one family. But as long as we have a divided mind there will be no end to fighting. As long as there is fighting there will never be a one side winner and there will be suffering on all sides.

The second point regards Buddhist teaching. If we are Buddhists the main thing is that we must have a good mind. If there is no good mind, whether we do prayers, or meditate, whatever practice we do or learn, it will be of no use. It will be totally useless. So it is important that for us as Buddhists, it is very simple – we should have a good heart. Buddha made it very clear and simple: firstly do good and not bad and discipline your own mind. This is Buddha’s teaching. This is the teaching of all past Buddhas, all present Buddhas, and all future Buddhas. All the Buddhas who come to this earth will teach the same point. The Buddhas on other planets teach the same point. There is no difference. 

Therefore firstly for us Buddhists we say we take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but the main thing is not the Buddha but the Dharma. Dharma has three points: to love others, not to harm others, and to discipline one’s own ego, because ego is the main cause of all suffering for oneself and for others. In this practice, loving animals, loving others with no discrimination is very important. If we love only Buddhism and do not love others, it is not Buddhist. If we respect Buddhism but disrespect other religions it is very wrong. In Vajrayana there are fourteen sins, something like crimes, according to Buddhist vows. One of these is to have disrespectful thoughts toward other religions. 

One point I like very much is that the Buddha’s teaching teaches us to respect others as oneself. It doesn’t mean that one drops one’s faith and confidence in the teaching. One must have full faith, full devotion, and feel confidence in one’s teaching because it is important to know what is there, what its value is, what its essence is. Without knowing that [we accept it] blindly. Buddha said that we should not accept it blindly and it’s very clear. But the important thing is simply that once we are Buddhists we need to have good minds towards others. It doesn’t mean just to some part [of humanity] but to all. So therefore regarding this aspect, loving and taking care of animals is very important. 

Without considering Buddhism or other religions, as human beings we must be kind to animals. Of course sometimes man has to eat animals but when we kill them we must do it without giving them pain, not treating them like something mechanical or a vegetable. This is very important. They definitely have the same mind as us: as we want to live so do they, as we don’t want to feel pain, neither do they. It is the same. But as we have a bigger better brain, we must use it otherwise it is no use having a bigger brain, a clearer mind for selfish reasons, for making trouble for others. Then this big brain becomes useless when it brings disaster to others. We must use this brain for benefitting all. As Mahatama Gandhi said, if man is cruel to animals he will become cruel towards men. This is a very deep teaching and it is true. From childhood we must train our mind to be very compassionate and not cruel so that when we grow up we will not become cruel but will be very thoughtful towards others. This life saving is part of that practice.

As Buddhist practitioners, we must progress from stage to stage. Once we take a minor vow we have to practice it, otherwise taking an empty vow is no use. When we practice the Six Paramitas the first practice is generosity. The first aspect of generosity is giving material things. Another aspect of generosity is protection, like saving the lives of animals. The third type of generosity is giving Dharma [teaching]. This doesn’t mean converting people [to Buddhism] but teaching them what is good, what is not good. If they harm others it is not good while if they help others it is good. They shouldn’t be cruel. This sort of thing is good but other things are not good. This is right, this is wrong. This is virtuous, that is non-virtuous. This is moral, that is immoral.  All of this is very important to teach and is the third type of generosity. 

Among all this giving generosity, we have to be very generous with love and compassion. If we give material things without love and compassion, it is just a kind of act. If we save animals lives without love and compassion, just to accumulate merit or benefit, this is a selfish attitude. We must save animals’ lives with love and compassion. Everything we do in Buddhist practice we must do with love and compassion. When we do meditation, there should be love and compassion because meditation for self-benefit, self-enlightenment is not Buddhist meditation. It is selfish and egoistic. It doesn’t reach anywhere towards enlightenment. So therefore with generosity, the first Paramita, the most important thing is love and compassion. 

Love and compassion is the base, root and seed of all the good things as human beings and from a good human being then we can have hope to go to heaven. Then from there once we have that kind of quality, only then can we think of enlightenment or liberation. Our Buddhist viewpoint as we Tibetans understand it is that without being a good human being there is no hope of going to heaven, no matter how much you pray, how much you spend, or how many pujas you do. Whatever you do, it is not much use. Therefore first of all one has to be a good human being. Then you should be a good religious person. And finally you can become enlightened. To go to heaven, first you must become a good human being with mercy. A good human being means basically having mercy and compassion and being very kind hearted. This is the essence. 

This is what I want to share with all our friends around the world, whether they are Dharma practitioners or not. I don’t care. We are all family. Thank you. 

I want to thank Shang Shung Institute for giving me the opportunity to join this meritorious action today. And I want to offer deep rejoicing to all who make a contribution to the saving of the lives of the fish as well as Sri Dato and Sri Datin Loo, in Malaysia, who gave a contribution to saving the lives of the fish. I want all of you to dedicate this to the lives of all sentient beings, and temporary happiness and full enlightenment for all sentient beings. Tashi Delek to everybody.   

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