Hunting Seen as Demonized Savagery
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Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko

The hunt (killing of living beings) touches on a critical point in the Buddhist concept of civilization – it signifies the savagery, the echo of the dark, barbaric past which in Buddhist chronology is demonized as a world of the mi ma yin. In the case of Khra-‘brug this is a cave with multiple sealed treasures under the temple which mark the earlier realm of the water demon. The term “sealing of the paths” (and parallel designations such as “sealing of mountain and valley regions”) in the usual Buddhist context means the ritual closing of a particular part of the land, which bans people from hunting in order to protect the creatures there.

Anthropologists have pointed to a fundamental value dichotomy in Tibetan life and religious culture which is expressed as the difference between that which is considered wild (rgod-pa) and that which has been tamed (from the verb dul-ba 'to tame', 'subdue', 'civilize', 'convert', etc.). Within this framework, figures such as the human hunter or the local mountain cult deities (who are martial in nature) are clearly considered 'wild', while the ordained, vow-holding Buddhist monk is 'tame'. On the ethical front, we find abundant historical evidence of influential lamas actively attempting to 'tame' or 'convert' professional life-takers, such as pastoralists, hunters or butchers. They preach on the evils and dire consequences of killing, they undertake exemplary good deeds by purchasing and freeing or ransoming the lives of animals destined to be slaughtered and they also encourage lay people to take vows to abstain from killing.

Abhayadana means to be a refuge for those who are frightened by robbers, wild animals, diseases and floods ... The gift of fearlessness is to be known as being a refuge for those who are frightened by lions, tigers, crocodiles, kings, robbers, floods and other disasters. Such Tibetan expressions of 'the gift of fearlessness' depict wild animals as the threat from which one requires protection. Yet elsewhere in the Buddhist literature and in the Tibetan anti-hunting laws, the abhayadana concept is fully extended lo cover the wild animals themselves, including carnivores, which are frightened and on the run from the human threat of hunting, and which are given refuge by way of sealing the hills and the valleys. The anti-hunting laws contain many expressions of the position of the hunted game animals in relation to the sealings, which are said 'to offer the protection of fearlessness to defenseless living creatures or that 'the living creatures of the hills and valleys should breathe freely without fear for their lives'. Similarly, territory sealed from hunters' access to wild animals is described as being 'an island of freedom (ihar-pa-gling) for game animals, offering the gift of fearlessness'.

The west Tibetan lama bSod-nams Blo-gros (1456-1521) read verses in several tantric texts about the benefits such as being spared evil rebirths — of directly saving the lives of hundreds of beings. On the basis of these teachings, he states that he established preserves to protect game animals from hunters around two monasteries which he founded. Another lama, 'Jigs-med Gling-pa (1730-98), who often expressed his great love for animals, purchased and sealed the territory of a whole mountain as an act of compassion when he learned of the destructive hunting practices of the local community there. In the 1950s monasteries in the eastern plateau performed a popular dance known as the 'Stag and Hunting Dog Ritual Dance' in the early autumn. The performance narrative relates the story of a famous Tibetan lama Mi-la Ras-pa (1040-1123) who saves a frightened deer from a hunter and his dog and then 'tames' them all by conversion to Buddhism. It was said to have been staged at this time because the following period was the optimal time for local hunting of musk deer (musk pod quality and size were optimal}, and the dance was intended to dissuade hunters from hunting in this crucial season.

Toni Huber, Territorial Control by Sealing (rgya sdom-pa): A Religio-Political Practice in Tibet, Zentralasiatische Studien, 33 (2004)

Toni Huber, The Chase and the Dharma: The Legal Protection of Wild Animals in Pre-modern Tibet, published in John Knight, Wildlife in Asia. Cultural Perspectives. London, 2004

Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow.  He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.

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