And I don’t have a picture or a video of it because I didn’t want to lug my purse around when Phil and I took Meili for a walk. Never again will I leave home without it.
Our community is really nice. We have a lot of trees, ponds, grassy areas, and part of the complex borders on the river. We decided to take Meili down to the river to see how she would react to the water. As we strolled down the boardwalk, I started hearing some commotion.
It sounded a lot like chanting, so I said to Phil, “Are we interrupting a cult meeting?”
“It’s sounds like they are worshiping Jesus.” Cult . . . religion . . . what’s the difference? And I seriously doubted they were worshiping Jesus, not if they wanted something like this to go down – click me to read about an underground Beijing church that got busted.
Then I started to hear a lot of birds chirping. Too many for it to be a coincidence. As we rounded the corner, the people came into view and so did the cages they were standing around. “Then what are all the sparrows for?”
About 20 people were standing in a circle around 8 cages full of sparrows. And by cages, I mean large boxes with lids made of wire. Each box probably contained 50 sparrows each. Almost everyone there was holding a small, flimsy book and reading the passages out loud. Most of the people were dressed in normal everyday clothes, but one was dressed like a monk. I decided to take a seat because I had to find out what they were doing. Were they going to sacrifice the birds? Were they going to let them go? And what about the single fish chilling in the over-sized cup? What are they going to do with him?
The chanting went on for several more minutes, and then finally, without warning, everyone started to sing. The song sounded a lot like chanting, too, and they sang the same 4 or 5 verses over and over again. At this point, I would have been really happy to understand Chinese.
The monk went to a table and picked up a green water bottle. He shook it up, and then preceded to spray the sparrows with it. The birds did not like this. They fluttered and tried to run from the water, but of course, there was no where for them to go. Another person went to the table and grabbed what appeared to be bird seed or some sort of grain. A few others took notice and did the same. Slowly, they sprinkled the bird seed over the sparrows. I couldn’t tell if the birds liked this aspect of the ritual or not. They were still fluttering like mad because of the water. The singing, the spraying of the water and the tossing of the food continued for sometime.
Without any indication, at least, not that I noticed, some of the people started to walk away. A few others stayed behind and picked up the cages. The birds were really starting to freak out now. Everyone was still singing as they walked passed me, Phil, and Meili. One woman stopped and crouched next to Meili. I have no idea what she said, but I would almost swear that she prayed over her.
The group then moved over to a grassy area and sat the boxes of birds down. As they continued to sing, they began to open up the boxes. The birds, stressed to the max, all tried to escape at the same time. The sky was a torrent of feathers.
Some of the birds knew it was best to fly far, far away, but others decided that the ground was a comfortable place to hang out. I waited around to see what they were going to do with the fish, but I lost track of him. Maybe someone already took him down to the river and I just didn’t see them. He’s probably dead now, and the river probably killed him.
As we walked Meili around the area a little longer, the population of sparrows seemed to have quadrupled. They were everywhere.
Well, thanks to the internet, I think I know what happened and why. If I am right, the people were just being pious Buddhists. According to Wikipedia, “In East Asian Buddhism, and particularly in China, the release of animals, particularly birds or fish, into their natural environment became an important way of demonstrating Buddhist piety. In China it was known as fang sheng. This practice is based on a passage in the Mahāyāna Sūtra of Brahma’s Net, which states that “…all the beings in the six paths of existence are my parents. If I should kill and eat them, it is the same as killing my own parents. … Since to be reborn into one existence after another is the permanent and unalterable law, we should teach people to release sentient beings.”‘
I’m still mad that I didn’t have my camera. It was so interesting to watch. Maybe I’ll get lucky one of these days and be able to capture the memory in a different way and not have to rely on my brain to explain exactly what happened.