About 100 lobsters were released from the Memorial Wharf Sunday as part of a Buddist life release ceremony held by Bodhi Path MV in West Tisbury.
At the fifth annual ceremony, Island visitors and residents stood beside members of the Buddhist center as Karma Trinlay Rinpoche blessed the lobsters with sacred water and herbs. Then folks took turns picking up the lobsters and placing them gently into the harbor, where the powerful current will carry them far away from human dangers such as lobster pots and pollution.
The lobsters were purchased from the Menemsha Fish Market and cooled before the ceremony in order to make the lobsters lethargic and prevent fingers from getting pinched.
As he poured the water over each lobster, Trinlay Rinpoche led others in a Buddhist chant.
According to Giselle de Saint Phalle, Trinlay Rinpoche’s wife, one of the most important tenets of Buddhism is to “do as little harm as possible.”
The life release ceremony allows for those who participate to accumulate merit and good karma.
“We want to do some good in order to offset the harm that can be done in this world,” de Saint Phalle said.
She explained that lobster is something that is consumed in massive quantities here on Martha’s Vineyard, and expressed concern with the way in which lobsters are cooked.
“Most people don’t think about it, but lobsters are prepared in a pretty violent and horrible way by being boiled alive,” de Saint Phalle said.
A large part of the life release ceremony, according to de Saint Phalle, is to raise awareness for all living creatures. She said she doesn’t expect people to stop eating lobster or quit eating meat entirely, but she said even eating slightly less benefits the natural world and can be rewarding.
The crowd gathering to witness the ceremony has grown every year, de Saint Phalle said
“We really started out with just a couple of people who wanted to attend, but now it has evolved and grown to be a really popular event that attracts lots of different people,” she said.
Sharon Gamsby, co-coordinator for Bodhi Path MV, said life release is a long-standing Buddhist practice that may have originated in Tibet with yaks and goats being released instead of being slaughtered for food.
She said Stanley Larsen of Menemsha Fish Market supports the lobster release because it benefits the animal’s life cycle.
Larsen notches the lobsters’ tails to dissuade commercial fishermen from bringing them to market. The notch conventionally indicates a female egg-bearing lobster which are supposed to be released upon being caught.
Gamsby said she was “thrilled” with the turnout for the event, and said the Memorial Wharf is a perfect place to perform the release.
“The wharf is a place that everyone can come to, and there is plenty of space for everyone to stand,” Gamsby said.
Whenever it comes to making choices about the food we eat, Gamsby said she hopes people will think about animals as living, breathing beings, instead of just sustenance.
“We are not trying to force a certain lifestyle on anyone, but we hope that people think about the decisions they make surrounding food,” Gamsby said.