Bangkokhooker’s Fishing in Thailand: The Karma Question

Posted: March 16, 2010 in Non-fishing stories
Tags: , , ,

Being in Buddhist Thailand I am usually approached by Thai Buddhist friends and family members (usually women) asking me what I do with the fishes I catch. The conversation woud usually go like this:

“What do you do with the fishes?”

“Well, I release them so that they can go on living and spawn us a new generation of fish”

“oh, poor fishes”

Then my response would be some sort of moral justification along the lines of, “if I catch and release a fish it is less likely to be caught again and who knows what the next guy would do to the fish. He might eat it. If I let the fish live at least it will have the chance to return to live, find love, start a family and maybe open an underwater cake shop that would be featured on Martha or Oprah!”

And regardless of such impeccable reasoning they would still say something along the lines of “yeah, but poor fishes” followed by a sigh of disappointment, break of eye contact and then a long awkward moment of silence.

The Thai approach to Buddhism has long been an ongoing moral conflict for me, and I’m Thai to start with. Here we are in a country that practices Buddhism. It is a country that has a sacred respect for life of all forms but yet we have a meat industry that doesn’t seem to worry too much about the many animal cruelty shenanigans. Chickens bred in battering rams, pigs slaughtered the old-fashioned way (knife to the throat), the illegal dog meat industry (caution disturbing video), elephants on the streets of Bangkok, cockfighting, Siamese fighting fish battles, foie gras on the menu of every single fancy restaurant and a whole lot of other animal cruelty occurs on a daily basis in Thailand but people just accept it as regular practice.

Then a friend of mine showed me this particular episode of a popular Thai late-night talk show, Woody Talk (video link here). In this particular episode the show host, Woody, interviews a prolific Thai Buddhist monk about many issues including the relationship of karma and animals. He asks, “what if I were to be walking around and stepped on some ants, is that bad karma? Will I go to hell for taking so many lives” to which the monk asks him in return, “did you intentionally step on the ants?”

Woody replied, “no”.

The monk then went on to explain that “so long as it was not your intention, it is not bad”. So um… so long as the good intentions are there then it’s ok! Chaiyo!

Jack Nicholson’s character had an interesting thing to say when he was doubting the concept of karma in The Bucket List. It went along the lines of “if karma is the underlying system for one to transcend to a higher plane through good deeds what would a slug have to do in order to get into the good books? Would he have to spend the days of his life laying a perfect path of slime?”

Speaking about animals and karma, what about cats? The Animal Planet ranked cats as the most ruthless creature on their The Most Extreme series. It turns out that cats really get a kick out of punishing the hell out of mice and then letting their kittens do some beat-downs of their own on the same mouse until it dies of exhaustion or manages to run away. The intention here is to pass on killer instincts to their young but then again, poor mouse, should cats go to hell for being assholes to mice?

Blarg… karma and the TV show My Name is Earl is not good for my brain, especially the latter.

The best course of action to take is to avoid talking about fishing to sensitive Buddhists in Thailand to begin with if you don’t want to be treated with the guilt-trip/awkward silence combo. If you do however fall into these unfortunate conversations just change the subject to ghosts.

If there is one thing that Thai people are afraid of more than God or being reborn as a dung beetle it is ghosts so if you’re an angler who likes to openly talk about his hobbies be sure to have one or two ghost stories up your sleeve because chances are, if your concerned Buddhist friend believes enough in karma he/she will most likely also believe in ghosts proving that Thailand as a whole is a very crazy place.

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