Late sixteenth-century China witnessed a surge in the popularity of the Buddhist practice of buying animals and then setting them free. Releasing life, as it was called, could be practiced informally or as part of highly elaborate releasing-life ceremonies organized by groups of educated men who belonged to releasing-life societies that largely excluded women. The popularity of releasing-life practices spread through the robust publication of essays exhorting readers to refrain from killing animals and eating meat. Most essays were directed at a general audience, however, in one collection The Precious Mirror of the Compassionate Heart (Cixin baojian 慈心寶鑑) there is a single essay addressed specifically to women who are characterized as those who “steam turtles and mince carp” directly causing their deaths. Such culinary activity is linked to problems in childbirth and female diseases. This paper explores the karmic entanglements described in this essay, the anecdotal tropes used to verify such karmic links, and many other sources concerning women, their karmic relationship to animals, and releasing life activities.
Sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, the UNC First-Year Seminar Office, the Department of Asian Studies, the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, the Carolina Asia Center, and Duke University Asian/Pacific Studies Institute (East Asian Religions Cluster)