Bangkok, March 9, 2013 – As world governments meet here to discuss global wildlife trade, revered Thai Buddhist leaders today held the first-ever Buddhist merit-making ceremony to pray for the tens of thousands of elephants poached annually. They also called on their congregations and other temples to reject the use and trade of ivory.
A large percentage of Thailand’s ivory is bought by foreign tourists, but there is significant demand among devout Buddhists for ivory carved into images of the Buddha, amulets, and other objects of worship.
Leading the merit-making ceremony were Ajahn Jayasaro, a forest monk and Buddhist teacher; Phra Maha Jerm Suvaco of the Maha Chula Buddhist University; Mae Chee Sansanee, founder and director of Sathira-Dhammasathan Center; and Phra Paisal Visalo, abbot of Wat Pasukato. Each offered teachings on conservation and the role of Buddhists in saving elephants from wildlife crime.
“We are honored to come together with the Buddhist leadership of Thailand, on this auspicious occasion of making merit for African elephants – the first ever for elephants,” said Dekila Chungyalpa, director of the Sacred Earth program for WWF. “Because faith leaders are speaking up about environmental sustainability being consistent with religious values, we are now seeing a new movement of faith-based conservation all over the world.”
Supported by WWF, the event at Wat That Thong in downtown Bangkok sought to educate the deeply religious Thai public on the link between ivory and wildlife crime, and encourage the leadership of Buddhist temples and congregations to discontinue the use and trade of ivory.
Thailand is the world’s largest unregulated ivory market and a major sink for ivory poached from Africa. In opening the current meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) here on 3 March, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced a shutdown of the country’s ivory market though gave no timeline.
The event also featured a giant chalk drawing of an elephant designed by artist Remko van Schaik with messages in English and Thai saying “I am not a trinket” and “Ivory belongs to elephants.” Attendees took photos with the elephant artwork and also wrote prayers for poached elephants and hung them from trees in the courtyard of the temple.
“Having prestigious leaders from the Buddhist community in Thailand lead this ceremony here, which is usually practiced for a family member who has passed away, emphasizes that we are all interdependent and part of one great web of life,” said Phansiri Winichagoon, country director of WWF-Thailand.
Monks, members of the Thai public, government representatives, and delegates from the ongoing CITES attended the ceremony.
The CITES trade talks continue through 13 March. Conservation groups are calling on the 178 countries in attendance to take action by the end of the meeting against countries failing to comply with their international commitments to stop unregulated ivory trade. Tens of thousands of elephants are poached in Africa every year to feed world demand for ivory.
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Quotes from Buddhist leaders who led the merit-making ceremony:
“I beg the Buddhists in Thailand, who know well that the killing is a sin, to stop using any items made from ivory and stop buying ivory Buddha statues or other ivory sacred pieces. This is the great way of merit making which will echo into the healthy nature of other continents eventually.” – Phra Paisal Visalo, Wat Pa Sukato Forest Monastery, Chaiyapum, Thailand
“No one wants to think that they are immoral or selfish but they might think a little bit of ivory doesn’t matter ultimately. It is our responsibility to shed light on this matter and demonstrate how all the little bits of ivory accumulate to a very large amount of ivory and that is basically a large number of dead elephants. We must show this connection so people understand where the ivory comes from and at what price.” - Ajahn Jayasaro, a forest monk and Buddhist teacher
“The demand for ivory in Asia, including Thailand, is leading to a rapid decline of elephants in Africa. I have been told that some of this demand comes from Buddhists who like to wear ivory amulets or collect ivory religious statues. There is no Buddhist ritual that advocates the use of ivory. Ivory is not sacred in Buddhist worship and should not be used.” - Phra Bhramapundit, Rector of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU), Ecclesiastical Governor of Region II, Chief Abbot of Wat Prayurawongsawat in Bangkok, and a member of the Secretariat to the Executive Committee for the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand
A merit-making ceremony is a ritual practiced commonly in Thailand, where bereaved members of a family or well-wishers of the deceased make offerings and request prayers and blessings that will accompany the deceased into their future lives. It is a very important part of Thai culture and a way for Thai people to express their appreciation and caring for those who have passed on. The right attitude during merit-making activities is very important. Family members and well-wishers are asked to keep their minds calm and positive, and to continuously dedicate any goodness that arises in their hearts to benefit the deceased.