In terms of their own happiness, sentient beings value nothing greater than their own lives. For this reason, saving lives brings tremendous merit, and has always been a central practice of the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism. Rinpoche has said how much he looks forward to and enjoys this activity. It is one of the most satisfying practices one can do, for not only are the animals saved from being slaughtered for food, but we also pray, through our dedications, that they may one day be freed from rebirth in the lower realms.

kongtrul rinpoche release a lobster during life release practice of tsetar
When people make prayer requests throughout the year, either for themselves or for others who are facing sickness, death, or other obstacles, Rinpoche dedicates the merit from these tsetar practices to fulfilling those prayers.

We conclude this Life Release practice with Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s “Increasing Life and Prosperity” and the dedication chapter from Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva, and by so doing seal the merit of these virtuous deeds so that it is not destroyed by forgetfulness or indulgence. It is said that dedicating the merit of virtuous deeds is like adding drops of water to a vast ocean — it never dries up. Or as Rinpoche says, it is similar to making a deposit into a very secure, long-term CD. The merit remains there and grows steadily without declining until it reaches its full fruition. If we do not dedicate or seal the merit of virtuous deeds, that seed of virtue can easily be destroyed or burnt up by an outburst of anger or other afflicting emotions.

In 2006, Kongtrul Rinpoche formalized this aspect of compassionate activity through the creation of the Tsetar Fund. Twice a year, after the annual teaching programs at Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling in Vermont, Rinpoche and a group of students travel to the nearby port of Portland, Maine, to free lobsters, and sometimes crabs, clams, or mussels. Students continue this practice four more times during the year on Wheel Days, which in the Tibetan calendar commemorate important events in the Buddha’s life. On those days, the merit generated by positive actions is multiplied ten million times.

Rinpoche continues this activity whenever possible as he travels. All contributions to the Tsetar Fund are used entirely for ransoming the lives of sentient beings. To participate in the practice of Life Release, consider making a donation to this fund. If you are in the Portland area, you are most welcome to join us. Contact us if you would like more information about MSB’s activities on the East Coast.