Buddhists pray for Delaware’s horseshoe crabs
Monday 14 June 2010
Ceremonial robes billowed in the breeze as about 40 Buddhists from New York to Washington, D.C., gathered in this tiny waterfront village on Saturday to pray for the humble horseshoe crab.
Their prayers were coupled with compassionate action as they flipped over crabs that had come ashore to spawn but had wound up on their backs, helpless in the baking sun.
"I will now perform the refugee ceremony for all those living beings — horseshoe crabs — who will perish on these shores, and for those who are suffering on the Gulf Coast and elsewhere as a result of the greed and ignorance of mankind," the Venerable Zhaxi Zhuoma Rinpoche said, gazing out over the Delaware Bay.
Her words were translated into Chinese by a fellow rinpoche — an honorific designating a Tibetan lama — for the sizable Chinese-speaking contingent that attended.
"May we today rescue as many of these pitiable beings as possible," Zhuoma said.
Many in the group had never seen a horseshoe crab, and some of them returned already dead crabs to the water while others tried to push crabs back into the surf that were coming ashore to spawn.
But horseshoe crab conservationist Glenn Gauvry, a Buddhist from Dover’s Dharmadhatu Center and president of the Delaware-based Ecological Research & Development Group, came to the rescue.
"Many of them did not make it back, and they died, and that’s what you’re seeing behind you," Gauvry told the group, referring to the line of dead crabs in the sand.
"If they’re in the surf and not turned over, they’re OK," he said.
Gauvry pointed to a male horseshoe crab fertilizing the eggs a female was laying. Although the eggs are laid beneath the sand, many of them end up exposed by wind and tide and will die or be eaten.
Gauvry showed the crowd what the eggs look like, and some of the worshippers buried clusters of eggs in an attempt to save them.
Despite the efforts, thousands of crabs will end up dead on the beach in a cycle of birth and death that stretches back some 300 million years.
But according to Zhuoma — who was born Carol Welker but became a Buddhist and now heads the Xuanfa Institute in Sanger, Calif. — the gestures were far from futile.
"You save what you can and you help what you can, and we as Buddhists save lives," Zhuoma said.
Referring to the ceremony she had just concluded and the untold number of horseshoe crabs in the bay, the rinpoche said with a smile, "I made them all Buddhists. They’re all Buddhists now."
Monica Dorhoi, a Washington resident and World Bank employee who attended the ceremony, said she was stunned by something she observed on the isolated beach.
Dead crabs littered the beach from north to south, but where Zhuoma and the holy men stood, live crabs were bobbing in the surf and coming ashore, Dorhoi said.
"It’s as if they felt safe," she said.