Tigers, Mushrooms, Money and Monks

Monday September 26, 2005


The Indian tiger is facing an extra threat of extinction due to a new fashion amongst the wealthy classes of Tibetans. In this sad story, reported by the Telegraph, Tibetan merchant classes who have become rich by selling a fungus that grows on caterpillars (no, really…) by the name of Cordyceps sinensis, used in traditional Chinese medicine and recently praised by two Chinese Olympic athletes, have started to lavish the proceeds on buying tiger skins. They apparently make fine trimmings for the traditional Tibetan chuba, and the demand has led to the emptying the reserves of Rajasthan. Apparently those wearing the skins see little conflict with their Buddhist religion; but then tiger and leopard skins, representing fearlessness, have always been valued as symbols within Tibetan Buddhism. Despite the Dalai Lama’s pleas to end such trade, it still continues.

Whilst on the subject, however, there’s a marginally more heartening story concerning tigers and Buddhists. Several years ago in the north of Thailand, abbot Acharn Phusit, a Buddhist monk, opened a tiger sanctuary, to “feed, nurse and educate” (educate?) tigers. A news story on the Tiger Temple from the Independent dating from last year is available on the Buddhist Channel. The tigers apparently mingle happily with the monks (whether the monks all mingle quite so happily with the tigers is not recorded). The temple is still flourishing, and its website is at www.tigertemple.org. When asked why he does what he does, Acharn Phusit answered simply, “I love tigers.”

# · Priss

I posted about this same tragic story at http://www.livejournal.com/users/pr1ss/100135.html. It’s easy to understand that they want to identify with the tigers. And the costumes look amazing too.
# · Will

Yes, the costumes look great (the photo on your livejournal site is very good – thanks for the link), and the desire to identify with something as magnificent as a tiger is, as you say, perfectly understandable.

Perhaps the trouble is that none of us identify with others (whether tigers, Tibetans, family, friends, enemies, strangers…) as deeply as we should. Genuine identification with tigers, such as the monks at the tiger temple seem to have, might make one think twice about supporting a trade that was so destructive.

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