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Blessings for our Buddha bears

Bright and early on Friday morning we had an unusual but very welcome visit from some Buddhist monks who had travelled 2,000kms in a 30-hour train journey from Jiangsu Province to pay their respects to the new bears.

Hailing from the Donglin Monastery (birthplace of the Pure Land School of Chinese Buddhism) the monks drew much attention as they graciously walked into our Quarantine area wearing their saffron robes.

There they set up an alter where they began burning a piece of incense for each new bear and chanted blessings wishing the bears new lives in the sanctuary, asking for them to be protected, and wishing that they finally transcend to the Western Pure Land of Buddha when they die.

Giving a collective name to the new bears - Miao Xing "amazing miracles, lucky to be saved" the monks also asked for spiritual freedom for those who had caused them harm. They spoke of their belief that those who treat animals badly are, in themselves, greatly suffering – and prayed that the people concerned could soon be released to treat animals kindly from now on.

The bear recipients of the prayers were unusually calm. Several of them had been rocking in their cages before the Buddhists arrived but it didn't go unnoticed by several staff that they gradually calmed down as the incense burned and the prayers chanted on - and even Rocky our huge brown bear stopped his cage pacing and lay gently down on the straw.

As a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, Jacky our Education Officer knelt on the floor to show his respects to Pure Land Buddhism.

Later, as we held another ceremony outside in the spring sunshine, I was moved to hear one of the monks advising that our bears now belong to Buddha and that they are Buddhists too. A generous donation by the monks and their promise to spread the message of the bears' plight to other monasteries across the country, and we bid them a grateful farewell.

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