Rich men of China, who are anxious for their welfare in the next world, were in the habit of giving great sums of money for the preservation of crocodiles, pigs, tortoises, and other animals at Buddhist monasteries. Special ponds and preserves were laid out for the animals, and the monks had no other work than to keep and feed them; woe to them if one of these endowed crocodiles were to come to any harm. A gentle and natural death was permitted even to the fattest pig and the reward for his good work would go to the noble benefactor. So much was left over for the monks that all of them could live on it. Should you visit a shrine in Japan, you will find children with imprisoned birds squatting all along the roadside, one small cage close against the next. The little creatures, which are trained to do it, beat their wings and utter loud chirpings. Buddhist pilgrims going that way take pity on them for their soul’s sake. For a small ransom, the children open the cage doors and let the birds go free. This ransoming of animals is a general practice there. What does it matter to the pilgrims as they go on their way that the tame birds are all lured back again into their cages by their owners? One and the same bird serves ten, a hundred or a thousand times during its life: captivity as an object for the mercy of pilgrims. And these know well enough—apart from a few peasants and extremely ignorant exceptions—just what happens to the birds as soon as their backs are turned. The real fate of the animals is indifferent to them.
Elias Canetti, Auto-Da-Fé, 1935