Terms, like monuments, long stand unchanged. They might acquire new contexts, attract new associations, and thus be transformed in content or meaning. Yet the very constancy of the term beguiles us to assume some immutable essence instead. Such has been the case for the term fangsheng, which literally means “releasing lives,” but specifically referred to the practice of freeing animals from captivity or rescuing them from death, and which I therefore translate variously as “releasing,” “liberating,” or “saving” animals. The term fangsheng is usually traced back to the fifth century, when it appeared in the Book of Brahmā's Net (Fanwang jing); and it can be tracked forward to the present, where it is still used for practices observed in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and New York. Understood to have originated in a Buddhist text and to have beenin currency for at least 1500 years, it thus signals the power and durability of a Buddhist belief.

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