Globally, ceremonial wildlife release events, originated from the traditions of Buddhism and other Asian religions take place in large numbers every year, and have caused conservation concerns. These releases pose a paradox in that Buddhism is generally considered to have great respect for the environment and a desire to cause no harm to any living being, yet Buddhist wildlife releases have resulted in biological invasions. We explored this paradox by evaluating the release of two highly invasive species (American bullfrogs Lithobates catesbeianus and red-eared slider turtles Trachemys scripta elegans) by 123 Buddhist temples surveyed across four provinces in China and validating survey results with intensive field surveys of release sites. We found that ecological knowledge of invasive species reduced the probability of release; conversely, market availability increased this probability. We suggest that this invasion paradox stems largely from a lack of invasive species knowledge and thus targeted public education about invasive species could be an effective strategy for preventing religious release of invasive species on a global scale.