30 August 2012

May all beings be happy (Tapirs included)

I often wish that human beings visit more frequently the Buddha’s discourse on loving-kindness, the karaniya metta sutta.

"May all beings be joyful and secure; may they be happy within themselves. Whatever living beings there be, without exception, movable or immovable, long or huge, medium or small, subtle or gross, visible or invisible, dwelling far or near; born or coming to birth, may all beings be happy within themselves.”

The Buddha, after this initial statement or blessing, goes on to elaborate the active element that can reasonably produce such happiness and security, i.e. a discussion on metta, moving from intellectual consideration to the experiential. 

In all this, it is the ‘siyalu satvayo’ or ‘all beings’ comprehensive that I find particularly appealing because it goes beyond all home-centric world views. Moreover it makes for a more benign engagement with the world in its entirety and advocates an individual and collective mode of being and engaging that ought to have been adopted several decades ago.  It is a way of being which we will probably have to embrace, not as choice but necessity thanks to the violence we’ve done this earth and each other in pursuing selfish ends. 

I was taken to these timeless texts that open minds to the eternal verities by a news item tucked away in a website, www.srilankaguardian.org.  Apparently the last tapir in the Dehiwala Zoo had died.  Well, all beings, Tapirs included, and indeed all things (thoughts, political parties, ideologies, relationships included) are subject to the dharma  of the jathi, jara, marana (birth, decay, death).  I wasn’t acquainted with this tapir and under normal circumstances I would not have lost any sleep over such a death. 

It is reported that the Chief Veterinary Officer of the Zoo had pronounced that there were nearly one and a half kilograms of polythene in the tapir’s belly and that this was what had caused its death.

I remembered my first visit to the Dehiwala Zoo.  It was a school trip.  I was in the second grade.  All I remember is the ‘Elephant Show’ and a white cockatoo.  I’ve been there several times since and each visit depresses me, more so than the previous one.  I think it began when I saw ‘Planet of the Apes’, where the apes were shocked to learn that monkeys were held captive in zoos by humans.  Perhaps it was after watching a Star Trek episode where two humans were captured as specimens for a menagerie.
There is of course an entertainment element in a Zoo; children get to see ‘live’ animals they would otherwise see only in books (or on the web), they learn about habitats, eating patterns and so on.  At what cost, though? 

Forget the cause of this death for a moment.  Are we such a bored species that we have to literally lift an animal (well, one of several thousands of course) from the jungles of South America, put the fellow in a cage, far away from familiarity and meaningfully being, so that we can feast our eyes on the ‘exoticity’?  Have we stopped to ask ourselves at any point in the 3-4 hour walk around the Dehiwala Zoo how we would have felt if the chimpanzees, giraffes, tapirs, rhinoceros or any other species separated us from friends and family and put us in a cage?  Where is the ‘all beings’ part of our metta, muditha, karuna and upekkha?  Are the gaze of the sathara brahma viharana limited only towards our relations with our kind alone? 

Let us get back to the cause of death. Polythene.  Isn’t it because we’ve been so self-absorbed as a species, so homo-centric in the way we view the world, the way we engage with it, and so arrogant and self-congratulatory that we have not noticed that not only are we suffocating other creatures, we are asphyxiating ourselves?  Aren’t these the very reasons that nothing concrete will result from the deliberations of the UN General Assembly in New York with respect to healing a world us humans have wounded over and over again? 

Zoos only exhibit the human being’s insatiable capacity to be cruel and a scandalous fascination with things like capture and control.  We are a sick species aren’t we, ladies and gentlemen? 

Well, I’ve decided.  I have out-of-bounded myself from the Dehiwala Zoo and all other such facilities.  And no more meat or fish for me; no karawala or umbalakada either.    

[First published in the Daily News, October 2009]


sajic said...

I have been to the Dehiwela zoo only once in many decades, and will never go again. you take the words out of my mouth.

Anonymous said...

I fully endorse your words 'each visit depresses me more than the previous one".

Shaik Ahamath said...

Thank you for recognisng the gratuitous cruelty we inflict upon our fellow inhabitants. All animals had evolved to roam around and hunt for their survival and natural selection had made them the experts they are. To keep them confined in a prison or worse death row, as they'd never get out alive, is not just. Mankind too used to hunt for its survival but now also kills animals for sport and worse, sacrifice them on dubious religious grounds. This is another reason why I love the philosophy and the logic of Buddhism.

Dev said...

Zoos (anywhere) are hell-holes, so are circuses that use animals to perform.

What worries me is that we in Sri Lanka are well on the way to make even our wild life reserves into something similar.

I hope our people and political leaders are moved by your writing and actions.

Anonymous said...

So what made you become vegetarian, didn't have any notion of 'pin pau' directly or indirectly.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

a bit of reflection on something from the mahabharatha....'all creatures share the will to live and the fear of death'.