04 June 2013

Cherishing all living beings

‘Metta’ or compassion is one of the four divine abodes (Sathara Brahma Viharana) recommended by the Buddha for the cultivation of harmony and meditative focus.  It is also one of the ten perfections (Paramita) facilitating the attainment of enlightenment.  The commentaries on the Sutta Nipata tell us that the Buddha expounded on this element (Metta) by way of a treatise (Karaniyametta Sutra).  Each of the several stanzas make for reflection and I suppose contains enough wisdom-seed to propagate a meditative response that can expand the universe of knowing and hone the faculty of dissecting the nuanced.  The following came to mind, when reflecting on the recent debate about cattle-slaughter, the call for a ban, the counter arguments objecting to selectivity and the right to consume that which is not forbidden by particular religious tenets.    

Mata yatha niyam puttam
Ayusa eka-putta-manu rakkhe
Evampi sabba bhutesu
Manasam-bhavaye apari-manam

Even as a mother protects with her child as though it is her only child, so too with a boundless heart (is it recommended that you) cherish all living beings.
Is it hard to see another creature as one’s own child?  In a sense, yes.  A calf might contain some kiddish cuteness that one can also see in one’s child.  People love kittens and puppies.  It’s hard to see one’s child in an adult creature though.  It is hard to look at an advancing angry wild elephant and say to oneself ‘How sweet!  Just like my little 5 year old in one of those sugar-high moments!’  It is hard to look at a cobra or some other venomous reptile and murmur ‘what’s wrong, my child?’ 

Conversely we would all find it tough to look at our children and mentally clothe them in the coat of a porcupine or a kabaragoya.  We might liken our children to butterflies, the most fragrant flower, a lullaby or a bird, but not to an irritating housefly or deadly mosquito. 
So how can we be compassionate about ‘all creatures’? 

In the Mahabharatha, a demon poses a question to the wise Yudistara, ‘What is the strangest thing?’ And Yudistara offers, ‘All creatures share the same fear of death and the same will to live; each moment millions of creatures perish but none of us believe that death will visit us today!’ 
How could we get inside the skin of another creature?  How can we empathize with an animal that is being slaughtered not because abattoir and/or consumer is desperately hungry and does not have any other source of sustenance but just that he/she wants to sink teeth into a juicy piece of flesh, seasoned or otherwise, boiled, grilled, processed, fried or curried? 

A few months ago, while driving a bikkhu from our village temple to my house for a bana commemorating my mother’s third death anniversary, I was asked about the nimiththa (reason) for the pinkama (act of merit). I mentioned my mother’s name, when she had passed away and other such relevant information. The learned bikkhu said something like this: ‘Throughout samsara how many mothers we all would have had!  So when we recite the gatha invoking blessings on “mother” we should reflect on all those unknown mothers who nurtured us, fed and clothed us, showered us with love and protected us from the evils of this world.’
That’s a Buddhist cosmological perspective.  It is relevant to me, as a Buddhist.  A monitor lizard, an irritating housefly, a cockroach, a marauding elephant, a threatening snake and any other creature visible to the eye or otherwise, could have been my mother, father or child, wife or lover, best friend or trusted co-worker.  If I am a vegetarian (and I am) I can see ‘child’ in a cow and therefore child-piece of ‘prime cuts’, processed-child or processed-mother in ‘meatballs’ or ‘sausages’.  I can see father in the man buying these meat cuts and friend in those who fight for the right to eat meat or object to the objection to cattle-slaughter.  

In the end, according to Buddhism, it is a personal choice.  Mine is simple: I would not kill or eat my children. 


Anonymous said...

Your quotation of the priest gives a great insight of the samsara and added value to your piece of writing .It clearly shows the relationship between animals and the human beings throughout our journey.Also highlights and make an urge to avoid consuming animal flesh.Thank you , Malinda

Anonymous said...

Enlightenment at its best why one should refrain from consuming others flesh.

Anonymous said...

"I would not kill or eat my children",

Yeah, but you have no objection to having sex with your children and making babies. Buddhism has nothing to with vegetarianism. You are clearly a simpleton.

Anonymous said...

Recently I listened to a priest and he explained it further. We should not only shower metta for the cattle but also for the slaughter. As soon as we get an irritable feeling about slaughter we are accumulating sin. (Dhwesha ) Both are living beings. It’s a cause of an action . Both carry reasons to face this situation. Cattle may have done the same thing in its previous birth. Slaughter will have to face the same situation in lives to come. But Slaughter , a human being , always can get corrected himself.

Anonymous said...

Criticism on non-veg and Superior feeling arising due to being vegetarian results accumulating sin called 'mana'.Need to be very careful with every thought of our mind , otherwise our good actions will not give the expected results.