My Basics of Buddhism class finished last week at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City. I’d highly recommend taking the course if you are interested in becoming Buddhist, are spiritually/religiously curious, or just need an excuse to commit to get out of the house once a week for twelve weeks – which all three was the case for me.
Since learning the basics, I recognize my thinking about life and relationships matches well with Buddhism. I know my Buddha-nature is begging to come with the combination of cultivating wisdom and generating loving compassion. Ultimately meditation is critical and needs to be part of my life as much as food.
Yet, while I agree with so many of the Buddhist philosophies I cannot call myself Buddhist and cannot accept all of the vows. As part of the vows taken by a wanna-be Buddhist, Eight Mahayana Precepts are agreed upon. The first precept is not killing and this is a no brainer when it comes to humans, and even most animals for this vegetarian. Except in the Buddhist tradition not killing includes all sentient beings, from the largest whale to the smallest maggot. According to the teachings, one-act of killing can carry 500 lifetimes of karmic retribution.
I learned about these vows several weeks back and they were steady on my mind while I was out raking one day. The spring weather was finally getting warm consistently so I knew the conditions were finally right for the garter snakes to be emerging. The snake population in my neighborhood is so high it could fill a hundred reptile centers and still have snakes left roaming. I have wanted them gone since the first sighting. After four years of living in my home the surprise in seeing them slinking around the grass, sunning on the bushes, and climbing up my fire pit chimney has worn off. I no longer get the chills or feel the need to run screaming, okay maybe I do get the chills and stay at least five feet away. On this day out in the yard I pondered how a Buddhist would view the snake problem, accept them as part of nature and not be ill willed towards them? Sure enough, when my raking was nearly done I turned back towards what I had already cleared to see a garter snake freshly risen from his winter estate.
Feeling as if this was a test I had predicted for myself, I gave the snake a half-smile and decided it would be Buddha-like enough to help him move out of my raking path to the other side of the fence. I gently used my rake to encourage him to the fence line where he briskly slithered through the chain-link. Pleased with my acceptance of nature and assistance
towards my not so favorite creature I went on with my chore until I heard some rustling in the area I had sent the snake. What a miracle it would be if another animal had found the snake to make a meal out of. It would still mean good karma for me since I helped him with good intention, I figured as I made my way to the fence to check.
Peaking over, it was clear my original prediction was far from true. I had helped the snake move directly into the path of another snake waiting and ready to mate. My practice at being more Buddha-like was resulting in snake babies. Challenged and not defeated by the incident with the snake, I continued to try to make efforts in my daily life to consider what would a Buddhist do? And the challenges grew from an abundance of hated snakes to hundreds of seemingly insignificant ants. I first spotted one ant on my kitchen floor. Then a few ants on the floor. Then an ant on my kitchen counter and two in my bathroom.
In the Buddhist tradition, each living creature has a connection to you and through the cycle of death and rebirth each living creature has shared a past life. Meaning the ants, the snakes and my least favorite people in the world have all been my mother and have all been your mother in a past life. This newly learned belief was present on my mind while I wiped them clean off the counter and rinsed them down the sink, feeling slightly more guilty about a few deaths in the insect world.
I tried to keep my killing to a minimum, except this past weekend I couldn’t take it any longer. The ants must have sensed my trepidation and had infiltrated my kitchen, marching in one long line up my dining room wall and along a floorboard. All apprehension of killing living beings and any thought to the ants being my loved ones was lost in the excitement of wanting them all dead. I excessively laid out poison and gleefully spoke to my tiny relatives – “Drink up guys and bring your friends.”
Buddhist, I am not. And if I am reincarnated into an ant for my karmic retribution, I promise to stay out of your kitchen.