The Ants Go Marching

suttaMy 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

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

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.

Other Posts Reflecting My Experience in the Class:

Buddha Boots

In third grade I had the distinct realization my family was not like others.  Obviously a little slow in my childhood, or just too busy with Barbies and baby dolls to notice, I finally had the clarity to understand how different my family was from my friends’.  We did not go to church on Sundays and we ate a vegetarian diet.  In that devastated moment I questioned why my parents would be sabotaging my chances at leading a normal existence.  I can imagine my mom reassuring me in her usual calm and undisturbed manner, suggesting I can go to church if I choose and I can eat meat if I choose too. And so I did.  I tried tasting meat and I attended Sunday school with friends a few times before deciding I wasn’t really missing much with either.

Into adulthood the urge to eat meat never reappeared and the desire to find religion, well that never presented itself either, except I am at a firm disadvantage when biblical trivia comes up in games or television trivia. Despite my lack of time spent in places of worship, my life was not absent of spiritual teachings. And as I learned more about religions in general, I found ideas based in the Buddhist traditions paralleled my own thoughts the most.

Still not identifying with any specific religion I decided to take a Basics of Buddhism class to learn about Buddhism, practice meditation and give mommy some required weekly time out each week.

Part of week three’s lesson covered the Four Nobel Truths relating to dissatisfaction and suffering. The Nobel Truths recognize how all beings desire happiness and peace even though the nature of the world is impermanent. In other words, what makes us happy and secure in this moment could be very different in the next moment since life is ever-changing. The Nobel Truths explain if you can recognize your attachment, delusion or craving for what is not present in your life you can relieve yourself from the suffering associated with it.  Our thoughts revolving the attachment can perpetuate a negative emotion and the opposite is true by letting go of the attachment.

This principle can be applied to anything which causes suffering and it could be extremely useful if one could be effective at using it for major situations.  Imagine if you could just let go of the attachment to a home following a foreclosure, a spouse following a divorce, or a loved one following a death.  Imagine skipping out on the grief, despair and anger to move towards acceptance of what is present instead of what is missing.

Amazing, in concept, to have the power within my own mind to escape suffering. I’m not going to even pretend, after a few weeks of beginning to learn about Buddhism, that I could incarnate the patience and understanding of a Buddhist monk in the moment of crisis. I’m sure I would completely lose sight of these lessons and appear completely irrational should a tragedy occur in this moment, however, I have already had some real life application of this teaching.

Two days after my lesson on the Four Nobel Truths I was struck my the necessity to implement this strategy and acknowledge I was causing my own suffering. As so much of my learning is associated with my toddler these days she was also the target of this scenario. We had been shopping at a kids consignment sale, and with limited two-year old patience we managed to pick out a few toys and avoid the coveted riding toy area beforebuddhaboots1 we had to make it through the line to check out. The checkout line happened to be situated next to the long table of shoes. I’m usually not one to be interested in previously worn shoes and since my daughter’s Nana can’t leave a store without buying her a pair I hardly ever even browse.  Except these red leather cowgirl boots caught my eye and I immediately envisioned these being beloved shoes she would want to wear with every outfit. I could picture red boots over leggings or with a jean skirt and a white t-shirt. She would be stylish and ready to hop on a horse at any moment. Excited by my finding I showed them to Parker and even offered her the choice in colors, and was thrilled when she agreed with the red.

When we got home I couldn’t wait to try them on, to watch the magic and celebrate our consignment sale find. The boots slid on easily and about as quickly as they were on she shook her legs to kick them back off.  Without an explanation, she decided she would not wear them.  It seemed the harder I urged, the frequency I requested and the more creative I tried to trick her into the boots only made her increase the stubbornness against it. After much frustration and disappointment I remembered the ideas of the Four Nobel Truths and recognized I was creating my own suffering by holding onto my attachment of the red boots.

buddhaboots2We can spend a lot of energy being frustrated by things not going as planned, by failure or changes to our vision. And in some cases, if we really decide we don’t want to be unhappy, we can be mindful of what’s causing the suffering and let go of how we thought things should be.  I let go of the red boots, I acknowledged my ideas of how adorable they would be weren’t worth the misery I was feeling with my toddler creating her own vision.  I finally gave up on the boots and formulated the connection to the Buddhist teachings with this plan to write about it.  When I set up the boots to take a picture, Parker suddenly regained interest.  She pulled them from my picture set-up, sat down and pulled each onto their respective foot.  I snapped a few pictures while she stomped and wiggled, then within minutes they were kicked back off again.  After the little tease it was easier for me to remind myself to let go of the attachment – these little red boots were only meant to be a Buddha Boot lesson for me.

buddhabootsgirl