Sunday, October 17, 2010
Compassion for the Seemingly Insignificant
As I was walking today I couldn't help but notice a worm who was engaged in straying down a perilous path to destruction. It wiggled on its terrain of apshalt towards the busy road where it was likely to be crushed. On a warmer and sunnier day I would say roasting would have been another alternative for the poor lowly creature. I was walking at such a good pace, the oxygen circulating through my body, my heart pumping. I felt so alive to be outside with the leaves caught up in the wind's fury, shimmering like schools of fish above, clinging to their branches. Some managed to be pulled free by nature's strong and relentless breath, their persistence succumbing to fate, spiraling downward in wild abandon, soon about to fulfill their role in the cyle of things. Impermanence. We all end up as dust in the end.
Well, I stopped and bent down picking up the delicate worm and tossed it gently into the woods beside me. Now, some of you might think me silly. For sure the worm fulfills a vital role in the environment, but more as a collective whole. This one worm would not be missed. There was perhaps no rational reason for sparing its life. (However one might ask the question, is mercy ever irrational no matter who it is directed towards?) But how could I just walk by something, a living creature, knowing it was on the road to death or suffering? I am a vegetarian and for ethical reasons. But even though a lot of vegetarians argue for the protection of sentient creatures, non-sentient ones are usually not too much of a concern. I would not consider a worm a sentient creature, at least in the sense that it has the capacity to suffer emotionally/mentally. I doubt if a worm feels fear,anxiety, sadness or has a memory. By contrast, cows undoubtedly do feel terror, anxiety and mental suffering when they head down the line to slaughter, hearing their brothers and sisters screaming in pain, smelling death in the air. But a worm?...
If anything, I truly believe that cultivating a sense of compassion towards even the most seemingly insignificant of creatures helps build one's foundation to extend a greater amount of compassion towards the obviously more significant. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone stopped to help the turtle stuck in the middle of the road? Or perhaps when finding a wounded animal if more people were apt to call a wildlife rehabilitator to aid the suffering creature?
This is where a lot of my Judeo Christian counterparts in the past (and I said a lot, not all!) have scoffed, when I bring up these kinds of notions, and my Buddhist friends usually nod knowingly, though, some of them too, scoff as well. But this doesn't have to be so! I believe we can all be on the same page here. Did God, according to Christian doctrine, not make us as guardians and caretakers over all the earth? Does that mean pass by the very creatures He has made with His handiwork with callous apathy just because they are lower than ourselves when it comes to their mental or emotional capacity? (How often have the welfare of humans that are less capable in their abilities to communicate efficiently and understand the world around them been neglected and abused in the view of society's downcast averted eyes?) They are still contributors-contributors fully engaged and participating in the network of life that is woven delicately together and if that network deteriorates that's when we start to have real problems...especially for ourselves!
So, I won't go on any further about this, perhaps I've gone on too long already, but I do want to suggest something. Next time you see a creature headed towards an unsavory fate, perhaps you could consider sparing it that fate, knowing that even a small gesture of compassion adds just a little more peace to this world and perhaps helps us to open our hearts up more to experiencing a deeper sense of peace within ourselves. And couldn't we all use that?