Please love all sentient beings. We seem to have the perception that animals (a highly conotated word) are somehow mindless entities that have no desire to live or be happy. When i grew up, I grew up in a family of outdoors-man/women, I was fishing by the time I could walk and hunting by age 13. I was always in the woods or by water, nature was my refuge. One day I asked my father, “Are animals afraid when we kill them?”, he replied, “They don’t feel like we do.”, and that was my belief throughout my teen years. I believed that animals were just shells filled with instinct and devoid of feelings or desires. As I got older, and started practicing Buddhism, I stopped hunting due to the requirements of Sila (precepts), and to be honest, this was the only reason why. When I was ordained, I stopped even fishing, and held the precept of ” Not taking life strongly”, even to the point of saving insects; however, lets be clear, it was due to my precepts, not insight. As the years rolled on, I noticed my sense of empathy growing and growing until I truly, deep down, began to see that all life is interconnected and of one source. With this insight I realized that all life, no matter how small, is of great value and a part of me. I don’t go around sweeping the ground before me or filter water to avoid killing microscopic life (not that their is anything wrong with this) but, I do go out of my way to preserve all the life that I can. Not just preserve it but, nurture, respect and love it. Sometimes this is hard, especially with praying mantises but, that is another story.
When my family moved into our current house we were left with a fish tank. I had always wanted a fish tank, and feeling like a kid getting a new pet hamster, went to the pet store and picked out two Oscars, after researching the type of fish I wanted, large, intelligent and with a long lifespan. I had always fished and never gave whether fish had feelings or personalities any thought at all, fish, even Kurt Kobain said they didn’t have any feelings. After a year of having them, I cant express how wrong I was. They have personalities, they are affectionate, they become depressed (neat thing is their colors change with their emotional state), they play and they fear pain. Am I trying to say they sit around pondering the meaning of life, no, they are fish, they do as fish do; however, maybe they could teach us a thing or two. We seem to have a huge problem with just “being” human and result to all kinds of distractions to avoid being human beings. What life is of more value than another? What life form does not seek to live in peace? All life is different, we all are unique expressions of the universe. How wonderful it is to be born a human, to have such an ability to play with mirrors and to see into our true nature. I know, with no doubt, we are truly the universe becoming conscious of itself, how wondrous! This gift, of being human, should be used to protect life, and ensure its health and wellness, not abuse and discard it.
In closing, over the years, I have accumulated five stray cats, and each of them have their own unique personalities, just like people. It may sound strange but, they have taught me a great deal about my narrow views. I know, whenever I would hear someone make such a statement, I would say to myself “Oh my god”, spare me. However, this is the truth, and if we open our minds to the possibility that “animals” are cohabitants of this planet, and not lessor beings, we become able to see each and every animal as a precious brother or sister.
At my zendo, we do not take life, and there is no meat allowed in the temple. Furthermore, we do not kill insects or mice but, try to trap them humanely and release them; that’s if they are a nuisance. We have a couple of mice who run around the zendo, and they have never been an issue; however, I think they moved out as we have not seen them this year. These animals experience many of the same emotions I do, and from what I have observed, revel in life the same way we do. Yes, they are also packed full of instincts, some of them brutal; however, so are we! We are animals, whether we want to believe it or not, and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we will drop the whole “Animals are here to serve mankind”, scratch that, “The world is here to serve mankind”, the sooner we will break through our pride and arrogance and see all life as valuable.
One more point, it is a bit off topic; however, worth mentioning for my Dharma Zen Brother and Sisters who do not see a place for Sila in Zen. Sila is a great tool to aid us in correcting our ignorant behavior, just long enough for us to begin healing and growing. The above story is a great example of the value of sila and how this temporary framework can give us the structure needed to build our own foundation. The vow of “Not taking life” seems like a daunting task, no? Saving and protecting all sentient beings? First of all, it all starts with you and some hard work, and from this hard work, we naturally begin to awaken from our slumber and grow open and vast. Even simple karma, such as spraying your animals, supporting no-kill shelters, looking at animals with an open heart, or ushering an insect out of window, versus crushing it, are all seeds of Dharma. As a result of our actions, our heart grows open and wide, expand outward we embrace all life equally, thus reclaiming our true place as Buddhas. The more we awaken these seeds, the more we cut out the roots of ignorance and allow our ture nature to bloom. With this simple vow, we embody the Dharma and our actions manifest into the world, quickening the wondrous manifestation of our true Dharma Body.
PS – I have nothing against those who hunt or fish for food, actually, the contrary. In my view, it is a much more humane to take life with a high caliper rifle than the modern methods of slaughter.