Friday, November 23, 2007


That’s it, I killed. Thanksgiving Day,
no less. In violation of the first,
most fundamental of the Buddhist precepts,
not to mention number six
of the Ten Commandments. Thou
shallt not. So yes, I killed
a bug. There it was, brazen,
on our kitchen counter top,
between two dishes brought home
from Thanksgiving dinner
with our friends. My intention
was no more sinister than removal;
my weapon, a paper towel, thrice folded
to protect my fingers from contact
with the creature. The cockroach, though,
is a fast and wily bug. First try
it darted as I struck; I was not sure
if it was in my grasp. “Did I get it?”
I checked with our house guest, watching.
”No,” he said, “I’m pretty sure
you missed.” And sure enough,
I’d come up empty. “There,” he said,
pointing, “there.” And there it was,
lurking maliciously, sheltered
by a nearby cooking pot. I struck again,
this time harder, faster, with less
hesitance, perhaps—a strike
that rapidly proved fatal, too hard
for the little creature’s body.
I disposed of it through the kitchen window,
where I had planned—I swear—to set him free.
Well, I thought—to justify my act—if only
he’d stayed sitting still, I could have
picked him up more gently
with my paper towel, and spared
his life. He brought it on himself.
Still, I woke thinking of this bug
this morning, and of how thoughtlessly
we do strike out against imagined enemies
and needlessly extinguish life. Too bad.
I only hope my accumulated merit
outweighs this act of wanton murder
on Thanksgiving night!


robin andrea said...

When I catch bugs in the house I alway use a cup or small bowl to put over the critter. I then slide a postcard or envelope under the cup, catching the bug inside. The bug is only slightly offended by the experience, and is usually happy to crawl or fly out of the container. I've caught all kinds of citters this way, even a mouse the cat brought in.

I hope you had a fine Thanksgiving nonetheless. We ended up having dinner with friends. Roger was feeling well enough after his minor, but emergency surgery, to partake in the festivities. There was much to be thankful for.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

When I was a kid and my mother commanded me to dispose of an insect that had somehow gotten into our house, I would do my best to capture the creature and carry it our side and release it. Then, in my first year of seminary, our apartment was infested with more –and bigger—cockroaches that I have ever seen. Hundreds of them! I turned their, uh, extermination over to the seminary housing people, who did not capture the buggers and carry them outside.

Dr. Steve said...

How deeply does one need to practice non-violence in order to be doing it right? Washing your hands will kill millions of bacteria and viruses. Walking to the store to conserve precious natural resources will kill ants and beetles. Reflexively swatting will kill a mosquito. Not adopting an animal from the animal shelter will allow it to be euthanized.
I pick up earthworms stranded on concrete and return them to the dirt, but I also call the exterminator when I find spiders crawling on my bath towels.
You don't have to be a Jain in order to be respectful of sentient beings. Fundamentalism can show us where our personalities are stuck and that perhaps dogma is a poor substitute for the practice of dharma.

mandt said...

This is a wonderful discussion. The 'bug dharma' is a dilema all of us face from time to time. For the most part we take the 'Middle Path,' knowing that overly scrupouls attention to bug karma can drive us mad. I usually avoid such encounters, but when so engaged with the unlucky recipent of my 'deus ex machina' of shoe, fly swatter or rolled paper I envoke a swift passage through the bardos to a deva world of appropriate wonder.
Nothing tests practice as these incidents, as small as they are in seeming consequence.
Last year at the age of sixty one I wandered into the garage to haul out of a packing box some art supplies, when there jumped, 'out-of-the-blue' something in my direction and I whomped it. It was a mother mouse who had built a nest among the collage materials stored there. I killed her and stood there in horror and shock before breaking into tears. All the grief, death , illness and suffering of a lifetime came rushing out. If one accepts the jataka tales as instructive then that little mouse was a bodhisattva, and I, her end, was gifted by her sacrifice.

TJ said...

We have a bug 'vaccum' which allows us to gently 'suck-up' the unwanted visitor and escort it outdoors for release. This allows us to avoid any physical contact and maintain a clear conscience.

That said, I wonder what dark deeds one might be guilty of to be reincarnated as a cockroach.

PeterAtLarge said...

Robin, damn, I'd forgotten that one. Thanks for the reminder!

SSN (hmmmm, interesting acronym!)--thanks for the comment. I enjoyed checking into your blog...

Dr. S--good points. At what point does a "being" get "sentient"?!

MandT--a beautiful, sad story. Thanks...

and tj--re: that reincarnation question: ask Gregor Samsa!

Best to all, and thanks for writing, PaL

Doctor Noe said...

Peter, around our house I use the Robin Andrea method as well, preserving the critters -- crickets mostly -- to carefully be served up to the reptile gods in the persons of my son's Gekko, Zeppo, and the three frogs that live in the next habitat over.

As to the reincarnation question, though you are correct in citing Mr. Kafka, I would prefer to honor the voice of an American auteur, Mr. Don Marquis:

mehitabel was once cleopatra

By Don Marquis, in "archy and mehitabel," 1927

boss i am disappointed in
some of your readers they
are always asking how does
archy work the shift so as to get a
new line or how does archy do
this or do that they
are always interested in technical
details when the main question is
whether the stuff is
literature or not
i wish you would leave
that book of george moores on
the floor
mehitabel the cat and i want to
read it i have discovered that
mehitabel s soul formerly inhabited a
human also at least that
is what mehitabel is claiming these
days it may be she got jealous of
my prestige anyhow she and
i have been talking it over in a
friendly way who were you
mehitabel i asked her i was
cleopatra once she said well i said i
suppose you lived in a palace you bet
she said and what lovely fish dinners
we used to have and licked her chops

mehitabel would sell her soul for
a plate of fish any day i told her i thought
you were going to say you were
the favorite wife of the emperor
valerian he was some cat nip eh
mehitabel but she did not get me


PS, if you follow your link to Doctor Noe's sexy gadgets (thanks for that btw), you will find another video lampoon of that easiest of subjects, your dog's namesake.

PeterAtLarge said...

Hey, Doctor Noe, thanks for the reminder: archy and mehitabel have been favorites of mine for more years than I care to remember. All good things, Peter