I have always admired the Buddhist way of respecting all life. I must admit that I have killed an exceptionally scary looking spider or two in my day, but generally speaking I try not to harm any living creature. I’ve moved far more spiders from inside of my home to the great outdoors than I have executed.
Most recently, after getting our 25 baby chicks and watching them grow, naming them, having them peck feed out of my hand, gently picking them up and rescuing them when they fly “over the border” of their little area, I made the decision to go ahead and be a full-fledged vegetarian. We were darn close anyway.
Unlike most people who lean into vegetarianism, I stopped eating fish first. I was concerned about the way we are decimating the life of our oceans. I’m really not sure that people who live in land-locked Tennessee are really meant to eat sushi-grade tuna. It’s not exactly environmentally-friendly locally-grown fare. But, chicken and beef? Why, you could get those from right here in Tennessee, and they were in no danger of extinction.
But, then we got the chickens. And then we had Buffalo wings when Triston came over. And then I almost wretched up what used to be one of my favorite dinners. How could I look my precious chicks in the eye at 9:00 when I was smacking my lips over her cousin at 6:00? It wasn’t a huge leap to also apply this feeling to the beautiful brown-eyed bovines I passed every day on my way to class. So that was it. No animal was going to have to die for my consumption again, I determined. Buddha would be proud.
In a related story, Susie called me in a panic as I was about to turn into the driveway this evening. There was an injured deer in the woods just adjacent to the big dogs’ fenced-in area. The dogs were going nuts, and the deer was on the ground and in shock. We believe it had a broken leg.
After placing several calls, the best answer we could get was that we should call the sheriff’s office. Now, in the world of animal rescue, “call the sheriff” is code for “there’s nothing we can do” which is code for “this animal needs to be put out if its misery.” In fact, the one wildlife rehabilitator we called said that he would lose his license if he rehabilitated a white tail deer because they were already so prolific and they really needed hunters to keep the population down. “Besides,” he drawled, “you can’t rehabilitate a deer with a broken leg. The most humane thing you can do is shoot it.”
We called the sheriff. As we waited for a patrol car to show up, I stood out on the front porch wondering what the Buddha would do in this situation. Was that “respect all life” thing such an absolute that helping to ease suffering was also off limits? Would the Buddha have simply given the deer food and water and let nature take its course, even if nature would seem to have an inhumane lack of compassion?
In the end, I did what I always do. I checked my own spirit and tested my own actions and behaviors against my own consciousness. When the sheriff’s deputy arrived, I showed him the way to the deer. Then I left him alone with it. I went back to the house and waited. Pretty soon, two shots were fired about 10 seconds apart. They almost seemed to rip through my chest. Then I felt release. The deer was gone. So was the pain.
What would Buddha do? I care about as much for the answer to that question as I do for the similar question about Jesus, or Muhammed, or Shiva, or Billy Graham. Consciousness, spirituality, whatever you want to call it, is an art and not a science. We can’t achieve enlightenment by following the rules or path of another. We can only achieve it by artfully wending our way along the path that is ours alone. So, on my path this evening I helped end the suffering of another being on this planet. For me, it was the right thing to do.
But it still wasn’t easy.