Wolf Spiders and Buddhist Compassion
The Dwindling Insect Populations
Jerusalem, November 29th, 2018,
The New York Times posted an article today suggesting that insect populations are dwindling worldwide. Habitat destruction, mass poisoning in agriculture (pesticides, herbicides), cellular antennas and perhaps climate change, all have an influence. Since we constantly play god in Nature, there’s no way of telling what affects what and how, but anybody who cherishes fruit and flowers must know insects are necessary for their pollination. Plus, everything we eat ultimately depends on this awesome universal symbiosis of plants and insects.
That said, I do not think killing a few insects or spiders manually at home is a factor in that “insect apocalypse”. To be frank, I haven’t seen this apocalypse in Israel yet, or perhaps I wasn’t aware enough. The article states that since changes are slow, people do not notice. Maybe so, but my garden is a-buzz with bees in spring, and a plethora of insects, beetles and spiders inhabit that little piece of land year-round.
What I do see, though, every time I go to the beach, is the total descruction and apocalypse of marine life in the East Mediterranean, but that is another topic.
All that said, what I learned in India was that if there is no reason to kill, why do it? Even insects and spiders! Even at home! In most cases it suffices to send them away…
The American Way
Galveston, Texas, 1982
The year was 1982. On my first day in Texas, coming fresh after 20 months in Latin America, I had a horrific experience. I was staying at the time with a friend in an affluent suburban neighborhood of Galveston. Hearing a strange sound from the street, I looked out the window. A machine was driving down the road, spraying the air with what I found out to be anti-mosquito poison.
Did anybody ask for my consent before poisoning the air I breathe? The unrequested defiling of our lungs by the car fumes and chimneys output is enough. Plus, did anybody give a thought for the effect this spraying might have on other insects, other beings, and potentially on humans, directly or indirectly?
India - Two Encoutners of the Second Kind
Beit Chabad, Bhagsu, Dharamsala, July 15th, 2018
On my third day in India I was horrified in another way! On the wall, 10 centimeters from the junction with the ceiling, was a red round ball, the size of a marble! Is that a mosqito, plump beyond recognition, with my blood in it from the night before??? Or, perhaps, a leech? What is a leech doing by the ceiling? It should be stuck on people’s bodies, no?
Whatever the identity of that ball, I pulled up a chair, lifted my sandal, and in a flash all this blood was splashed on the wall.
Israel,up until the trip
I was acting on automatic pilot. Ancient reflex. No second thought. I saw the crit, and – zbeng. At home, albeit being vegetarian, I kill most insects that make their way into my house: cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes, and those things with spincers we call “scissors” that crawl in from the garden. The idea of creatures walking over me at night is enough to make me pick that sandal up.
There are zillions of insects in my garden and a compost pile teeming with life outside. Welcome, no problem. But in the house? Nyet!
Bang! Bang bang!
Deepika's Guesthouse, Bhagsu, Dharamsala, July 2018
Several days later, I was still in Bhagsu, but was now staying in a wonderful family guesthouse.
In the evening I was lying on the nice double bed, ready to go sleepy, when I spotted a huge spider. A HUGE spider. A BLACK and HUGE spider. On the ceiling! Right above me!
As I was watching in horror, the spider, clearly eying me with its multiple superb eyes (8 to be precise), dropped down to the floor. Whoosht….
Panicked, I called the landlady on my cellphone. No way I will spend the night in the company of that vermin. Luckily, she gave me her phone number several hours previously.
Deepika came in swiftly, a broom in hand, no sign of panic, calm, unfazed.
-Where did it go?
-Underneath the bed. In that corner.
She pushed the broom under, trying to bring it out. It took a while to find it again, as the critter mingled with its surrounding, finding a good hiding spot between the bed beams. Meanwhile, I was completely beside myself – can I move to the other empty room? And what if it follows me there?
After a few minutes the crit eventually reappeared in the open. He/she/it and Deepika had two runs-around-the-room until she succeeded to sweep it out.
-Why didn’t you kill it, Deepika? It might come back.
– No, it is back in Nature. That’s where it should be. Why kill it? Let it live.
– Is it not dangerous, Deepika?
– Not too much.
One moment silence. Thinking. Re-thinking.
Deepika is a beautiful woman, gentle and loving, yet strong. She raises her two daughters and manages the household and guest house alongside her husband, Sunil. Her in-laws also live there, and she takes care of them as well. Her husband’s brother’s family is in and out.
Ghandi said that nonviolence (Ahimsa) is common to all religions, but it had found its highest expression and application in Hinduism. (He did not regard Jainism or Buddhism as separate from Hinduism (Source: Wikipedia – Ahimsa)
The Tushita Way
Tushita Meditation Center, Dharamkot, Dharmasala, August 7th, 2018
When you register for the 10-day Intro to Buddhism course in Tushita, you commit, among other things, to not killing insects and spiders, or any other living thing for the duration of the course. The grounds are peppered with signs showing pictures of wolf spiders and other animals, instructing visitors to protect them. This was how I learned that the spider in my room might be called a wolf spider. The signs emphasized that the spiders are not dangerous and have a right to their lives.
In the same vein, when a staff person wanted to ward off the monkeys, who were trying to snatch our food, he used a sling without a rock. The sound of the sling snapping was sufficient to produce the desired effect.
On our first day, we were asked to sit in the Gompa (the main hall) for a reading of Tushita’s rules and regulations. Regarding animals, each dorm was instructed to assign a person to trap spiders and get them out of the room… The method recommended was to use a jar or a cup and a piece of paper. Once the spider is trapped under the jar, the paper is slipped underneath. Then you can carry it out and release it.
Searching about wolf spiders I found this article : a pregnant female was found in a fridge in Scotland, after traveling 6000 miles from India in a box of grapes.
Another article mentions a panic in northern India over a spider invasion.
The After-Effect - a Mini Enlightenment
So what changed in my life? Enlightenment? Not quite. The theory about karmic residues carried over from life to life did not quite make it into my western psyche. Or, at least, not yet.
Deepika’s handling of the spider situation was more influential. I learned things can be done differently. No to panic, yes to nonviolence.
Automatism is now over. If an insect crawls into my premises and seems dangerous, or highly irritating, I will not hesitate to act as I alwasy did. Yes. If that means I’ll metamorphose into an insect the next life around, so be it. In the meantime I’ll use my “precious human birth”, among other things, to use my powers over certain other beings. If necessary…
However, I now think twice before executing the act. Many beetles, “scissors” and other little crits, I now trap with a piece of tissue paper, make crawl on a sheet of paper, or catch with a cup, then send back to my garden’s wilderness.
These creatures, obviously, owe their lives to my mini Indian Enlightenment. Thank you Deepika, thank you Tushita. I haven’t become a Buddhist yet, and probably never (Never Say Never), but every little change in the right direction counts…