Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hither and Thither

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hither and thither,

In his book, ‘How to See Yourself as You Really Are,’ the Dalai Llama reminds us that we should not not only value other human beings, but all sentient beings. “Even be prepared to help an ant, out of a puddle,” he urges.

Singapore has relatively few bugs and almost no mosquitoes, which makes it easier to follow the Dalai Llama’s principle than, for example, in Sri Lanka. One is not perpetually contesting with creatures for living space. But one does encounter a species of tiny ants, though rarely in large numbers. Occasionally one or two will scuttle across a page I am reading or my computer keyboard. I let them be. In the morning, there can be quite a large number scurrying along the moldboard of my apartment. If I have left crumbs out on my kitchen counter, the ant population sees this as an opportunity for a good meal or, perhaps, to replenish community food supplies.

What I find interesting about the ants is how they scurry about in all directions (including opposite directions) without any obvious sense of purpose. What are the ‘causes and conditions,’ to use Buddhist terminology, that motivates this behavior?

When I awake in the morning, normally about 6 AM, it is still dark. Before beginning meditation practice I often walk out on my balcony and look out over the city of Singapore, beginning to awake in the early morning darkness. Even though it is early, the roads and expressways are filling with traffic - cars, busses, trucks and the occasional motorcycle scurrying, with headlights lit, in all directions. Since the normal Singapore work day is 12 hours, people are often up and about early. From a distance, one can imagine that all this activity is generated by a slightly different species of ants. What are the causes and conditions that motivate all of this scurrying, hither and thither? Are they that much different - really - than whatever it is that motivates the ants in my apartment?

PS. In Colombo, the ants are larger, more numerous and more purposeful. Following the Dalai Lama’s precepts to love all sentient beings is more of a challenge.

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