Sunday, April 01, 2007

My Little Friends

It's spring! Warm weather, blooming trees, life is everywhere. And that includes bugs.

People have a strange relationship with bugs. There is an instinctual fear of insects, which I think comes from the fact that they seem so different from us. Too many spindly little legs, small beady eyes, scary waving antennae. And they are so small, and so unlovable.

This difference in size and cuteness results in a lot of squishing. And some people take pride and joy in the squishing, especially of mosquitos and cockroaches.

But here's a different perspective. This is a chart of all of the Kingdoms of life today. Please enlarge by clicking on it if it's hard to read.As you can see, there are three main Superkingdoms, The Bacteria, Archaea, and Eucaryota, within these are the regular Kingdoms. Humans, of course, are on the Animals branch (animalia). Where are the insects? Surely they must be pretty far from the animals, maybe even another Superkingdom...?

Actually, they're Animalia too! So on that big tree, with all those lines, we and the insects share the same little branch. From this perspective, we're practically cousins.

One of the ideals of Buddhism is to reduce suffering in the world. Killing a lifeform results in suffering, so naturally Buddhists try to avoid killing stuff whenever possible. Notice that the phrase is reduce suffering and not eliminate suffering. To be alive is to cause, (and receive) suffering. Even as I type this, my immune system is killing viruses left and right. Everytime I wash my hands I kill off thousands of microbes and bacteria. And of course, sitting down to a healthy vegetarian lunch includes the decapitation of a head of lettuce, tearing away the life giving umbilical cord of a tomato, and ripping some poor carrot from it's underground home to be cut up into little pieces on my chopping board.

Of course, you could stop eating, take a drug to suppress your immune system, and never wash, but then you would die, which would just be more suffering.

This gets to the idea that to be alive is to participate in suffering to some extent. But we can make choices that reduce suffering in small ways. I think it's safe to say that chopping up a head of lettuce results in less pain than chopping up a cow.

Anyway, vegetarianism is a blog for another time, what I want to talk about here is bugs.

Don't squish bugs! Even gross ones. They didn't do anything to you. Take a closer look at them, and you'll see that they are amazing little animals that are really loveable once you get used to their little quirks.

I know this sounds crazy to some people, and these are the usual objections I get to my "don't squish bugs" sermon.

  • Insects are dirty. Actually, there are more germs in the human mouth than on a cockroach or any other bug. Cockroaches, for example, are really quite clean animals, on par with a cat.
  • Insects are pests and parasites. It's true, many insects use you for their own purposes. Dust mites eat your dead skin, mosquitos incubate their eggs in your warm blood. But let's put this into perspective. Jonas Salk, the man who developed the polio vaccine, once said "If all the insects on earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on earth would disappear. If all humans disappeared, within 50 years all species would flourish as never before." Who is the real parasite? I'm not saying that we should be exterminated, Matrix-style, just that in the big scheme of things, we take a lot more from this planet than that mosquito takes from us.
  • It's just one bug, what's the difference? This is true, squishing that bug doesn't make any difference. But challenging yourself to have compassion for even small ugly creatures will have a big effect on you. And it feels good when you take an extra 30 seconds and help a lost bug get to the outdoors!
I'm not trying to say bugs are more important than humans. The last time I killed a bug was in autumn when one mosquito had bitten me about 12 times all over my face, and had kept me up for about 2 hours. She was resting on the wall, full of blood, and I smacked her with a book. But before that smack I really thought about what I was going to do, and after it I wished the bug the best, and, now I know you'll think I'm losing it, but I shed a tear or two for her.

So, yes, if you run a risk of catching malaria, or if termites are going to destroy your home, or if locusts are going to kill your crops, do something to get rid of the bugs. But don't just squish them because they're there. We're all in this together on this floating blue ball in space, show some kindness to our little relatives this spring!

Yoga Garden