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Animals have Karma too

Animals have good karma, too, says the Buddhist take on mice and men.

india Updated: Jun 17, 2006 12:55 IST

There are certain TV programmes which get my appreciative attention. Often beautifully and skillfully filmed, they have all the poignancy of a great tragic drama, the fascination of an unravelling mystery thriller, or provide the inspiration of a heroic tale.

It’s those wonderful wildlife programmes I’m enthusing about, although I sometimes think if I see that same cheetah chasing, and finally catching, that poor Thomson gazelle one more time, I too will take off at “more than 70 miles per hours!” For me, the natural world is one great symphony of birth, life, death, and rebirth. A world whose myriad creatures in their infinite variety have evolved to play their specialised part in an ever-evolving, interdependent system. And it is a world where these same creatures display what can only be described as virtue.

We have all heard of, and perhaps experienced, the acts of domestic animals, especially those by ‘Man’s Best Friend’, the family dog, that can have been motivated only by a sense of virtue. I recall reading even of a wild monkey in India that jumped into a river to rescue a human baby. Was this an instinctive maternal act? Did the animal mistake the human child for its own offspring? Whatever the cause, the act itself was undoubtedly virtuous.

From the Buddhist point of view, the apparently cruel and abhorrent behavior of animals eating animals is understood, and its purpose - that of ensuring survival, is also accepted as being part of the cycle of life and death. As Buddhists we do not ask, “Why did god create all those obnoxious and dangerous and disease-spreading animals?” But are they too subject to karma? The answer must surely be that because Buddhism sees all life from the perspective of infinity, the cycle of birth and rebirth has always existed. The karmic record of every living being extends into infinity and each has a potential of karma, both good and bad. Because of their lack of moral values, animals can be said to be subjected to karma passively – in the same way, for example as mentally challenged humans.

Animals such as mice are recognised as being ‘feeder animals’. Pets have to be fed. While some eat ‘pet food’ others eat other animals. And this is where mice come in. They are feeder animals and sometimes sold as such by pet stores.

Liz (the friend of a friend) liked almost everything about working in the pet store except when she had to sell mice as feeds. But Liz was a smart lady and she quickly found a true Buddhist solution.

Whenever anyone wanted to buy the mice, she would ask if they were for pets or feeders. If the person answered feeder, she would chant a Buddhist mantra three times to the mice so they could have a better life next time.

One day, a customer came in and bought some mice from another assistant who had taken over from Liz during her break. Seeing the customer about to pay for them, Liz asked, “Excuse me, are they for pets or feeders?” “Feeders,” answered the customer, adding, “and please don’t be chanting over them, the last three I bought that were chanted over got away!” Extracted from Dharma Moments, introduced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, NB 2006.