I have recently been reviewing my understanding of the first percept. Today my eyes were drawn to the front of a parked car which was splattered with dead insects. I haven’t owned a car for about 15 years, however, every now and then I either hire a car or borrow a friends car.
I certainly know that by driving a car at speed many little insects are going to get killed. I know that they will have no way of getting out of the way of the car. Essentially I am propelling a large projectile directly into unsuspecting beings. If they were human beings it would surely be blameworthy in the extreme.
In the past I have transported many bhikkhus in cars and many monks and nuns from other Buddhist traditions also. Not once has any of them suggested that it is a problem for me to drive as a lay person. I have never heard a dhamma talk that addresses this or read any suttas that might have a bearing - do chariots reach speeds capable of killing flying insects?
Interestingly, when I walk I take extreme care (most off the time) not to crush any ants or other creepy crawlies under foot, but I have never even considered the problem with driving.
So what do you think? Is it time for me to give up driving and stop all of this mayhem for good?
Even when walking it is possible to unintentionally trod upon creatures below. Maybe not on city sidewalks, but I routinely hike in the woods and walk on the beach for recreation. The beaches I walk on, in particular, often are teeming with tiny sand fleas that are nearly impossible to avoid. It’s hard to imagine even rudimentary human locomotion not involving some involuntary crushing of tiny beings dwelling underneath.
It seems to me that by writing this post, you are keeping the 1st precept very, very well. It’s a training rule, and you are very mindful of the effect that your actions take with respect to other living things. It’s almost impossible to protect all living (sentient or not) beings as we drive, or walk, or simply exist in the world. Bu this level of care and mindfulness seems to me to be keeping this training rule perfectly.
Of course, you could stop driving a car, or walking, but then you’d be a candidate to be a Jain . Or, Amish .I think the Buddha saw these habits as being on the extreme.
I think we as humans need to think long and hard about our relationship with the planet, both insects and mammals. Yes, we kill insects by driving cars. We also kill countless sentient beings when we destroy forests and trees to build houses and cities. We kill life in the sea when we dump our trash into the oceans. A quarter of all our plastic ends up in the ocean. What we carelessly toss into the trash instead of recycling it might kill countless beings living in the ground. So called environmentally friendy windmills for electricity production are death traps for birds.
As a species we act as if we are self-existing. As if our existence is like the gods of our theistic religions, not from external causes and conditions, but from ourselves. We are mistaken. There are far too many humans on planet earth living in this way for the ecosystems to be able to handle. We are the worst thing to happen to the planet since the last mass extinction event tens of millions of years ago. And of course, since we do not exist by our own power/essence, but in dependence on countless other living beings, our profound arrogance and disrespect for non human animals and their enviornments will have unavoidable consequences.
I live next to a beach, and walk there often too, but it’s shingle which makes life easier - it’s not as nice as a lovely sandy beach though. I do love a walk in the woods with my dog, but I keep to well troden paths these days because my ankles, knees and hips don’t work like they used to. I do find myself spending much of the time looking down.
Good point. Thank you.
Thank you. That means a lot Michael.
I’m thinking that it wouldn’t be a terrible thing for me to stop the little driving that I do and take public transport instead. It’s much slower in general, but that’s not going to be too tasking for me. A side effect of taking a car is that I often load it up with stuff. I almost always travel lighter if I have to carry it. It might make the rare retreat that I do in the-middle-of-nowhere quite difficult to get to, but that might very well be worth it.
Everything you say is very true about us as a species and very, very sad. But I guess I’m looking here at what I can do with my own personal interactions with beings in this mucked up world that we all have to live in.
When I first became a Buddhist in 1985 I also started thinking about this question. But where I usually had to go for most of my life public transport wasn’t really satisfying—bad connections and pretty expensive. So I kept using my car, aware of the fact that this isn’t ideal.
But meanwhile the problem almost doesn’t arise at all any more: Insects have nearly disappeared from the air here in Germany! I remember at that time over 30 years ago, in summer my windscreen was so dirty with insects that it needed a thorough cleaning every so often. Now I hardly see any insect at all on my screen. And in fact, I find this even much sadder!
We cannot live without killing. Even monastics will (unintentionally, one hopes) kill bugs while walking on alms round, sweeping the paths in the forest, etc etc.
We can however, live without greed, ill will and aversion guiding our volitional actions.
Any ethical decision seems to be the difference between unwholesome and wholesome faculties in the mind. It’s also a based on the balance between advantages and disadvantages, of the result of the ethical acts.
Bringing in kamma, effects on wider society and effects on the path to enlightenment when making decisions, makes for more wholesome decisions!
One of the wilder possibilities that @stu’s post calls to mind for me is as follows: we should strive to quit the natural world entirely.
We don’t have the technology to do that yet, of course, but it seems like maybe one day we will. A life of much more perfect harmlessness might be lived in orbit, using only synthetic (and recyclable) requisites, eating only synthetic foods, and never so much as seeing the animals that we currently harm.
I guess I might be wondering: does Buddhism eventually point us at a certain kind of transhumanism?
Unfortunately the laws of thermodynamics don’t really allow for such “harmless” existence: Any closed system is unsustainable.
Or, as the Buddha said: “all beings are sustained by nutriment.” All being is inter-being. No man is an island.
True escape isn’t planetary, but sensual: “What is the world?” and “Where do water, earth, fire, & wind find no footing?”
“The six senses” and “Where consciousness is signless, boundless, all-luminous”
As Rohitassa found out, even flying through space isn’t truly an escape:
"The end of the world can never
be reached by traveling.
But without reaching the end of the world,
there’s no release from suffering.
So a clever person, understanding the world,
has completed the spiritual journey, and gone to the end of the world.
A peaceful one, knowing the end of the world,
does not hope for this world or the next.”
And we can live in a way that promotes life. By starting a vegetable garden, we can feed ourselves, the insects and the birds and more. This past two years of gardening have brought hummingbirds to our back yard and neighbors to our front yard. And all this started with a simple effort to start a worm bin for kitchen scraps.
So much in the suttas relates to agriculture. Perhaps we have allowed ourselves too great a distance from the noble art of feeding ourselves, delighting in mass produced food. It would at least help people understand the following: