It’s Just a Bug

How my heart expanded by not killing bugs

A few days ago, I was walking down the sidewalk in the small town of Marlow, England. I looked down and saw a bumble bee struggling. It was alive but it was stuck on something preventing it from flying. If I did nothing, this bee would surely die — either by a slow bee’s death of starvation or by an immediate squashing from another walker. I found a leaf and gently put the leaf underneath the bee which freed it. The bee flew away; I skipped along the sidewalk.

It was alive and free!  In that moment, I felt fully alive and free too!

  • Five months ago, I would have walked by without noticing the bee.
  • Five months ago, I may have stepped on the bee.
  • Five months ago, I killed a mosquito on my arm.
  • Five months ago was before I was a tutor with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists’ English for Engaged Social Service Program.

For it is in giving that we receive [1]

The English for Engaged Social Service Program

As a tutor in the Program, I participated in the daily group classes, taught public speaking, and had my own tutor group.  Those were my official responsibilities. I also had countless engaging conversations with people from different backgrounds, played games, danced, sang, meditated, shared meals and tea, visited many culturally significant and spiritually filled sights. I learned Buddhist teachings and practices. I was inspired and empowered by the students and their commitment to their respective communities, cultures and homes.  As the days passed, I discovered that the idealism of my youth was not dead; it had just lied dormant under years of career stresses and personal losses.

With each day of this Program, I felt that idealism stir back to life with a commitment to live with integrity where my beliefs are in line with my actions including my career choices. With each passing day, as laughter filled the air, and as friendships filled my heart, happiness filled my spirit. Simply, I was part of a community where we soon became a family. So, it is with a resounding voice that I say “for it is in giving that we receive” because I received so much from my volunteer tutor experience with the English for Engaged Social Service Program.

But, I digress.

So…back to the bee

The Program was held at the Wongsanit Ashram, which is an eco-village about an hour outside of Bangkok. It is surrounded by physical beauty and filled with a spiritual richness.  And, because it is natural woodsy setting in Thailand, there are insects, bugs, and other wildlife that I just pretended were not there (i.e. snakes). [2]

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One of my first days at the Ashram, I went to the classroom in the evening. As I was sitting and working on my laptop, a pesky mosquito was on my arm.  Right before it began sucking my blood, I quickly squatted it. I killed it. Being from the West, where cans of Raid and fly swatters are part of every day life, I thought nothing of this automatic response. I simply wiped the dead mosquito off my arm. As I did this, I casually looked up and realized that a few students were looking at me with shock, not anger or disapproval, but more of a concerned confusion. This led to my first discussion regarding not killing and causing no harm to other living beings even bugs, insects, and creepy crawlers.

How would you like to take a shower with this?

How would you like to take a shower with this?

Not killing or causing harm to other living beings [3]

One of the Buddhist teachings, I learned from the Program was the first precept of not killing or causing harm to other living beings. This fundamental precept implies acting non-violently wherever possible. This precept applies to all living beings and all animals. To practice this precept, one must also practice compassion and wisdom. All of these came to life through the actions of the students, my fellow tutors, and the directors of the Program.  On a daily basis, they exemplified the teaching of not killing or causing harm to other living beings.

As the days progressed, I witnessed the students living their beliefs. Time and time again, student after student would simply blow insects off their arms or gently carry them outside. One student was late for one of my tutor sessions. I later learned he was late because he was trying to save a large insect that got stuck on his clothing but refused to let go as he was trying to gently free it.  Upon seeing my discomfort with bugs, one friend would routinely and calmly blow the insect off my arm or relocate an insect that flew in my hair to a new home outside. One afternoon, I found a scary spider in my room, I quickly ran out of the cabin screaming. The co-director of the Program who lived in the same cabin complex calmly went in my room and gently guided the spider outside. I later observed her use the same gentle guidance toward a cockroach, a bug that makes her squeamish. Seeing their compassion toward all beings – even bugs, insects, and creepy crawlers – inspired me.  However, I do not always have the same gracious gentleness they had.

One day, I saw a large cockroach (or what Floridians like to disguise under a nicer name: Palmetto bug) crawling on the curtain in my cabin. Recalling how the co-director had guided the scary spider from my room, I was empowered to give it a try myself.  I got a large piece of paper and went to slide it underneath the cockroach. Here’s what happened in the seconds during which I moved the paper towards the cockroach: (1) I had an image of me twirling in a field of wildflowers on some mountain with birds humming and resting on my outstretched hands as I sent good wishes to my cockroach friend, (2) the cockroach leaped off the curtain, flew in the air, and knocked into my face, and (3) I screamed and tripped as I ran out of the room. There were tears.  When I got the courage to go back into the cabin, the cockroach was back on the curtain where it remained until it decided it was time to move.

The Program ended. Yet, the lessons continue.  These lessons extend beyond insects and creepy crawlers.

For instance, while not all the Buddhists I met are vegetarians, those I know who eat meat do it with a consciousness of minimizing the harm to the animal or minimizing how much meat they eat.  Yak is a staple food to the Tibetan culture and commonly a part of every meal.  However, it is also a common practice in Tibet to raise and care for the yaks, allow them to die naturally, and eat only the older ones that died naturally. Others will be vegetarian every fourth week of the month. Even with my meat eating Buddhist friends, there is a respect to the giving and taking between humans and animals – a conscious compassion toward the relationship between humans and other animals.

I recently visited Tibet. As my friend and I were driving along the highway, he suddenly pulled over to the side of the road. I noticed that other drivers did the same. Everyone was getting out of their cars and walking along the street to move worms off the road so they would not be killed by other cars. Some cars or trucks did not stop; however, they did not honk or give any agitated hand signals that one would expect in the USA if people got in the way of your drive. Rather, the trucks and other cars slowed down their pace and drove in the center of the road with care to avoid the worms and the people. In my friend’s eyes and the eyes of his fellow worm rescuers, I saw genuine compassion and concern for the well being of these worms. I felt this compassion and kindness flow around and through me too.

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Why care about not killing bugs?

Some of my friends and family from the West may not appreciate the impact of saving the life of a bee, mosquito, ant, or even a cockroach. We have been socialized to see these living beings as pests, who can and who are readily killed. Having picked up this practice of not killing any being – even bugs, insects or creepy crawlers, I experienced that the compassion and kindness exhibited towards bugs expands onto others, situations, and even myself.

Think of it this way – if one can offer compassion to an ant crawling on one’s arm or a fly buzzing around one’s face, then one can offer compassion to anyone anywhere at any and all times. This compassion has a way of growing in your heart. I imagine the scene from the movie ET where ET’s heart glows and the glow gets bigger and stronger.  As the compassion and love expand inward and outwards, the glow of one’s heart grows just like ET’s.

I am still cultivating this love and compassion. The grace and peace that my friends from the Program exhibited is not quite natural to me. While I have stopped intentionally killing insects, there are times when I am still agitated by them – especially certain flies that were incessantly buzzing by my face when I recently visited a friend in Sri Lanka. Sometimes, I blow or shoo the bugs away with a little too much agitation and force, which I imagine must feel like a F5 tornado to the bug, and which probably kills it. Nonetheless, this I know – the times where I am not agitated, but where I have full compassion, and where I extend peaceful relocation practices of the bugs, I am at peace within myself and feel fully alive. The heart glow expands a little farther outwards and a little deeper inwards.

Seeing others truly live the precept of causing no harm and incorporating their examples into my life has profoundly affected me. In many ways, I may not even realize all the positive changes in my life since that day I killed the mosquito back at the Ashram.  However, I do know that just a few days ago, I saved the life of a bee! Does it get any better than that?!!

Well, yes, it does! Saving that bee – not causing harm – also shows how connected we are with all living beings.  Freeing the bee, freed my spirit. And, in that moment, I also felt very connected to my English for Engaged Social Service family who passed their compassion and commitment toward all living beings onto me.  On that day in Marlow, I was thousands of miles away from them. Yet, they were with me.  I could feel all the times my friend gently blew a bug off my arm or gently relocated an insect from my hair. And, the glow in my heart expanded inward and outward.

Can you feel it?

Kerry Raleigh

Marlow, England

29 July 2016

[1] This comes from a well-known Christian prayer that is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. I think it is a beautiful prayer that I sometimes incorporate into my meditation practice.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

[2] I made a pact with the snakes of Thailand that I would say out loud each  morning as I walked through the Ashram:

I respect you and your space. You respect mine.  We never have to see each other.

The whole time I was there, I never saw a snake. I am so very thankful that we both kept this pact.

[3] Buddhists live by the Five Moral Precepts to refrain from (1) harming living things, (2) taking what is not given, (3) sexual misconduct, (4) lying or gossip, and (5) taking intoxicating substances.

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