Why animals are awakened

12/10/2012

Traditional Buddhism that relies on a literal understanding of the Pali Canon tends to support a strange view on animals. On the one hand they are refused the chance of awakening and classified as a low realm of being. This goes so far as to tell people that they could be reborn in such a realm when doing wrong. In Zen we know of the guy who was reborn as a fox for 500 years because he once has given an inadequate answer. On the other hand many Buddhists take the precept of not killing as an argument for vegetarianism. But in the Pali Canon we find a passage where the Buddha explicitly names 10 kinds of meat that should not be eaten, for example that of snakes and horses (if you’ve ever eaten a horse salami, you know what the Buddha missed). This implies that there are other kinds of meat that are eaten by Buddhists, especially chicken, pork and beef which for probably very practical reasons are not prohibited as they are commonly included in food donated to monks.

The comprehension of “suffering” in Buddhism is only possible for mankind but its full definition also only applies to mankind. Of course animals are born, get sick, become old and die. But as far as we know they do not perceive it as such, their consciousness being different. Suffering therefore cannot be understood as the process of being born etc. (most of us will not even remember it) but as the suffering FROM it, suffering FROM being put into the world because one was never asked if he’d really wanted that, suffering FROM a sickness because one is attaching the thoughts to it that it is not comfortable, not justified and keeping one from having fun, suffering FROM becoming old because one is not able to fuck and hop around anymore, and suffering FROM dying because one does not want to lose control and be dead. All this suffering happens in the head, it is within the conscious thought process of humans. Buddhism can NOT end the suffering from pain (but a physician may do so), it can NOT change the facts of decaying and dying. Although we find ridiculous passages even in Mahayana sutras where a country ruled by a Buddhist following the Dharma would be free of any plagues, wise Buddhism is not about ending physical suffering but only about ending the compulsive attachment of thoughts to the process of impermanence. Because men want hope, a lot of Buddhists take refuge in the believe of reincarnation, dreaming that thus they’d conquer suffering and death. No one can testify for reincarnation, and all the phenomena surrounding near-death experiences can usually be explained on the basis of ones belief and mindframe and are the result of a (mal)function of a still living brain. I have been there myself.

If the Buddhist teaching is only about the suffering FROM thoughts (and feelings expressed through them), it only tells something about the suffering of men, not of animals. The point is not that animals cannot understand the Dharma and thus not awaken, the point is that they do not NEED to understand it at all. Animals just do not suffer from thoughts because they do not create conflicting categories with the attachment to an ego-self. That is why we can call them awakened. It is just the other way round again, we could even envy animals for not having to overcome the chaos of the mind that leads men to meditation.

Kato Roshi, a close friend of the famous Sawaki Roshi, once stated: “Animals are awakened.” One has to know that Zen does not exclude the broad spectrum of feelings that people can live through. It rather takes them as they are, without judging and building categories in the mind like “Shit, I do not want to be lovesick now.” A dog that is walking against driving direction on a highway because his or her mate is lying wounded or dead at the grass verge (as I have seen it in a video recently) will touch our hearts – but still most probably this dog just IS the suffering then and not a somehow split personality that we become when we really suffer and at the same time deny it and want to be  in another condition. Not suffering for men can indeed mean REALLY AND ONLY BE SUFFERING, s.th. psychologists may put at the end of a reaction chain as “acceptance”. Overcoming suffering of the mind does not connote rejecting what is really going on – it implies just to not judge it, to be one and not in conflict with it. Watching animals I am constantly amazed by their ability to just live, go on and fight for their survival if threatened. And even if I see “love” in them, I am sure that they have no concept of it, like we do, and I try not to project my own on them. Critics of Buddhism often misunderstand this aspect and hold Buddhists as incapable of what Christians call agape, a love that cares selflessly for others. And Buddhists themselves sometimes hope that even the physical pain and suffering will go away if they just practice meditation enough. These are just illusions.

Yesterday a very tiny ant that had managed to crawl under the foil of my Menthos roll in the drawer peed her acid on my hand, and 18 hours later I still see the red dot on my skin that hurt for a while. We should not forget how small we are on this planet and in this universe and how much we have in common with the tiniest living beings when it comes to our will to live. All the same it is only us who believe that we stand above them, in spite of biology’s teaching that we are just mammals, another kind of animal. The only animal that needs a Dharma to become whole again. Maybe just a funny and juicy error of evolution.

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