Ahimsa, a central concept in Hindu and Jain morality, means non-harming or non-violence.
I remember the Dalai Lama, speaking to a hushed crowd in Santa Fe, saying he had occasionally sinned against mosquitoes. He was reflecting on the fact that the concept is also important in Buddhism. One of the five precepts of Sila (ethical conduct) is not harming living creatures.
Hindu history includes both the rejection of animal sacrifice and vegetarianism, with tension arising from duties to protect the state and recourse to war and capital punishment.
According to “A New Dictionary of Religions” (edited by John R. Hinnells, Cambridge, Blackwell, 1995), Gandhi raised the concept to a Hindu ideal and influenced modern day pacifist thinking. The concept of ahimsa is also important to me. Life is precious—a miracle we take for granted as we go through our daily routine and try to stay ahead of our obligations.
That’s why Jeffrey A. Lockwood, in his quote-rich book “Grasshopper Dreaming” (Boston, Skinner House, 2002), agonizes over how to make painless the killing of grasshoppers to save farm crops, while carefully capturing spiders in his house and freeing them outside.
That’s also why we find it so difficult to “put down” our devoted dogs that refuse to complain of the arthritic and other pain that leaves them too crippled to get out the dog door. DeeDee never whined, just walked slower and slower, following Scooter and me back and forth to the Hen House, a vacant look on her face. She still had good moments—loving the biscuits as reward for watching the birds, keeping her litter mate Scooter’s eyes and ears clean.
Those moments made the irreversible decision impossible, until she couldn’t make it out of bed and could barely climb the four back porch stairs. Then I realized that her need for relief from constant pain was greater than my need for her to live forever.
It had been easier, years ago when our daughters’ dog Poncho was ailing. All it took was one night of pacing and whining. His was a plea easily answered with a painless injection and “going to sleep” in our arms.
Nature often provides us escape from overwhelming pain—like blacking out—but not always. Our animal friends are fortunate to have a painless alternative.