Image: Embroidered Butterflies on a Quilt Square created by our Buddhist Woman's Association
Although it is hot and dry here in Eastern Oregon and Idaho, in many parts of the world, including India where the historic Buddha (Shakyamuni) lived 2500 years ago, it is the middle of the rainy season, the monsoon season. And during this season the insects take advantage of all the moisture to lay eggs-- which then hatch, creating swarms of even more insects. During most of the year, the Buddha and his followers would travel through the country sharing the Buddhist teachings with various communities. But the Buddha said that during the summer months, the monks and nuns should gather together to meditate, practice, and study. (NOTE: This “rain retreat” is the basis of the Fuken or summer study session our Buddhist Churches of America ministers participate in every August.)
These gatherings during the rainy season were important for teaching and learning, as well as a time to conduct business and make plans. But the reason that the gathering was during the rainy season was because travel was difficult with the muddy roads and because the movement of the monks and nuns would inevitably trample millions of the insects that had recently hatched. Buddhism teaches that all life is valuable and that all living creatures want to keep living, just like we do. So the death of even a single creature is an unfortunate thing. Because of the value Buddhists place on all life, monks and nuns would limit travel during this time in order to prevent the needless deaths of insects.
Photo: Rev. Anne and Rev. Kathy at our Japan Nite Obon Festival 2023 at Four Rivers Cultural Center
At our Japan Nite Obon festival, Rev. Kathy and I had a booth called “Ask a Minister” where our visitors could ask us anything. One boy approached our booth and asked if it was OK to kill a spider. It was a great question! And it got me thinking about the rain retreat and how this whole tradition had grown up around the goal of saving the lives of insects. (Spiders aren’t insects, of course, but I believe that the Buddha would say that spiders’ lives are just as valuable as insects’ lives.) I told the boy that this was a thoughtful question. I told him that in Buddhism, we believe that all lives have value and that it is always best to try to avoid killing another creature whenever possible. But I also told him that it is impossible to go through our lives without killing anything. Insects are killed in the process of traveling and farming. Any farmer will tell you that you can’t grow fruits or vegetables or grains without killing something, even if it’s by accident. If we tried to live without killing anything, we would die, ourselves, and that would also be a kind of killing. So there is no way we can live without killing bugs. But we should remember that the insects want to live just like we do and that whenever we have the option to avoid killing a bug, we should let it live in peace.
In Gassho (with palms together)