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In societies whose principles were formed by the mythology of the second chapter of Genesis, mankind is considered the crown of creation, the species with the right to dominate all the others.  Even in other traditions, some classes of sentient beings can be considered of greater value than others.  Both types of idea lead to a hierarchical view as expressed in the children's old circle game called "The Farmer in the Dell."  Accordingly, small animals in general, but insects in particular, are at the very bottom of the pyramid of power.  

In Buddhism

Buddhists, and some others who believe in reincarnation and/or the transmigration of spirits, view each body as a temporary dwelling of aggregates housing consciousness.  Each stream of consciousness has the potential to manifest Buddha Nature.  Therefore, there is greater wrong done in harming a multitude of small beings than in consuming a part of a large one. 

Mind Your Step

There is a daily mantra to help the living creatures that almost inevitably will die beneath your feet, so they might be reborn in the divine realm of "The Thirty-three."  It is recited 3 times, and then the soles of your feet are blessed by spitting on them (if you can reach them!)  Om, kraytsara gana, hung hri, soha

Donate Leftovers

Acharya Nagarjuna, in The Precious Garland of Advice For the King, suggests: 

"At the openings of anthills, have trustworthy persons constantly place food and water, molasses and piles of grain.  Both before and after each meal, always offer -- in a pleasant manner -- food, to hungry ghosts, dogs, ants and birds and so on.   . . .  .  . . .  . 

Just as you pay attention to whatever you think will benefit you, so too pay attention to what you think will benefit others." 

More Mindfulness

"Just before taking refuge 17 years ago, I asked my teacher if I could still take refuge, because I would not let spiders live in my house when I cleaned it.

We live near a forested area, and in the fall we get some rather large scary spiders that decide to sneak in here. We also have gotten spider bites occasionally, to which my husband gets a nasty allergic reaction, and it is not a situation I want my family (or myself) to have to tolerate.

My teacher, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, who is the abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra  . . . ,  said that these admonitions [not to kill] are meant to be taken as a general guide, an attitude of not killing, not that you literally cannot become a Buddhist if you swat a mosquito or something.

As a Buddhist, we try not to kill things, it is true. Rather than mash a bug, I try and trap it under a glass, slip a piece of cardboard under it and set it free outdoors. But there are times when we need to preserve ourselves somehow from dangerous situation. The Buddhist will try every alternative rather than to kill, but sometimes it happens either by accident or in a moment of not paying proper mindfulness.

[Once]  a young woman about a year and a half ago who came onto the newsgroup frantic, because she found mouse droppings in her baby's crib. You know how babies are, they put everything in their mouths, and you probably also know that mice are carriers of some of the most deadly diseases known to man. She regretted very much that she may be forced to do something to protect her child that may involve killing mice.

Also . . .  we have discussed Euthanasia of elderly pets, abortion, all examples of killing, but with extenuating circumstances sometimes in which it may have been ultimately more kind and compassionate to have literally killed, but not with evil intent.

So we do not have a literal, letter of the law, a kind of inexorable commandment here. To a Buddhist, [as] to a Christian, "all things are lawful but not expedient" . . .  .  But yes, there is sometimes karma involved in such decisions.  Only you know what your situation is. This does NOT mean it is OK to go around indiscriminately mashing every bug that comes your way.  Nor does it mean that it is perfectly OK to go have an abortion because it is more convenient for you that way.  Nor does it mean that these things have no repercussions, either.

Just as my teacher explained, you need to go through life with a view, an attitude that life is sacred. That living beings, no matter how small are living beings with a right to be alive.  Respecting life is definitely the Buddhist way.

How literally you take it is your own problem to solve.  If there is a pesky mosquito that won't let you sleep, (and they carry diseases too) and you must work to feed your family, and say, you swat it, be aware.  Be conscious of the fact it is a living being, and saying a mantra may make you more aware of that.

As to whether that being incarnates as a human, no one can say or prove, but it certainly cannot hurt anyone to say it, and it certainly can keep you more conscious of the fact that it IS killing something after all. That, more than anything else is the purpose of saying that mantra at that time. . . .  ."

~ E.R. alt.religion.buddhism.tibetan, 1998.

  • One version of how Incense was introduced as part of practice.

See an ant, think Impermanence.

One of the most famous episodes in Indian mythology is the story of Indra and the Ants.

The Lord of the god realm, Indra, having saved the earth from a great disaster, decided that he deserved the finest residence ever built.  He called for the services of the greatest architects, and finally chose one to do the work.

As soon as the extravagant palatial compound neared completion, Indra appraised the situation and thought up another luxurious addition.  When that was almost finished, he would imagine something more.  This process went on and on, and even the builder was running out of patience.  He understood that unless he were to do something to put a stop to the King's folie, he would be caught forever.

He took his case to Brahma, who was seated in the Lotus creating the World. Brahma  looked down along the stem that led to the navel of Vishnu who was lying asleep on the Cosmic Ocean dreaming up the Universe.  He told Lord Vishnu what the trouble was, and received some assurance that it was all going to be fine.  The builder returned to Indra's endless work-in-progress.

The next day, there appeared at the entrance, a most beautiful blue-black boy.  The porter stationed there tells his master, and proud and magnanimous Indra instructs him to invite the boy inside.

Seated high on his golden throne, the King asks the boy what he can do for him.

The boy, speaking with a voice like rolling thunder said, "I have been told that you are
building such a palace as no Indra ever before you."

The King of Gods was somewhat taken aback by that, and asked for an explanation. The mysterious boy explained:

"Indras before you -- I have seen them come and go, come and go. Just think, Vishnu sleeps in the cosmic ocean, and the lotus of the universe grows from his navel. On the lotus sits Brahma the creator. Brahma opens his eyes, and a world comes into being, governed by an Indra.  Brahma closes his eyes, and a world goes out of being. The life of a Brahma is four hundred and thirty-two thousand years. When he dies, the lotus goes back, and another lotus is formed, and another Brahma.

Then think of the galaxies beyond galaxies in infinite space, each a lotus with a Brahma sitting on it opening his eyes, closing his eyes. And Indras? There may be wise men in your court who would volunteer to count the drops of water in the oceans, or the grains of sand on the beaches but no one would count those Brahmas, let alone those Indras."

While the boy was speaking, an army of ants emerged from some crack and began to parade across the floor.  At the sight, the boy laughed such a laugh as made the hair on Indra's head stand on end.   Finally he asked, "Why are you finding this so funny?"

The boy replied, "Are you sure you want to know?"

And in the way of tradition, Indra said, "I am asking.  Please teach."

Then the boy pointed to the ants, saying, "These are each and everyone an Indra.  Over many lifetimes they have risen from the lowest state of existence to the highest one.  Whenever they let loose a thunderbolt to smash an adversary, they are consumed with satisfaction and pride, and then back down they go again."

During this discourse, a hairy old yogi appeared on the scene. He was wearing nothing but a loincloth, and he carried a banana leaf for a parasol.  In the centre of his bare chest was a funny patch of hair, and it seemed as if all the hair in the middle of it had fallen out.

It was the boy who greeted him, and he was the one to ask the old man, "Who are you and where do you come from? Who are your people, and where do you live?  And what is that curious arrangement of hair on your chest?"

The yogi replied, "They call me Hairy. I have no home nor family, and all I own is this this sun shade. Life is far too short for me to do anything but to meditate on the feet of Vishnu, and to notice how time keeps slipping away.

"You see, whenever an Indra dies, a world disappears, and then a single hair is shed from the circular patch on my chest.  See?  Half the hairs are already gone, and soon not a single one will remain. Life is so short, why take up home building?"

At that, both the guests just vanished.  (We know that the boy was an avatar of Vishnu, and Hairy, the ascetic, was none other than Lord Shiva.)

Indra, very disturbed by the vision of the parade of ants and the yogi's explanation, took his troubled mind to his dear wife (but not before dismissing the Builder.)  He told her that he was going to become a yogi and devote himself to meditation, just like Hairy.

But the Queen knew that there was something not right with that choice, and she had him consult a Rishi.  The sage reminded the king that long ago he had written a text on on the art of politics just for him.

 "You are in the position of the king of the gods. You are a manifestation of the mystery of Brahma in the field of time. This is a high privilege.  Appreciate it, honor it, and deal with life as though you were what you really are. And besides, now I am going to write you a book on the art of love so that you and your wife will know that in the wonderful mystery of the two that are one, Brahma is radiantly present also."

At that, Indra is dissuaded from becoming a yogi and realizes that by mindfully and responsibly fulfilling his role, he is fully participating in the Universal Way of Dharma.

For us, there is at least one clear lesson.  Don't kill ants.

~ Brahma.vaivarta Purana, as retold by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth. Some punctuation was changed.

Discouraging Pests From Taking Up Residence

First, make sure the floor is thoroughly cleaned. Ants leave a chemical "trail" behind them and a successful discovery of food crumbs, etc. is thus quickly broadcast to their nest mates.

Notice where they seem to be coming into the kitchen and if possible seal this opening with some kind of caulking, etc.

You can also put down a line of some kind of fine powder across their entry path. Something like baking soda is harmless and inedible, but confuses their smell perception. They don't like it. Once you've "broken" their trail in this way they usually don't cross the line of powder.

You can also try putting some kind of food OUTSIDE for them and mentally telling them that you understand that they are hungry and you want them to be happy but it's better for both you and them if they eat the food outside your kitchen.

Some friends of mine who used to live at the Crestone, Colorado dharma center said that when visiting the center Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche used to put sugar near the large anthills in the yard outside the center saying that ants are tormented by constant hunger.

~ Lama Colleen Reed

Another suggestion:

Thoroughly wash the area.

Then, take pungent spices like clove, chili powder, cinnamon, and mix with
powdered eucalyptus leaves and liberally sprinkle in the areas affected. The
ants will vacate and the powder can be swept or vacuumed up. Repeat the
application as needed and the ants will learn that this place is not for them.

I used this technique with ants in Taiwan. The only aggressive and dangerous
ones were fire ants and they had to be dealt with more severely using soapy
water. "Sweet" ants which are tiny and are attracted to food are not harmful
and are simply seeking a food supply source. They do not like the pungent
herbal mixture and thus check out other places.

Another method is to use essential oils of the same herbs and spices and
strategically place drops.  Whether using materia or oils, mix in equal parts.

May this be helpful to the people and harmless to our little friends!  
Makes the cabinets smell nice, too!

~ "Bhante"


Putting a couple of bay leaves in large jars that are used to store dry grains will eliminate manifestations of those types of bugs that all too often travel with the grain or find their way into the grain from the kitchen. This is especially true in hot sticky climates like Florida and in places where air conditioning is minimal, like here. I buy rice and oat meal in 50-pound bags and store it for up to a year without any major problems. 

. . .  .

The last 10 years has seen a major infestation of Asian cockroaches in Florida. There are a couple of things that can be done. Know that they fly towards light. At night you can keep the inside lights down and put a couple of brighter outside lights on to draw them from the house. Also, keep all dead vegetation away from the perimeter of the house. Things like pine nuggets and ground mulch should be kept up to a 100 or more feet away from the house. They love those ornamental things. 

The last thing is to be absolutely anal about cleanliness in the kitchen. That means under the ice box, behind the stove, under the stove top, keeping burner trays clean, stove itself must be clean, keeping the crud filter in the dishwasher clean (a hot water and vinegar wash once a week helps) and cleaning the grease trap in the exhaust fan above the stove at least once a month or more and a final rinse in vinegar. 

In the summer, I wipe all counters with a vinegar solution at night or if I am going to gone all day. 

If all this fails, never turn on a light in the kitchen at night without keeping your eyes closed for the first 10 seconds. This will give them time to hide and you will never know how great your problem is.  A couple of years ago, I came into the kitchen one morning prior to sunrise and found over 50 of them on the counter tops.  The above steps have wiped them down to very few and only in the heat and humidity of summer. 

Termite control will do nothing for Asian roaches because they live in the woods and come to the bright lights every night. They find a good home and they move in.

There are three cats and two dogs here and they help keep the insects down. To date I have never had a flea in the house and all animals come and go as the spirit moves them.

~ KC

Edited from the The Kagyu Mailing List.  See also the Bugs file at that list.


Genesis:  The first part of  the "Old Testament" in The Bible.  In chapter one of this scripture, this pyramid of power is not present.  Eve does not come from Adam, and they are not "given" the animals for food. 

  • To buy an accurate English translation of the Tanakh (Hebrew "Old Testament.")


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