Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ending Needless Havoc

This is an extract from the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which arguably launched the environmental movement in America. The extract is the last paragraph of the chapter Needless Havoc. This graphically describes the kind of suffering that humanity as a race is inflicting on all of life. There are certainly karmic consequences to all of this!

Incidents like the eastern Illinois spraying (discussed by her prior to this extract in the book, check out the link above to that chapter) raise a question that is not only scientific but moral. The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.

These insecticides are not selective poisons; they do not single out the one species of which we desire to be rid. Each of them is used for the simple reason that it is a deadly poison. It therefore poisons all life with which it comes in contact: the cat beloved of some family, the farmer's cattle, the rabbit in the field, and the horned lark out of the sky. These creatures are innocent of any harm to man. Indeed, by their very existence they and their fellows make his life more pleasant. Yet he rewards them with a death that is not only sudden but horrible. Scientific observers at Sheldon described the symptoms of a meadowlark found near death: "Although it lacked muscular coordination and could not fly or stand, it continued to beat its wings and clutch with its toes while lying on its side. Its beak was held open and breathing was labored." Even more pitiful was the mute testimony of the dead ground squirrels, which "exhibited a characteristic attitude in death. The back was bowed, and the forelegs with the toes of the feet tightly clenched were drawn close to the thorax ... The head and neck were outstretched and the mouth often contained dirt, suggesting that the dying animal had been biting at the ground."

By acquiescing in an act that can cause such suffering to a living creature, who among us is not diminished as a human being?

Image from the book Silent Spring

Now, one may argue that the individual cant do much about the government policies immediately. True, but when one stays engaged with these issues, there certainly are openings through which one may engage with the policy makers. In addition, we may also consider the kind of impact mosquito repellants, cockroach killers etc that we regularly use in our houses have. Sadly, there are many ads that promise that even the last cockroach will be dead in the house. So much for non-violence!

Talking of mosquitoes, in an urban, especially middle-class or lower middle class and lower class urban setting, is tricky as it indeed might be a great problem. I remember reading in the book 'Autobiography of a Yogi', that Yukteshwar Giri, guru of Paramahamsa Yogananda, advised him to get rid of his mosquito consciousness, when Paramahamsa Yogananda was madly swatting all of them, while Yukteshwar Giri was peacefully sleeping even though a swarm of mosquitoes were buzzing around him. I used to wonder about that, for it defeated all my understanding. When a mosquito bites, the immediate reaction is to swat it. Its almost like dropping a hot vessel. Above all, how does one rid oneself of mosquito consciousness?

I dont claim to understand it now totally, but I feel I have a window into it. Typically we are trained by society and by ourselves to treat the mosquito as an alien invador who is out to destroy us and so we swat it with all our might, the moment one of them lands on us. Needless to say, the little creature goes through great pain as its puny body gets crushed under the tremendous force of our hands. Instead of this view against the mosquitoes, if we can develop some stillness within us and compassion towards the mosquito, we will not be jolted into swatting it. Instead, we can simply flick it from our body. There are millions of them around us, that swatting or flicking really makes no difference to the probability of we being bitten again (I understand this might be extremely difficult when a swarm of them attacks one or ones little kids at home. Despite that, this a worthy goal to be pursued). Such simple day to day acts help us develop the vitally needed inner stillness and also stokes the divine flame of compassion within us!

Only when the vast majority of us are immersed in such compassion, will the needeless havoc portrayed by Rachel Carson can be brought to a halt.

No comments: