May 19, 2011

Kill that Impulse! Compassionate Solutions for Your Favorite Pest

Allan Badiner

Today we're very pleased to share with you a guest post from longtime friend and contributing editor of Tricycle, Allan Badiner. In addition to being a frequent contributor to Tricycle, Allan maintains his own blog at the web magazine Reality Sandwich and is also a member of the faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He lives on the central California coast, where he has had his own challenges with living amidst pests and remaining true to the first precept.


Kill that Impulse! Compassionate Solutions For Your Favorite Pest

By Allan Badiner

Good news and bad news. The bad news first: No, you do not have special dispensation from the Buddha to murder those obnoxious little rodent and insect pests that are somehow capable of terrorizing beings thousands of times their size, when all they want is a little food, water and a place to get cozy up with their mates.

The good news is that with a little extra effort, you can rid yourself of these unwelcome guests (ants, mice, cockroaches, fleas, ticks, etc) and feel the karmic joy of living in the light of the Dharma!

"Dharma" means truth and the teachings, and it is also the word for nature itself.  The Ven. Narada Mahathera tells us that as nature is the manifestation of truth, and of the teachings, we should cultivate kindness and compassion for all, trying not to kill or cause injury to any living creature, even the tiniest creature that crawls at our feet, and bites them.

Of course precepts, or guidelines for following the Dharma, are training principles, and Buddhists undertake to observe them to the best of their abilities.  At times certain conditions may not allow us to rigidly adhere to the precepts and no one can live through life without ever breaking them.  It is at such times that we must use our common sense and human intelligence to make the best decisions. 

In Buddhism there is a long held and integral tradition of caring for animals and all living creatures. They are regarded in Buddhist thought as sentient beings, different than humans in their intellectual ability but no less capable of feeling suffering, fearing death, and craving life. Vasubandhu, a 4th century Indian scholar-monk and one of the most prominent figures in Buddhist history, said that it is deluded to kill even poisonous pests, and Asoka, the Buddhist King of India, posted edicts that included a prohibition on the killing of vermin of all kinds.

At the time of the Buddha, rules were made against monks wandering about in the rainy season in part due to the damage done to so many creatures rising to the surface of wet soil for a drink. The same applied to the cutting of trees that were seen as essential to the lives of many animals large and small (known as "breathers"). Asoka planted shade trees, medicinal herbs and wayside wells for both humans and animals. This culture of non-harming, and recognition of the right to life enjoyed by all sentient beings contributes to what makes a monastery or Buddhist Temple feel so safe and welcoming to all.

Robert Thurman tells of the great India scholar-monk Asanga from the 5th century CE who at that point, had been meditating in a cave for 12 years, unsuccessfully, in order to gain a vision of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the future Buddha and the embodiment of loving kindness.  One day he saw a stray dog afflicted with maggot infested sores. Fearing that pulling the maggots off the dog would harm them, he expended great effort to coax them off the sore and onto his warm and moist tongue where they could feed on his own flesh.  At this point, both the dog and the maggots disappeared, and a full and splendorous image of Maitreya appeared where the dog had once been.

Meanwhile, just by walking in the forest or breathing the air, we are taking the life of many small creatures. We inadvertently kill hundreds of insects on a nighttime car ride. We wipe out thousands of bacteria, also sentient beings, daily when we shower and brush our teeth and disinfect our homes.  Generally, there has been a strong element of practicality in Buddhism relative to the extent people are expected to go to avoid any and all killing.

This is one way that the Middle Path distinguished itself from Jainism, where the most devoted of followers would shun clothing, wear masks to filter out airborne creatures, and sweep their path before letting their feet touch the ground. The Buddhist approach to ahimsa, or non-harming, in the realm of small animals and microorganisms, was to exercise all reasonable measures to avoid needless or avoidable killing--recognizing that these creatures too want to eat and avoid harm. In fact, humans are not apart from the world of microorganisms, and are made up of many smaller beings living on us and within us.

Nevertheless, as Buddhist scholar Brian Peter Harvey explains, to kill or harm another being, whether it is a rat or a cockroach or a horse, is to ignore the fragility and aspiration for happiness that one has in common with it. This violates the Dharma of interdependence, and compassion. The Buddha made no distinction between the sizes of the victim (cow or ant) or between intentions in killing (self-defense or hunting for pleasure). However, Buddhism focuses heavily on intention, so that all acts of killing are not necessarily equally blameworthy. However, its stronger emphasis on compassion insures that not harming other beings is always praiseworthy.

The Dalai Lama was once asked about swatting mosquitoes. He chuckled and said that if his mood is good, he will often just let the creature have a little blood.  If another one comes, his patience might become stretched a little thin and he would blow the offending creature off his arm. If yet a third mosquito comes, His Holiness said he is likely to give it a careful little shove off his arm.

Most of the time, the creatures we call pests are attracted to our homes because of food scraps, leftovers and a lack of cleanliness. So, technically, these small animals have been invited into our homes.

The three basic factors of a Buddhist approach to pests are to prevent, repel, and remove.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
dawn.heyse's picture

We had a problem with mice in our garage until we got pet rats. Now the smell of our pets' waste seems to deter the mice.

SophiaM's picture

From the OP article:

"Sprinkle your pet with cornstarch or baking soda. Let it sit, and then brush it off outside. Add chopped raw garlic, and garlic oil, or powder to your pet food. Start with just a small amount, and gradually add more until the cat is getting up to one clove, and the dog is getting up to three cloves."

"Garlic Toxicity and Pets
A Small Amount Can Be Toxic
Many people consider garlic to be a holistic remedy in the prevention of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even certain types of cancer.

These potential medicinal benefits, however, are not effective for our pets. In fact, garlic is extremely toxic to dogs and cats and the consumption of even a small amount can lead to severe poisoning and, if not treated in time, death.
Pet owners who believe garlic helps prevent fleas should heed caution.

“Using garlic as a homeopathic treatment for flea prevention has been debunked as not effective,” says Lee. “I would never recommend adding any garlic powder to your pet’s meal; you could potentially injure your pet over time.”"

Eric Wright's picture

Regarding Aphids, any insect soap or a solution of soap you make yourself will suffocate the animals. If you wish for no-harm on aphids, they are very fragile creatures and just touching them can kill them. The best option would be to spray them off with plain water using a spray bottle, or to shake them off from the plant by grabbing its stalk. Also the aphids in this picture appear to be afflicted by the parasitic wasp or hoverfly, who lays its offspring inside the insect to hatch, killing the aphid. This is a very effective natural control method and can be encouraged by planting small flowering plants like alyssums, or letting radish, turnip, dill, parsley, carrots or cilantro to bolt. The tiny wasps in their adult life cycle rely completely on pollen and nectar for food.

jakolsky's picture

I live in San Francisco and during the rainy season ants show up in great numbers. I happened to be visiting the Lawrence Livermore Science Museum in Berkeley about 15 yrs ago. They had an exhibit on how to use non poisonous means to eliminate pests.

The suggestion for ants was to locate the places they were coming in from and to dump copious amounts of cinnamon in the area and hole. Fifteen years later i have yet to see an ant.

wigijdk's picture

Unfortunately, my condo unit has a bit of a cockroach problem. I am not sure why, but I usually see them running down the hallway when I walk to the front door of my condo and I just leave them alone. Recently, though, my daughter woke up and apparently had sustained a cockroach bite while she was sleeping, and I did not even know they could bite. I try to be compassionate to all creatures, but I had to take some steps to keep the out of my home. There are some natural ways you can combat their presence. I did a search and found this page about what causes roaches and will be taking some action but if this doesn't work I may have to call a service.

caleb's picture

I usually just place pests back outside but the other day I went into my green house which gets super hot since its in phoenix probably like 108 degrees. Anyway I lifted up a board and and there was a mother and many baby scorpions. Scorpions really creep me out and I almost just smashed them with a board but instead I searched scorpion control phoenix in my local pages and found an amazing pest control company near me in phoenix. When I told the pest control agent not to kill them he gave me a funny look but he put them in a jar and said he would release them in the desert for me.

canadiancattrees's picture

I have a cat who eats spiders and flies! We inherited another new cat resident. Darn cats had already shredded up a couch and loveseat and guess what, wife wants new ones now. I thought of building the kitties a new cat tree to prevent them from furniture scratching until I found an awesome site in Canada. Cats love them! cat trees Canada They have a great selection of Armarkat models, all kewl looking cat towers!>armarkat in Canada I even found an article that tells you how to train your cat! solve cat scratching I tried the yarn trick after putting the catnip between the ropes and my cats went crazy.

kirk_1's picture

I have long captured spiders in upside-down glasses, and tossed them out the windows, or opened windows and shooed out flies. This said, there are some that I won't treat that way; if you get ants, even though, as the above comment says, they don't bring germs, you need to stop them, because they will infest your home, eventually making a nest if you do nothing.

Mosquitoes, on the other hand, carry serious diseases. I live in France, and in the south of the country, there is a problem with a tropical disease that recently reached France from mosquitoes.

I also had, some years ago, a yellowjacket nest in the attic of my house. They were coming into my son's bedroom through gaps in the roofing. I called an exterminator for that.

It's worth noting that insects are considered by some to not be "sentient beings," and, while I do believe that all life is sacred, I'll draw the line at mosquitoes and yellowjackets.

sharmila2's picture

The risk of "germs" spreading through "pests" is quite overblown, and unfortunately a common misconception. Yes, there are a few insects that carry disease, some mosquitos and ticks in certain regions. However, the VAST majority of so-called "pests" are benign and harmless - ants, spiders and cockroaches - and their main crime is to provoke our "ick" factor. You are far more likely to catch "germs" from your school, workplace, bank, grocery store and - worst of all - hospital or clinic environment, simply by contact with humans and the things human touch, which is everything.
So sorry, but there is no scientific excuse to kill bugs unless you also wear sterile gloves, mask and a hazmat suit as you go about your daily business. Didnt think so :)

saprishi81's picture

Having pests in the house means that there would be germs so you and your entire family are running the risk of diseases. It is better to solve this problem; you have the solutions pest control. Get a good pest control company to get pest control done at your place.

caleb's picture

I am teaching my daughter to be compassionate for bugs and insects.
Kinda funny,my daughter and I actually made rollie pollie farm out of a old fish tank. The rollie pollies are loving it! I was wondering what rollie pollies eat so I typed in what do rollie pollies eat on google and I was amazed at the information I found. Turns out rollie pollies can eat fish food. Talk about the circle of life. Our fish dies. We have extra food and a tank and along comes a rollie pollie farm!

I found out all you can ever want to know about what rollie pollies eat here

silverdesertlv's picture

While striving to have compassion, I have found that their are a number of ways to keep pests out without killing them. I do admit that if there is a significant health risk to a pest problem I will opt for control methods that include killing the pests. I do however try to do as little damage as possible. For example, i recently found a cockroach inside my home. I have heard that they don't harm anything but i have also heard that they can spread disease and even bite. See Do Cockroaches Bite I am very conflicted in how to handle these types of problems. Thoughts?

sharmila2's picture

cockroaches are harmless, just annoying and icky. they dont bite live humans, but some varieties can fly and be quite alarming. unfortunately they are difficult to get rid of, especially if you live in a humid climate and a house with lots of spaces for them to hide and propagate.

prema.dimauro's picture

i too had a compassionate heart for a rat that i found in my house i went to lowes and got a no kill cage.
i caught the rat and put him in the car to transport him. during the car transprot the cage overturned and the rat got loose n my car. i had to go home and leave the doors open hoping that he would lleave the car, which he did.

littled did i know he was just one of a family of rats i had running around my house. at this pont i had to get the big weapons out and . it took quite sometime to get ride of all the critters, but to my disappointment i had no alternative but to do what i did. the safety of my dog and family was important to me my health could have been in jeopordy. i tried. i still feel bad but i did what had to be done!!!

peace and love

agapetos's picture

Wonderful article! In my family I often get a share of questioning glances when, for example, I save a tick that has attached to me or my dogs and release it back into nature. It seems people in Europe have extremely strong aversion and fear of ticks. But despite their horrific incarnation, all they want is a little food.

Alan Shusterman's picture

I have to admit being challenged by this. I'm known in my house for catching spiders and ushering them outside, but there's no denying that there's even a limit to my tolerance. Most of the bugs listed here are on my Squash list. So perhaps the following comment is just a way for me to justify my bug-harming ways.

Consider this: unlike humans, bug behavior is guided primarily by chemical signals. What counts for 'bug eyes' and 'bug ears' are relatively useless (or adapted for highly specialized purposes like triggering circadian rhythms or dodging a bat's radar). The basic behaviors of fight-or-flight, eat-or-reproduce, are largely determined by kinds of chemicals that bugs stumble into. Most of the recommendations made here (sprinkle this fragrant herb, swab that natural oil) are literally chemical warfare as far as bugs are concerned. Bugs avoid these chemical because natural selection has taught them that the chemicals are harmful or toxic.

Chemical deterrents may look gentle to us (and the intent is certainly there), but try to see it from a bug's point of view.

sharmila2's picture

Agree that the suggestions are all chemical deterrants; but since the bug will instinctively avoid them with no harm to themselves, it is surely superior to the -crushed on the sole of your shoe- approach!

deannalang7's picture

I really do try to do relocate bugs to outside. And what's wonderful is that I'm teaching my young daughters that all life is important and precious. (and also not to have the typical girl-screaming reaction!)

sharmila2's picture

congratulations - I've trained my husband finally after 10 years of marriage that it is worth taking the effort to relocate the bug outside, rather than kill it for no reason. He still grips that they are in "his" space, but at least we've found a peaceful compromise!