Touché, Soulé (And a Little Praise, Too)
Regarding the profile of “eco-warrior” Michael Soulé [“Buckshot Bodhisattva,” Winter 2003]: perhaps the most ecologically friendly thing for me to do would be to kill and eat suburban dwellers to reduce my footprint on the earth and control urban sprawl. That doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.
—Pablo Miramontes, Victoria, British Columbia
I was appalled and deeply saddened to read that Michael Soulé considers himself a dharma practitioner while continuing to hunt and harm defenseless animals. Being a true dharma practitioner means giving up acts that are harmful—verbal, mental, and behavioral—and not conveniently rationalizing why one has to continue these harmful acts. Instead of hunting deer, Dr. Soulé can always write and engage in other nonharmful acts in order to advocate for the preservation of biological diversity. If he finds it necessary to continue to kill in order to enhance biodiversity, he is pursuing a wrong livelihood.
—Reiko Makiuchi - New York, New York
Your fiftieth issue was the best ever. But I do have a quibble with the story on Michael Soulé. It seems to me that killing nature’s creatures for pleasure is best left to non-Buddhists. Mr Soulé’s argument—that putting a dent in the herbivore overpopulation is not a bad thing—is a pretty weak position to take. In this day and age, deer populations across the country are managed as a crop to be “harvested” by hunters. If there are too many deer, the various state departments of wildlife and fisheries extend the hunting season. If there are too few, predator hunting is opened up.
I assume that the Buddhist outlook on permitted “surgical violence” would imply an ultimate good to be derived from the action. Shooting deer implies no such good. It is really not much different than shooting a cow in the field, or for that matter going to a game farm where, as in this state at least, game animals are raised for the specific “sport” of “animal killing.”
I do greatly admire Michael Soulé and his work, but in this instance I think he is wrong!
—Marcel Rodriguez, Springdale, Utah
Finally! A scientist’s voice is heard in Tricycle and there’s no mumbojumbo about the Big Bang, or parallel quantum universes, or how Buddhism is a science. Instead, there are words that resonate with actual experience. In her profile of Michael Soulé, Lisa Jones writes:
“Scientists interact by sparring intellectually. 'They’re trained to criticize, to find the flaw in the argument,’ [Soulé] said. 'That puts you in a reactive, hostile state of mind.’ It’s just what he’s working to undo.”
There is tension between science and Buddhism. It would be good to hear more about it.
—Brad Marston, Professor of Physics, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
Michael Soulé Responds
The issue is what, where, and how to kill, not whether. The American Buddhist vegan indirectly kills many deer, mice, reptiles, and hundreds of other species of animals by co-opting their habitat for farming, houses, stores, hospitals, roads, airports, and dharma centers. Moreover, few of us calculate the cost in animal lives of hauling food in trucks (road kills) and of feeding pets their meat-based foods.
Or consider tofu. In the U.S., the consumption of soy products would not be economical were it not for deer hunters. This is because crop depredation by deer on soy beans is so serious a problem in the Midwest that farmers would go belly-up in many places within three to five years if hunting were outlawed. In an ecologically ideal world, predators would keep the deer in check, and state game agencies would be perfect managers of wildlife. Simple greed precludes both from happening.
The letter writers who abhor hunting mammals certainly have a conscionable case. I would simply ask, Which policy does the least harm to nature: ethical hunting of super-abundant animals, or allowing human-caused ecological disharmonies to degrade the earth? Ethical paralysis and denial in the face of such dilemmas are forms of ignorance (one of the Three Poisons), as would be my claim that my way is the most ethical course for everyone.