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Zen and the Martial Ants

September 23, 2010

Ant Nest, 1979

Image Credit: Ant Nest by Pro Hart, 1979

Today a woman was sitting outside.

A man walked by and stepped on an ant.

It died. Soon another ant came to it. It seemed heartbroken, somehow. It was clearly very concerned about the dead
ant. It crouched over it and refused to leave. Another ant came by. It tried to get the grieving ant to come away with it.

They got rough with each other, as though they were fighting, until the third ant gave up and left.

The woman, still watching, feeling the ant’s suffering, called to the man and explained to him the situation. He walked on, going about his business.

Soon another ant came along. It was more understanding of the ant’s grief. They discussed it. A few more ants came over. They all talked, or so it seemed by their body language. They tried to console the grieving ant, but to no avail.

Soon, the man walked by again. He stepped on the dead ant, again. The woman cried out. “What?” the man said, “It was already dead!” He again walked on. The grieving ant had now fled. The woman cried.

As the woman sat watching the ants, she realized, ants are emotional creatures! Few of us ever consider the feelings of ants! And yet, knowing of their suffering, what does this mean for us? This woman seriously contemplated a mercy killing, putting it out of its misery and allowing it to be together with its loved one, the dead ant.

 Her reasoning  would be following in the Hindu tradition of Sati, in which a woman throws herself on the funeral pyre of her dead husband, so that
she may go with him to death.

However, is this the right thing to do, to go around putting creatures out of their misery?

No.

Is this the right way to deal with suffering?

No.

 How many people have been in the midst of great suffering and
grief, feeling as though they ought rather be dead?

How many people have even cried out, “God, please take me! I
can’t take this suffering! I can’t live without my darling!”?

People have these feelings, but they are only that, feelings, and they pass.

When we live through such deep suffering we learn that it ends, and we are transformed by it.

Suffering is a part of healing and spiritual growth. Out of suffering comes knowledge. And with compassion, we can just know what it is to suffer and do all that we can to ease the suffering of others, even ants.

This means, letting the ant suffer, as the suffering over the loss of a loved one can’t be helped, but also letting it know that it is not alone. In this way we can come to know and understand the unity of all of life, to respect it, and cherish it, and knowingly do no harm to any creature.

~ Found story at Aranya

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