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Thread: Karma as Inaction

  1. #1

    Karma as Inaction

    My cat died over the weekend. Now, thereís a story behind this. My family has had, in itís time, 1 dog (who somehow got outside and ran away), two lizards (my oldest sonís, they died of Iím assuming starvation), 1 frog (my middle sonís, also starved), a different kitten (feline leukemia), and Kunai, the cat in question. For the few days leading up to buying him, and even on the day we got him, I protested the whole thing. I knew that no one in my family was ready to handle a pet, this had been proven over and over, and I for one didnít want to see another animal die. I was assured they would take care of it, which I knew wouldnít last, and I allowed myself to be talked into it. He stayed in the house for a year or two, but after a while, he would take swipes at Liam, my middle child, with his claws. I donít blame him, there were several occasions when Liam had to be disciplined for trying to hit the kitty. I mean, if I were the cat, Iíd have swiped at him, too. Then, when he began pooping on the floor and getting into the trash, my wife decided he was to become an outside cat. I lobbied for him to stay and he did for a time, but the pressure from my wife and then even my children finally got me to acquiesce, and Kunai was put outside. I warned my family that putting the cat outside was a death sentence, but no one believed me. And last weekend, he died. There were no marks, so he wasnít hit by a car or anything, Iím thinking he ate something that he shouldnít have, but I canít be certain.

    My inaction in this case, contributed to the death of another sentient being, and I must carry that karma. I wanted to share this with you because ďkarmaĒ literally translates as ďactionĒ, but I wanted to illustrate that our INaction can also have profound karmic implications. The story of Kitty Genovese is another example. She was attacked, stabbed numerous times, sexually assaulted and left for dead. About a dozen people were aware of some portion of the attacks (the attacker stabbed her twice, ran to his car, came back 10 minutes later and attacked her again) but only one witness called the police. There is a movie line from the Boondock Saints where a priest says, ďWe must all fear evil men, but there is one kind of evil which we must fear most, the indifference of good men.Ē So, it was with sadness and disappointment in myself, that I did not protest more strongly, or put my foot down and refuse to put the cat out side, that I buried Kunai, far, far, earlier than he should have been, but also at the only time he could have been.

    I have since informed my family that we will not be getting another animal until everyone in the house is mature enough to take proper care of it.

  2. #2

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Hello,

    all I can say is that I know only too well how painful the death of a beloved animal can be. An old lovely cat we took into our home only six weeks ago, died ten days ago because she was too frail and must have been hit by a car at some point prior to her appearing in our kitchen as if by magic. Your assessment of your situation sounds brutally honest. I guess brutal honesty is the best that can come out of a situation like the one you are in, and I am saying this as someone who can relate to your scenario. Just know that I am feeling with you. I wish you the insight and strength to make the best out of this situation.


    Gassho,

    Hans

  3. #3

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    I have since informed my family that we will not be getting another animal until everyone in the house is mature enough to take proper care of it.
    Hey Chris,

    Well, I do agree that one should not have an animal as a pet unless one can take care of it.

    I am not sure that this amounts to the same degree of inaction as standing by while witnessing a crime, nor that this necessarily had to be the outcome of putting the cat out ... so I think you may be a bit hard on yourself. Our cat learned to open the window screens and, despite our many efforts to prevent it, finally won ... and goes outside as he pleases (he comes back). I know many cats who have lived like that for 15 or 20 years.

    But it shows what a good heart you have to feel responsibility here, and you are grieving for the loss of your cat. I would be heartbroken too. The Buddha said that "separation and parting from those we love" is one cause of Dukkha (suffering) ...

    ... and, amid the sorrow, you should now open your hand and let him go.

    Gassho, J

  4. #4

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Hello Christopher,
    I am very sorry for your troubles but thankful for your practice.
    Between these we learn about life and grow in faith (confidence). As one, not two.
    As I know you do.
    Gassho,
    Don

  5. #5

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM

    My inaction in this case, contributed to the death of another sentient being, and I must carry that karma.
    Chris,

    I can't see your actions or inactions as unskillful in this situation. I see no "bad" karma to carry.

    Guilt, sorrow, sadness - sure - but those are other things entirely. Don't be too hard on yourself.

  6. #6

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Chris, sorry about the loss of your cat. Hindsight is 20/20 but you did the best you could with the whole situation. It just turned out that your children are not ready for the love and responsibility a pet requires.
    /Rich

  7. #7

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I am not sure that this amounts to the same degree of inaction as standing by while witnessing a crime, nor that this necessarily had to be the outcome of putting the cat out ... so I think you may be a bit hard on yourself.
    I hadn't meant to seem like I was equating them as though by a metric, so I apologize if it seemed that way. What I meant to say with my story is that inaction can be as dangerous as wrong action. From inaction to the correction of little things, we train ourselves to believe that inaction can be ok, just so long as when we do act, we act rightly. This is not how I feel we should conduct ourselves as disciples of the Buddha. As Buddhists, we should make no distinction of "small matters" and "large matters" but understanding that when we act or do not act, that it should be from a place of clarity, and a place that recognizes the possible outcomes of the situation, both mundane and karmic.

  8. #8

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnsonCM
    As Buddhists, we should make no distinction of "small matters" and "large matters" but understanding that when we act or do not act, that it should be from a place of clarity, and a place that recognizes the possible outcomes of the situation, both mundane and karmic.
    Yes, I agree with this. In our practice we should make no distinction between "small matters" and "large matters", and we should try to recognize the possible outcomes.

    But it is also time for some "simultaneously true perspective(s)", many seemingly contradictory but ... in our Zen eyes ... often ways to look at things at the same time. Some are like tools on the toolbelt that we can take or put back when needed ...

    So, we might say that there are no "small" vs. "large" matters - such that every matter is a "large matter" ... everything vital and sacred in its way, and deserving our full attention. Dogen wrote in the "Instructions for the Cook"

    When soaking the rice for the midday meal, the cook should not leave the vicinity of the sink. Keep a sharp eye on everything, so as not to waste even a single grain, and properly rinse out any foreign objects. Put the rice in the pots, light the fires, and steam it. Of old it was said, "When steaming rice, treat the pot as one's own head; when rinsing the rice, know that the water is one's own lifeblood."
    As well, know that perspective of dropping all thought of "large and small" by which there is neither "high" nor "low", "small or large" ...

    What is regarded as the preparation of superb delicacies is not necessarily superior, nor is the preparation of a soup of the crudest greens necessarily inferior. When you select and serve up crude greens, if you do so with a true mind, a sincere mind, and a pure mind, then they will be comparable to superb delicacies. Why is that so? Because when one enters into the pure and vast oceanic assembly of the buddha dharma, superb delicacies are never seen and the flavor of crude greens does not exist: there is only the one taste of the great sea, and that is all.
    However, let's face it ... sometimes "small" matters are just small ... "large" matters large and more important ... and we should treat them as such. Don't people sometimes say "don't sweat the small stuff"? This is just common sense. Caring for kids is more important than caring for cats, which is more important than caring for furniture. Sometimes we can't pay as much attention to the cats as we do to our kids. Try as we might, human beings cannot stay alert for every possibility, each moment of the day ... and to do so would lead to madness.

    And sometimes "large" is "small" ... and "small" is larger than "large"! So, for example, sometimes we may have to divert our attention from our "important" activities in our "important jobs" or to bring "peace" in a terrible war on the other side of the world ... because we must take the time to play ball with a 3 year old child.

    These are all True in their way ... all at once (or in various non-dual pairings)!

    You wrote that we should act "from a place of clarity ...that recognizes the possible outcomes of the situation." Dogen seemed to say much the same thing ...

    When you return to your quarters, right away you should close your eyes and clearly envision the number of individual places in the [sangha] hall ...

    Now carefully calculate: for every grain of rice to be eaten, one grain must be supplied. If a single grain of rice is divided, then you will have two half-grains of rice. Three tenths, four tenths; one half, two halves. If you supply two half-grains of rice, you will make a single whole grain. Or, supply nine tenths and see how many tenths you still have; now take back nine tenths and see how many tenths are still there.

    [Ask yourself] Is my measurement complete or not? Is your calculation complete or not? If you carefully inspect and exhaustively check [these matters], your understanding will dawn and become clear. ...
    But, ya know ... Dogen often spoke and wrote like a football coach giving a pep talk to his team. Dogen knew how to "talk big" ... and he wasn't much for "small talk". In reality ... we cannot always know or pay attention to everything (even from a "position of clarity"), foresee everything, make the right choice in every situation. Our best intentions will go wrong (it is thus that the intention and the attention counts more than the result). And some situations have no choice but the frying pan or the fire (maybe there would have been much worse harmful results to leave the cat in the house).

    Did anyone ask the cat?

    Our cat seems much happier and more at ease now that we do not try to keep him imprisoned in the house all day. Maybe his life will be shorter ... but I don't think that cats think in terms of "long" or "short" in the same way we do ... and do not share the same sense of importance. Perhaps your cat very much thrived and truly lived a cat's life during his short time of freedom.

    Dogen closed his "Instructions for the Cook" with a comment on what it means to be "large" and "great" ...

    So-called "great mind" is, in its spirit, like a great mountain or a great sea: it has no partiality and no factionalism. Lifting an ounce, it does not consider it light; hefting a stone, it does not consider it heavy. ... [The great heart] does not get hypnotized by spring; it does not darken with the colours of autumn. See the changes of the seasons as all one movement, understand light and heavy in relation to each other within a view which includes both. It views [pennies] and [half dollars] within the context of a single system of measurement. As an emblem of this sameness, we can write the character "great". You should know the character "great". You should study the character "great". ... You should know that the great teachers of old were alike in their study of the character "great" in connection with the diverse phenomena of this world.
    Dogen talked a good game.

    Just do your best ... and realize that we all get distracted sometimes, let the mind wander, can't watch every grain of rice, can't pick up every signal, can't act on our every instinct, have to make hard choices sometimes, "give in" sometimes, compromise sometimes ... can't have acted upon every clue or premonition or gut feeling seen in hindsight ... and that, in life, the soup doesn't always come out as we wish and ... try as we might ... sometimes the rice gets burnt. Just do you best, cut yourself some slack for the rest.

    Gassho, J

    PS - I would like to add a thought for your cat, and all the other little animals, to our Heart Sutra recitation this week.

  9. #9

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Gassho, Jundo. Both your lesson and the addition of Kunai to the Heart Sutra recitation. I thought of him as I made my atonement vows that evening. I will take your words to "heart" (zen pun intended)

  10. #10

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    Did anyone ask the cat?

    Our cat seems much happier and more at ease now that we do not try to keep him imprisoned in the house all day. Maybe his life will be shorter ... but I don't think that cats think in terms of "long" or "short" in the same way we do ... and do not share the same sense of importance. Perhaps your cat very much thrived and truly lived a cat's life during his short time of freedom.

    ...

    Just do your best ... and realize that we all get distracted sometimes, let the mind wander, can't watch every grain of rice, can't pick up every signal, can't act on our every instinct, have to make hard choices sometimes, "give in" sometimes, compromise sometimes ... can't have acted upon every clue or premonition or gut feeling seen in hindsight ... and that, in life, the soup doesn't always come out as we wish and ... try as we might ... sometimes the rice gets burnt. Just do you best, cut yourself some slack for the rest.

    Gassho, J

    PS - I would like to add a thought for your cat, and all the other little animals, to our Heart Sutra recitation this week.
    Hey Chris,

    Our family lived a bit of this advice today ...

    Our cat (Tin Tin, who has dropped into our Zazen sittings from time to time) ... was hit by a car today, had big surgery to put a pin in a shattered leg. I thought he was going to die, and it will still be touch and go for the coming week. Some hurdles in the coming days.

    I knew it was a possibility, although the road is not so close by. Still ... he seemed happy to be out in the sunshine all summer, stressed in the house. I think it was the right choice to let him go run around still.

    There are people in this world who would die (literally) for medical care like he got ... it makes me feel selfish and ashamed. Truly. But one look at my son's face ... well, what else is there to do?

    However ... he is holding on, just wait and see. He will be in the animal hospital for one week or more.

    After it happened ... I experienced sitting with the sadness, while letting go too.

    I also experienced one of those "winking at heaven" moments I sometimes mention ... asking nothing and no favors, but asking anyway ... a prayer to Buddha, to Kannon, to God, to anyone or any ear who might listen. Maybe, yes, asking for a favor ... but, at heart, expressing a willingness to yield to it all whatever happens.

    Gassho, J

  11. #11
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Ah, poor Kunai. And poor Tin Tin.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    There are people in this world who would die (literally) for medical care like he got ... it makes me feel selfish and ashamed. Truly.
    I know what you mean. My cat has had several expensive surgeries, not to mention radioiodine treatment for his thyroid . . . and so many people in this world can't afford basic health care. I always try to justify it . . . well, our television is 15 years old, we do without cell phones and gadgets . . . I buy clothes at the thrift store . . . blah blah blah, it is still unsettling, but I love that cat and he has some years in him yet.

    Also, I know it seems unfair to keep a cat cooped up in the house, but unfortunately, you've experienced exactly why one should. :cry: In my area, we're not even allowed to let our cats (or dogs) run free. I tried the leash thing for a while, but kitty got fleas! Usually once you stop allowing the cat to go out, there's a whining-by-the-door period, and then eventually they give up, maybe sit in the windows instead. And of course catnip toys are good for keeping them occupied and exercised. I'm sure it's not as much fun for them, but it really is the more responsible thing to do.

  12. #12
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Karma as Inaction

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    Our family lived a bit of this advice today ...

    Our cat (Tin Tin, who has dropped into our Zazen sittings from time to time) ... was hit by a car today, had big surgery to put a pin in a shattered leg. I thought he was going to die, and it will still be touch and go for the coming week. Some hurdles in the coming days.

    I knew it was a possibility, although the road is not so close by. Still ... he seemed happy to be out in the sunshine all summer, stressed in the house. I think it was the right choice to let him go run around still.

    There are people in this world who would die (literally) for medical care like he got ... it makes me feel selfish and ashamed. Truly. But one look at my son's face ... well, what else is there to do?

    However ... he is holding on, just wait and see. He will be in the animal hospital for one week or more.

    After it happened ... I experienced sitting with the sadness, while letting go too.

    I also experienced one of those "winking at heaven" moments I sometimes mention ... asking nothing and no favors, but asking anyway ... a prayer to Buddha, to Kannon, to God, to anyone or any ear who might listen. Maybe, yes, asking for a favor ... but, at heart, expressing a willingness to yield to it all whatever happens.

    Gassho, J
    Deep bows to Master Tin Tin...

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  13. #13

    Re: Karma as Inaction

    For a while, my current cat Google (because he loves computers and is always bringing things back to us) was always trying to get outside. On the occasions he succeeded, he'd go charging out the front door, look around, and immediately decide that this was Not a Place He Wants To Be.

    He does keep fairly fit, even though he's on self-feed (he won't eat food we put in a dish, but will go diving into the cat-food bag whenever he gets hungry -- he also won't drink water from his bowl, but loves to drink out of people's cups or the toilet if someone leaves the seat up).

    I actually think that having cats, especially Google, has taught me a fair bit about Zen -- in the mind of a cat, there is no difference between what-is and what-should-be (although I have noticed that this mostly comes from the cat's idea of what-should-be BEING what-is, the slower people around him just not having caught on to this yet) -- when it's time to play, he plays, when it's time to sleep, he sleeps, when it's time to be petted he'll climb all over whatever is being done to correct the oversight of him not being the center of attention -- I think that the average, well-adjusted cat is possibly the closest thing to a completely enlightened being I've ever known.

    Gassho,

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