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Lions Roar : July 2009
23 SHAMBHALA SUN jULy 2009 I GET uP IN ThE MIddlE OF ThE NIGhT for a glass of water, pad into the kitchen, switch on the light, and there it is, perched on a cold burner of the stove. My heart jolts. The cock- roach freezes like a fugitive caught under a police helicopter’s search beam—and then hurls itself into action, its six tiny legs pumping furiously as it scurries for cover. unfortunately, this is not a rare happening; soon after I moved into this apartment, I discovered that it came with an all-too-lively problem. Something primal overwhelms me and I want to kill it, this nasty little invader of my space. Instead, I pause and think. Bud- dhism is all about becoming more aware. If William Blake could see a world in a grain of sand, why can’t I find an object for con- templation in this humble bug? If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of practice, it’s that the challenge is not about figuring out how to reach some dis- tant exotic nirvana. It’s about getting better at dealing with the daily issues, the times when life presents us with moral quanda- ries, great and small. And this—believe it or not—is one of those times. Should I kill the bug or let it live? I’m the emperor of my kitchen: thumb up or down? I realize, of course, that this may sound completely nutty. I’m not some fanatical animal rights activist. heck, I’m not even a “pet person.” I don’t see animals as cute little stand-ins for peo- ple—I just see them as animals. And I realize that I could buy a special little motel—Roaches Check In But They don’t Check Out!—and my whole problem would be solved. Or would it? My tingling Buddhist “spidey sense” tells me that something about this situation deserves a deeper inquiry. When I regard this Gabriel Cohen is the author of three novels and Storms Can’t hurt the Sky: A Buddhist Path Through divorce. Night of the Cockroach When he encountered the bug, Gabriel Cohen says, his first impulse was to crush it. But then he stopped to think about the implications, and the situation quickly became more complex. roach, I’m not calmly thinking, hmm, here’s a minor household situation that might need to be dealt with. No—I’m flooded with an intense jolt of anger and revulsion. I’m thinking, how dare you invade my safe kitchen, you malicious little bastard! When anger arises, it’s always a good idea to question what’s go- ing on inside, rather than out. First of all, because I have chosen to occupy this apartment, is it inherently mine? Why is it my space, as opposed to the roach’s? And why do I believe that this little creature is threatening me? I even impute a malicious streak to it, as if it were inherently both vermin—noxious and objectionable—and villain. When I look at things from the roach’s side, I see the wrong- ness of my view. This bug doesn’t wish me harm. It came out of the darkness into an open space, just seeking a bit of food, the satisfaction of its most basic needs. Then the light came on and a huge monster was standing there! From the roach’s point of view, I’m the menace; I’m the potential cause of suffering. I think about sharks. I fervently wish I had never seen the movie Jaws. I can never swim in the ocean without imagining (dun-dun, dun-dun) some deadly beast rising toward me from the depths. however, while writing an article about a contro- versy over shark-fishing tournaments, I learned something that surprised me. Guess how many people are killed, on average, by sharks each year worldwide? Fewer than six. how many sharks are killed by humans? Somewhere between forty million and a hundred million. Yet, as we plunge into these creatures’ native habitats, we’re the ones who are afraid. And when I probe my wrath toward the roach, I find—as I do with most anger—that it’s rooted in fear. Pretty odd. Though my chances of getting bitten by a shark are miniscule, at least it’s