Backup of David's Livejournal

What does it matter?

Some time ago, halophoenix posted the following koan:
The entire universe is the single eye of a monk. Where will you go to defecate? ~ Hsueh-Feng
That koan is a central theme to how I raise my children.

I am a spider-killing, meat-eating, air-conditioning-using defecating monster. I know this. But I do try to appreciate some of the consequence of my actions, and that's what I want to pass on to my kids.

When we use the AC, in the car or the house, I try to let the kids know that it's making the rest of the place hotter. (Later, I'll get them to understand that even if they left the refrigerator door open in the kitchen, the net effect will be to warm up the kitchen.) So we don't use the AC when it's simply hot, but when the heat affects our well being. Because we're doing the world our share of injustice if we cool ourselves down at their expense.

When I kill things, I try to explain to my kids where those things do us a service. (Ants aerate the ground. Spiders eat flies. What do wasps do?) So it makes me sad that the ones I kill have strayed from their path and put my family at risk of harm. The only spiders I kill are in my children's range of play in the house. Every time we walk, we find these things where they belong, and we're sure to talk about them. My kids are not shy to touch bugs and return them from the street or sidewalk to the garden.

We sometimes buy food from the local Chinese butcher, with whole or half pig and ducks hanging from hooks. We've bought duck and watched the butcher split the skull, and chop the body into inch-wide segments cutting the bone to let the yummy marrow be exposed. I tell them how their uncle fights for the gizzard, his favorite part. They understand that these are the same ducks we see in the pond. When we eat them, they've died, and they're no more.

Our charity of choice is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Partly because they're local and they're fun. Partly because it's imperative for us to know which fish are fished beyond the point of sustainability. So we can eat as many of them as quickly as we can, before they're gone. Just kidding.

I won't tell my kids not to kill, turn on the AC, or eat meat. But I hope they do understand the ripple effect we have on the world. When they decide to leave the spider, to take it outside, or to kill it, that they have a sense for what the consequences are.
There are those who brazenly defecate in the monk's eye without concern, and those who walk funny because they won't. I think I'm somewhere between the two.


 megami on Aug 18th 2006 at 2:14 AM
Those are good values to teach your kids. It's my belief that the difference between a good and bad parent is that the good parent will discipline the child, but tell them WHY. The bad parent's reasoning is "because I said so" or "because I'm your mom/dad".

 dblume on Aug 18th 2006 at 5:28 AM
Thanks. You make a good point, too. (And there's even so much more that can go wrong! Ugh!) It was hard to write in this space about the conflicting feelings that I'm not worthy to be here (in the sense that none of us are), but since I'm my best advocate, I'll do my best to live a fulfilling life without doing too much harm. (No one else can do that for me.) It's a very powerful koan.

 halophoenix on Aug 18th 2006 at 6:07 PM
I think you've captured a lifestyle that I like to characterize as living and behaving with "both eyes open." Usually I describe it to people as not just being aware or concious of the effects that my actions have on the world around me, but I try to explain that its important not to shy away from those effects, and it's important not to limit yourself in the things you do and say, but know, completely and totally, with both eyes open, what the effects of those words, actions, and behaviors have on the world around you. Whether it's what you eat and drink to the appliances you use and their impact to the impact that picking up trash on the sidewalk or making sure to go the extra mile and recycle your goods do. It's less about changing behavior and more about understanding it, and reconciling that behavior with one's own sensibilities. And when one understands their effects and begins to reconcile those actions, the changes are made not out of guilt or self-righteousness, but because of the need to make a difference-the need to make one's own footprint truly their own, for their own reasons. I really think you've hit on the core of the koan, at least as I understand it. But I'm not zen master, so I'll never claim to know...and something tells me the zen master wouldn't claim to either. :)

 dblume on Aug 18th 2006 at 6:27 PM
Thanks! I very much like the way you put that. And I'm relieved that the post seems to have been received in the spirit in which it was written. And I don't claim to understand the koan, either. I'm only sharing what I've taken from it, too! :-)

 tpederson on Aug 18th 2006 at 9:00 PM
We try to pass along the "big picture" to our kids, yet our understanding is limited. If we eat meat, an animal has died. I think our kids will understand that without much help. I will try to let my kids know that... Americans eat an astronomical amount of meat, and have an extreme rate of heart disease. The demand for the meat has turned farming into a "matrix" where animals can barely move. Animals get sick, animals are pumped with drugs, animals go crazy and attack each other. The demand creates a market for foreign fish farms which raze the coasts, leaving decimation. It creates a market for cattle which also decimates wild lands. The animals do a good amount of defecating in the monk's eye. The excrement and fertilizer destroys earth, such as the gigantic dead zone in the gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi empties. There are many other aspects of massive meat consumption. I am sure in the really big picture I know but a fraction of all the costs and benefits. I guess I can only let my children know this too, and hopefully equip them with the tools and desire to gain more understanding than I.

 dblume on Aug 18th 2006 at 9:40 PM
Hello, stranger! Harmonious and sustainable living is a subject worthy of serious discussion and thought. I'd love to see you post your thoughts. (Not to mention political rants.)