By Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih

When the universe of a billion worlds is contemplated in stillness, one sees that bad karma has welled up and filled it all. Nations ravage nations creating world wars; families slay families creating civil strife; men murder men causing wars between self and others; people kill themselves causing war between the mind and nature, and so forth, until space battles space, and water fights water, creating wars between form and formless. There are so many wars! How sorrowful, how painful! Every single disaster comes from acts of killing.

In these opening lines of Water and Mirror Reflections on Averting Calamities, written by the Venerable Ch'an Master Hsuan Hua, the major problem facing our world emerges. Conflicts in society and crises in nature are mounting to the point that few people are able to maintain the pretence any longer that none of this has anything to do with them. Each man, woman, and child is having to take a long and serious look at what effect his deeds have on other people and on his environment. At the very least they must ask themselves, "Why are there wars? Why is there so much strife between people? Where does the deep-seated resentment come from?"

Anyone who has conscientiously considered this question has come to realize that straight pointing to the cause is impossible. What emerges is more like a net--an interwoven linking of circumstances, attitudes, and actions--which binds people in a massive collective karma. Nonetheless, certain threads can be pulled. The whole ugly mass can unravel. But it takes patience to find the right end and pull with just the right amount of tension. How much the more so when the beginning of the karmic knot turns out to be your own strongest habits. "But I'm not a killer," you protest. "You just quoted the Master as saying, ‘Every single disaster comes from acts of killing.'"

Of course you aren't, but on the other hand, you have to admit that things have reached the point between people—there is often so much stored-up resentment—that even looks can kill. A poet describes these evolving depths of fatal sophistication as the act of being "dead-alive, sun-extinct, and busy putting the sun out in other people." When immorality becomes this subtle, its ravages should be even more apparent on grosser levels. But karma blinds. What should be obvious is being, at best, overlooked; at worst, ignored.

Perhaps a verse from the ancients will open a few eyes:

The pots of stew have simmered on for hundreds of thousands of years.

They brew up seas of resentment that boil over in hatred unrestrained.

If you would like to know why there are wars--the horrors of weapons 

      and troops and wasted lives

Try listening at the door of a slaughterhouse to the haunting midnight cries.

Obviously, the "stew" referred to is beef, or lamb, or veal, or pork. For a long time now, there's always been meat in the pot. In fact, it's been the least a self-respecting man could do--to provide for his family by insuring that there is meat on the table. Unfortunately the vestiges of that proverbial pot have taken their toll to the point that Master Hua exclaims:

What is the present time? It is the time of the imminent extinction of living things. As we look around the Dharma-realm we see that countries battle each other, families contend with each other, individuals struggle against one another on and on until great wars between world systems arise. An ancient author said, "War results from quarrels over land and corpses fill the fields. War arises from conflicts over cities, and corpses fill the streets. The earth is made to eat the flesh of people. Such of tenses cannot be expiated by death."

Why won't such of tenses be even be expiated by death? It is because the continual act of killing has brewed up a resentment that boils over into hatred. People have killed so many animals. And as those animals are reborn as people, they will want to get revenge. That is way day by day the resentment grows. There is no way to resolve it, and this extends to the point that the cycle doesn't even wait for those who have killed to die and become animals before the revenge is taken: people have simply taken to killing off their own kind. You kill me and I kill you. Before you killed me, so now I am going to kill you. And we are left with the horror of weapons and troops and wasted lives.

Perhaps now the connection between the human realm and the realm of animals is becoming clear. To bring home the point a little more vividly, let me quote a passage from Celebrisi's Journey, a novel by David Rounds, published recently by Ten Thousand Buddhas Press. The passage begins as the protagonist and a child enters a slaughterhouse (the kind popular prior to 1958, after which this particular method of killing was outlawed by an Act of Congress. Livestock must now be rendered unconscious by gunshot, carbon dioxide gas, or mechanical or electrical stunning before it is shackled and hung for slaughter.)

The tour began in a bright clean room lined with dioramas setting forth the anatomy of the hog and the history of meatpacking in America. There was a grocery-corner with the products of the place and a display of pharmaceuticals that use animal derivatives. The display was pill-bottles pouring out from a red plastic pig's mouth. A small man with a high voice and a sharp face, dressed in a white medical coat, came in and lectured us: "The Hog: Beneficial to Man." His name was Crosby. I'd seen him from my seat on the job, leading tourists across the iron walkways overhead. There were about a dozen of us on the tour that day: three or four older couples on cross-country trips, and a pair of bearded college kids from Fort Wayne, who said they were in the neighborhood visiting their grandmother. "Any questions?" said Crosby. "Follow me, then. Please keep to the marked walkways. Do not run."

We tramped on the walkways from huge black room to huge black room, each given over to dismantling another part of the hog. There were quartering rooms and tanning rooms and lard boiling rooms and gut-drying rooms. Lonny pretended to be taking it all in with cool interest, but I could see that his stomach was turning just a bit, along with the rest of them. Crosby kept soothing us by pointing out how clean and efficient the place was. "You know what those long white strips on the stretcher down there are, my young friend?" the tour guide said to Lonny: "Intestines. Guts. Miles of them. That's what makes the jacket on your breakfast-sausage. Didn't know that, did you? I thought you didn't." This went on for close to an hour. "They say we use everything but the squeal. If you could think of a way we could use that, you could patent it and be a rich man," Crosby said. "Any ideas, anyone? How about it, my boy?" I have to admit I was just a bit pleased to see Lonny without an answer for once. He was looking rather pale.

Suddenly there was a faint sound of squealing, and Crosby herded us into a waiting room full of green furniture and photographs of waterfalls. He gave a little speech about how the last part of the tour was a little strong for some people, and anyone who wanted to sit it out right here, please feel free to do so; the room was fully air-conditioned. The old ladies and the college kids decided they'd had enough touring for the day. The old guys were ready, though. "As for you, my friend," Crosby said to Lonny, "young people have to be fifteen years of age to see the slaughtering-room, so I guess that means a parting of the ways. We have Field and Stream and popular Science, on the table there."

"Oh, no, thanks," Lonny told him. "I'm fifteen years old and three days. This is part of my birthday."

He must have planned it in advance. It was possible; he looked old for his thirteen and a half. The tour-guide looked at me. I was feeling queasy, and I didn't want to fight over it. I also didn't want to admit to Lonny that I'd just as soon sit out the slaughtering-room myself. I told myself Fine, I hope it really upsets the kid. I said to Crosby. "It's like Lonny says."

The squealing of the hogs sounded halfway between the screaming of horses and the screaming of women. It blasted at us when Crosby opened the door to the slaughtering-room. We had to cover our ears against the noise. It was another black room, slightly smaller than the others. We filed along a walkway twenty feet above the floor. Through a tall gate at the far end of the room, the fat brown hogs were being prodded into a chute one by one from the stockyards outside. The hogs flailed in a panic to climb the sides of the chute, but they couldn't get a grip with their hooves. As each one blundered out from the near end of the chute, two men, one on each side, reached down, wrestled with the hog a bit, then snapped a clamp on each of its hind heels, and the clamp swung the hog suddenly upwards to a moving chain eight feet above the floor. Hanging upside-down by its hind feet from the chain, the hog rode across the room, jerking and squirming till it seemed it would break its back. Its open screaming mouth flashed by us. Two shirtless brawny men stood just below us, with long knives in their hands. As each bawling hog drew year, one of the two men snatched it by an ear, swung up his knife, and sliced the hog's throat half through. Blood jumped out in a wide circle and splattered over the slaughterers. Then twitching and spurting, with its head flinging half off its moorings, the hog rode off through a door on its way to the dinner-plate.

It made me feel sick to think that I had been taking a hand in this murdering. I wanted to get out of that packinghouse and never see the sight of it again, and never see the sight of meat again.

      "Try listening at the door of a slaughterhouse to the haunting midnight cries," and then, I hope each person will take himself to task and try to untie his own knots. Learn to refrain from killing and liberate the living. If one person refrains from killing, the world has that much less violent energy in it—that much less evil influence. If ten people do not kill, then in the world there are ten spaces, which contain good energy. These spaces around non-violent people are devoid of negative influences and contain only positive energy. As with a single person, so is it with the entire world. If you are murderous, resentful, and hate, if you do not refrain from killing living being, then living beings will act in the same way toward you. But if you refrain from killing, liberate life and hold to morality, then living beings will be kind to you. Let us, as the Master put it, "embody the preference heaven and earth have for life; establish good government and dispense justice; banish quarrelling and dispense with greed; ignore ourselves and help others; see the universe as one family and see all people as one people." Let us see all living beings as one living being, remembering Sakyamuni Buddha's initial insight upon becoming enlightened, that "all living beings have the Buddha-nature; all can become Buddhas."

Issue #77 is for October 1976

Issue #78 is for November 1976

Issue #79 is for December 1976