What Do You Think?
Or view the video on the server at: http://video.tsemtulku.com/videos/RatAbuse.flv
This video was on my Facebook newsfeed and suffice to say, it disturbed me. It disturbed me because it was basically senseless pain being inflicted on another being. Not to say inflicting pain on anyone is excusable or justifiable under any circumstances, but in this case it was totally and entirely without utility.
What was being accomplished from whipping the rat? What was the point of the abuse? Someone caught a rat, strung it up against a fence and whipped it. What kind of mind plans all of that?
It also reminded me how discriminatory we are. While most people view rats as vermin, I have also heard of people who view them as pets. The treatment of the object (the rat) differs based on how they are labelled.
We put labels on animals – pets, vermin, food, transport, entertainment – which are all false. They are false because from culture to culture, from country to country, and even from household to household, the same species can be treated differently. For example, a guinea pig in the U.K. (pet) will be viewed differently to a guinea pig in Ecuador (food).
So while classifying animals based on purpose may be convenient for us because it simplifies how we can relate to them, at the same time simplifying them in this manner also becomes dangerous. It leads us to treat them on the basis of an imputed value and falsely applied label. It leads us to treat them as objects and that is where we start to think it is okay to harm, abuse and exploit animals because they have become something to be used.
Over time, this something-ness in the way we treat animals can become ingrained. The deeper it is ingrained in our psyche, the less empathetic we are and the colder we become. It explains why some people will never be able to stomach what goes on in an abattoir, while others have no problems and think nothing of participating in the slaughter of thousands. It explains why childhood abuse of animals is used as a predictor of sociopathy and psychopathy; a child that lacks empathy and treats living beings as things is at greater risk of growing up without empathy towards ‘larger’ living beings (i.e. humans) and treating them as things to be used.
Is living in and nurturing this lack of empathy and coldness what we desire as travelers on the spiritual path?
Developing compassion towards animals, regardless of their utility (and independent of their benefit to us!), is therefore imperative to our spiritual training. Once we have recognised the value of this, the next question then is how? One way we can develop compassion for animals is by remembering they are just like us. Just like humans, they feel pain, love, happiness, sadness, disgust, amusement.
We extend the discriminatory attitude that we apply to animals, to ourselves as humans. Just like we label animals, we give ourselves labels too – mother, daughter, girlfriend, wife, Dharma student – but when you strip away all of the labels, the fundamental core is this… just like animals, none of us want to feel pain and none of us want to suffer, and all of us want happiness. We take on these labels thinking it will make it easier for us to relate to the world but in reality, they limit us.
When you deal with someone on the basis of a single label, it limits how you can interact with them (“I deal with you this way because I am your mother”). And how you interact with that person may not necessarily be the most beneficial method for them, since you are interacting with them from the basis of yourself and your relationship with them, as opposed to interacting with them on the basis of what’s good for them.
Thus in this way, removing the labels you set for yourself and others logically becomes a much more liberating way to live. Our discriminatory attitude towards sentient beings will be the stumbling block for the development of compassion in our mindstreams. Removing the labels we project onto one another is essential to develop compassion for one another, by opening our minds to the empathy most of us naturally have.
But back to the rat video – animals don’t exist to be cute for us. They don’t exist to entertain us, accompany us, feed us or work for us. So as long as we keep thinking about animals in relations to ourselves, animal cruelty and suffering in this world will never stop.
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