Friday, June 8, 2012

Pest Problems, Buddhist Solutions

Well, my post detailing a particular real-life problem and asking what could be done about it within the framework of Buddhist ethics certainly provoked a lot of interest. Both in comments on the post itself and in personal emails to me, suggestions have ranged from the “grit your teeth and bare it” solution to the forthright “be damned and get rid of them” approach. In between there were suggestions which might be called ‘creatively impractical’ such as sprinkling cats’ droppings and even snakes’ droppings around. I say ‘creative’ because I would have never thought of anything like this and it might well have some effect, and ‘impractical’ because of the difficulties, not just of getting such stuff, but getting a steady supply of it. Obviously, as soon as the odour wore off the rats would return and I’d have to keep trudging off to the zoo. There were of course the usual Theravadin “pass the buck” suggestions; i.e. drop hints and get devotees or others to do the dirty work for you. Then there was advice such as chant mantras or the Metta Sutta at them or “try to communicate with them” as shamans supposedly do to animals. Thanks very much for those who made such suggestions and I hope you won’t take it too hard when I file them all under the ‘New Age flim-flam” category.
The only advice that seemed to me to be practical, realistic and perhaps effective was   “get a cat”. But of course this could be seen as just another version of the “pass the buck” one. In getting a cat my intentions would be partly negative because I would be specifically getting kitty  if not to kill the rats then at least to driven away, perhaps not as bad as killing but hardly an act of kindness.       
I consulted a rat expert about my problem the other day  and this is  what he told me.   “Rats are very territorial. A family of rats in one location will fiercely resist encroachment of other rats. If you kill them all off another group will soon move in to take their place. In crowded urban areas such as Singapore there are almost always rats, usually in two types of infestations – low-density or high-density. If you keep trapping the young one (those most likely to take the bait in a live trap) you will  have a manageable, low-density infestation. This, coupled with an open, uncluttered environment where rats cannot hide or nest and an absence of food, will keep their numbers down”. This sounded like realistic, practical, well-informed advice to me, much more so that the “move somewhere else” suggestion and some of the others. The one drawback to it is my immediate neighbour who has junk all over the place and the downstairs restaurant which despite their efforts to keep their outside eating area clean does provide the rats with easy pickings. Nonetheless, I intend to take the rat expert’s advice and keep up the live trapping. My mantra for the time being will be “Keep on trapping!” This is me with one of those nifty Singaporean humane  rat traps.
Of course this and the other suggested solutions are not relevant to the other scenarios I mentioned. What do you do when the kids (or you for that matter) get head lice or worms or when the family dog gets fleas? What do you do when a unique species is threatened with extinction by an invasive species? What, as a Buddhist, do you do? 


Jeffrey Kotyk said...

The cat idea might not be entirely wholesome, but it is a deterrent at the very least.

Blogger said...

Dear Venerable,

A Dhammic approach!Way to go!!


Ken and Visakha said...

Cats have been pets from the time we began walking upright. People don't keep them around merely as exerminators. Many enjoy their company. We appreciate our cat as a resident alarm system; she alerts us to scorpions, cockroaches, and centipedes in the house -- regulars all, which we catch and take for a walk. Of course, keep up the live-trapping but consider a cat, if for no more than the entertainment value -- a cat can be good companions, depending on the cat's personality.

Hanzze said...

Dear Venerable,

sometimes other beings approach that we are able to make some Dana (if we still have possessions)

I guess it's always good to think, what I am able to do to better the situation for all, not only in regard of other being, but also in regard of dislike.

Only that it is not mistaken, to share something for the sake to get rid of it, would be not really an act of Dana.

But I guess there are some good advices:

"[4] And what are the fermentations to be abandoned by tolerating? There is the case where a monk, reflecting appropriately, endures. He tolerates cold, heat, hunger, & thirst; the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; ill-spoken, unwelcome words & bodily feelings that, when they arise, are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, displeasing, & menacing to life. The fermentations, vexation, or fever that would arise if he were not to tolerate these things do not arise for him when he tolerates them. These are called the fermentations to be abandoned by tolerating.

"[5] And what are the fermentations to be abandoned by avoiding? There is the case where a monk, reflecting appropriately, avoids a wild elephant, a wild horse, a wild bull, a wild dog, a snake, a stump, a bramble patch, a chasm, a cliff, a cesspool, an open sewer. Reflecting appropriately, he avoids sitting in the sorts of unsuitable seats, wandering to the sorts of unsuitable habitats, and associating with the sorts of bad friends that would make his knowledgeable friends in the holy life suspect him of evil conduct. The fermentations, vexation, or fever that would arise if he were not to avoid these things do not arise for him when he avoids them. These are called the fermentations to be abandoned by avoiding.


Which fermentation is actually arising with it, one need to look by him self and also for other fermentation there are good advices in MN2.

Buddhas solutions are not only very participial (without speculation) but also secure for everyone.

May you and your visitors live a peaceful live and support each other in his needs.


paulmalone said...

Very good, Bhante. I hope this solution works well.

Sam Vega said...

"What do you do when the kids (or you for that matter) get head lice or worms or when the family dog gets fleas?"

It gets worse, Bhante. What do you do when you get a cat to deal with the rats, and the cat transmits fleas to the family?

yuri said...

Quotations provided by Hanzze are really important - tolerate or avoid! Yes, our choices are rather limited - but then, paraphrasing Jesus, we can say that the Path to liberation is indeed extremely narrow. No one demands that we follow Buddha's precepts. But if it is our serious choice, we should try to observe them as much as we can. And keep on trying... Intentional killing or harming other living beings is an impediment on the way to liberation. We may find many justifications for exterminating rats and killing mosquitoes - yet they all are worldly justifications bases on various kinds of clinging. Self-defence is absurd from the point of view of the Dhamma. Buddha called it an abysmal conceit to believe that "I exist". Any "comfortable niche" in this world is no less illusory. Of course, no one should criticise even Buddhists for acting not fully in accordance with the precepts while killing pests to protect themselves and other people from dangers and threats of this world, but one thing should be clear - it is a step back on the Path. Tolerance, avoidance or even "self"-sacrifice are more skilful. And avoidance includes also hygiene,cleanliness and repellents.

Ah Heng said...

Why is chanting the Metta sutta to the rats considered "New Age flim-flam"?

Walter said...

I have a belated possible solution to the problem. Now the rats either have a nest in the premises of the BDMS or have it in the neighboring premises. So the first thing to do is to check thoroughly whether the nest is within the premises. If it is, then the nest should be cleared (quite possible to do so without killing them I suppose). If it is not, then the rats are either coming into the premises or simply passing through in search of food. So, hygiene (as Yuri noted) is necessary so that the rats have no reason to come into the premises. Additionally, seal all openings to empty spaces, such as the space within false ceilings. Keeping a cat might also be effective in deterring the rats from coming into the premises from elsewhere. As the intention in keeping the cat is to deter and not to kill the rats, I think it should be acceptable. Hope this helps.

Yashas said...

Off the topic: is there any mention of swimming in the Tipitaka? I remember reading about an incident when monks were laying nude on the ground in order to refresh themselves from the falling of a great rain.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Yashas, the swimming incident you mention is from the Vinaya where there is another reference to nuns swimming naked, something the Buddha reprimanded them for. I am not aware of other references to swimming in the Tipitaka.

Yashas said...

The is incident I am recalling is something like that there was a rare and vast rain cloud covering the whole Jambudvipa and Buddha then recommends this naked bathing in the falling rain for his monks. Then it happens that an important female lay devotee comes by, and she is shocked at this scene of naked bhikshus having a healthy, natural shower! Then she goes to the Buddha expressing her indignation and she further says that she wants to donate special bathing robes to the monks. I don't know about bhikkhus, or lay persons actually swimming anywhere in the Tripitaka, I was just curious if the people in ancient India did swim or not? In the parable of Dhamma being gradual like the shore of the ocean the person entering the ocean doesn't actually swim, or does he? Is there a word in pali that means 'to swim'?

Gui Do said...

Get immunization for leptospirosis.

To endure flies etc. that cause malaria can be deadly, such advices from the scriptures (or the fundamentalists that repeat them) should be avoided, because as a role model they could lead to the extinction of mankind. All depends on the individual case. I played with wild monkeys in Cambodia and enjoyed it, where some young US tourists feared the rabies. It is the course of nature. Rats have natural enemies, and we are one of them. To write abstract rules that contradict our instincts is nuts. All the pali canon has to be read methaphorically, not literally. Thus you understand when to take a life means to save a life and thus the dharma.

Jennifer Brignoli said...

Hi. Since I was a young girl, maybe 2 or 3 yrs old, I loved rats and mice , squirrels and birds, raccoons and cats. After observing them for a while, I was always sure of what they wanted or needed and could tell what they were trying to do or how they were feeling. In return they loved watching me too. Especially mama raccoon and her two litters of babies over four years time. Recently I've taken interest in a few invaders in my home closet. It was the coldest winter this past year and I had refugees from the cold quietly make their way into this 1868 built house. Probably like entering a wet paper bag in some spots. I did not have the heart to evict them. I knew I'd have to wait for the weather to get warmer and then I could clean up my shredded clothing in that storage closet in my room. But as time went by and feeding them here and there was such a joy. They began to like to watch me too. In cleaning the rat mess I got bitten by mites. Had also a allergic reaction to them and have a secondary infection of a fungal type. I know I need to get them away from here. The 3 I began with in the winter are now 20. I have had leg ulcers since before they came and have not been able to go back to my 11 years at a Skincare retailer. I cry when my leg hurts and I hear one of the younger ones crying out urgently to me and his mama. Coincidence thst he had this urgency in his voice only when I cry. I love these rats but my upstairs neighbors just had their first break in by one an hour ago. I'm pained to think of how to get them out of here safely. There's s Buddhist temple a half a block away. I wonder if they would be able to help me get them to safety. Oh my God, please don't let them suffer. I know thst they would be cruel to use poison because as a child my uncle( my neighbor) tortured a baby mouse with a syringe and alcohol. The picture is vivid in my mind as a child looking on in horror as he did what he did. Now some 40 years later in the same house. I recall this cruelty. I need to act now. 22nd st and South Van Ness ave in San Francisco is where I might try. Or maybe I could put them all in a carrier. If I put their food in there I know they'll enter. Oh I don't know. Raccoon mama still scratches on my door late night to get me to give her dry cat food every night. I've babysat her new babies when she just left me with them for :0 min as I filled litter boxes of water for them to play in. Maybe they'll trust me to to are them without going crazy inside the carrier. Oh please send calming energy for what I'm about to do. May I do the right thing for all. --Jenn B