When I stepped up to the sink to shave this morning, I noticed a spider in the basin. It made me pause. Normally, I would have just turned on the water and washed it away. After all, I’m a higher living form and have both the power and right to sweep away the lesser creatures interfering with my important schedule. I might have done it with humor, singing “out came the rain and washed the spider out!” or with cruelty or calloused indifference. I could have gotten revenge on all the people who have treated me shabbily (the list is growing!) and taken it out on this little spider.
But instead I paused. For here was one of God’s creatures who had caused me no harm, posed me no threat, did nothing wrong but show up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ain’t it got a right to the Tree of Life? And so I took a piece of paper, scooped it up and set it outside the bathroom window. It felt like the right thing to do.
Why am I telling about this? Do I expect some credit or Frequent Karma Flyer miles in the Ahimsa- Do-No-Harm Incorporated club? Of course I do!! I’m an American!! Even good deeds must be measurable in payback and treated as an economic transaction. Duh!
And in fact, most of the world’s religions have something like this. The Christian Heaven-Hell-Purgatory Clubs, the Jewish Yahweh keeping an account in his ledger, the Hindu Wheel of Re-incarnation and Karma Record (kill a spider, be reincarnated as a fly!). We flawed mortals don’t have what it takes to do the right thing because it is the right thing in itself. We must be threatened, cajoled, punished, rewarded to motivate us and keep us on the straight and narrow. This trickles down to our child-raising and school policies and workplace culture and we consistently fulfill our own predictions. When we get hooked into the system of reward and punishment as motivation, we lose our own moral compass and also our own pleasure in doing things for their own pleasurable and sense of rightness. But every once in a while, we remember what a privilege it is to be incarnated as a human being and what responsibilities come with the job. Ahimsa. Minimize harm to others and self.
That’s today’s comment, inspired by an itsy-bitsy spider near my waterspout.