The Most Dangerous Animal in the Woods

Late last night I planned on writing about one of the places I stop on my daily pilgrimage.  I even had a photo of it:


This unremarkable place is a path made by the deer walking through the woods.  On my first kokorodo I was attracted to stop here without knowing why.  Nevertheless I continued coming here day after day.

Then this morning I read a post by Barry Briggs at Ox Herding called Zen Deer.  In it he contemplates that meditation may be natural to us and illustrates his idea with the image of a prehistoric hunter sitting patiently near a game path waiting for a deer whose death was needed by a hungry village.

Right after that I read a question attached by Senshin to my last post where she asked if there are any dangerous animals where I walk, specifically, are there any bears.  The simple answer is yes, there are bears around here, but they avoid contact with people.  The more complex answer is yes, there are many dangerous animals around here.  We are the most dangerous animals in the woods.

We have travelled a long way from Barry’s primeval hunter whose survival was dependent on the deer.  The hunter occupied a place in the larger world no different than any other being because each survives by consuming some other form of life.  The complex interaction of all the species coming into a balance that enables the greatest number to flourish is, to my way of thinking, a reflection of the Dharma.

But the threat I present is much greater than that of the hunter.  I have the potential to slay far more animals than I need to eat for my survival.  Moreover, I have at my disposal machines which in a short time can literally destroy the forest which has existed for thousands of years and on which all those animals depend.  The clever human mind must be tempered by understanding and wisdom.  In this, again, we see the Dharma here teaching us the necessity of restraint and compassion.

So today when I walk by the deer path I will venerate the deer who walk there.  I will honor our ancestors who sat in wait next to it.  And I will reflect on the importance of my understanding the danger I present to everything on and around that path if I fail to act with compassion for all sentient beings.

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Daichi is my Dharma name, given to me when I made a formal commitment to follow the path of the Buddha. It is Japanese for Great Earth.

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