Buddhist Novice in Today's World: Compassion in Action at the Zoo

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

This chronicle recounts the tribulations of a neophyte Buddhist. In full practical discovery, many questions emerge. How to adapt one's spiritual aspirations to life in society, on a daily basis? Our novice goes in search of concrete answers. Or not…

If the question of the zoo divides society, it does not even arise in my shangha. As in all Buddhist communities, they love animal parables and they don't laugh about abuse of our fifty million friends (not counting insects). My masters proclaim it loud and clear: humans and animals are all in the same boat of samsara. And specify that the predator is not the one we believe.

The other day, while stroking a stray cat who was meowing fiercely while ogling my bowl, I was seized with a terrible doubt: would I go visit this cute little kitty if he found himself by misfortune in an animal park? I wouldn't want to look for the little beast, but there is a lizard: isn't the tomcat a domestic animal, fed, bleached (let's say rather groomed) and housed by man? And that's precisely where the shoe pinches: what is a zoo, if not a huge boarding house? Like the affectionate and material bond that unites the cat and its master, the zoo finally offers a giant airb'n'b in the open air and without distinction of species. Lovers of zoos have no shortage of arguments to defend the much-maligned institution. Captivity? An alternative to the law of the jungle. The mercantile aspect? You have to pay for the straw and the bowl. Abuse ? A fake news in any self-respecting zoo and wants to keep its audience of kids excited at the sight of zebras, pandas, giraffes and other feathered, furry or unadorned creatures.

But, I remain skeptical. In my eyes, a zoo is more like a prison than a holiday village, in which poor mammals are parked without asking their opinion. I take as proof of this the numerous Buddhist parables, whose important bestiary (pigeon, sheep, monkey, etc.) would make Jean de La Fontaine blush. Unlike the poems of the French moralist, the Buddhist sketches have nothing to do with fables. It's lived! Until the end of his life in 1054, didn't the Indian master Atisha call the many animals he stroked “old mothers”?

My masters proclaim it loud and clear: humans and animals are all in the same boat of samsara. And specify that the predator is not the one we believe.

The cat and I go to the nearest zoo, which I enter alone since, I am told at the ticket office, animals are prohibited from entering. A height. Walking then, quickly, staggering between the gates, barbed wire, Plexiglas windows, aviaries, vivariums, between the cries of the residents and the laughter of the visitors, I think back to the indignation of Matthieu Ricard in his Advocacy for animals concerning this "zoocid". Faced with my discomfort, the zoo director, falsely zen, retorts that like Atisha, he too is concerned about his sheep. I would like to believe it, stroking the skilfully stocked stuffed animals in the window of the store in the park. No, definitely, this man has a strange definition of altruism: have we ever seen an orphanage sell products derived from its unfortunate residents?

In greeting the director, I advise him to explore this option further: open the jails of his menagerie and show compassion towards his guests, to refine his karma and avoid, in his next life, ending up in a cage... Not stupid, No ?

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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