ANNAMALAI SWAMI REMEMBERED
Ashram Animals, part 8
Bhagavan's compassion towards animals did not extend to all the members of the insect kingdom, for he seemed quite happy to permit insects to be killed if they were causing a nuisance.
One morning, for example, shortly before lunch, Bhagavan noticed that a large number of black ants were entering the hall through the drainage hole.
Indian stone or cement floors are regularly washed with water. In such rooms, there will be a small drainage hole, about an inch in diameter, at the junction of one of the walls and the floor. Many floors are slightly tilted so that water naturally drains towards this hole.
Turning to me Bhagavan said, 'Find out where these ants are coming from. If there is a nest in there, block up the exit so that the ants cannot come into the hall. You must do this work quickly because all the devotees will be coming back at 3 p.m.'
I prized out the flagstone that the drainage hole was on. As I pulled the stone out of the wall (a few inches of it were embedded there) I saw a large colony of black ants living in a hole behind it. The ants reacted to their discovery by pouring out into the hall.
Some of them even started to swarm over Bhagavan's sofa. There were so many on the floor around my feet that I couldn't have taken a step without killing some of them. Bhagavan noticed that I had been immobilized by my fear of unnecessarily killing any ants.
'Why are you just standing there and looking at them?' asked
Bhagavan. 'You must clop ip the hole before the devotees come back. Tell me what you need to finish the job properly. Whatever you need—mud, water, bricks—tell me and I shall bring it for you.'
As I was much too worried about killing some of the ants to give Bhagavan an answer, Bhagavan repeated his offer: Tell me what you want and I shall go and fetch it for you. Shall I bring some broken bricks and a little cement?'
This time I managed to explain my inactivity.
'There are ants everywhere, Bhagavan. I cannot move or do any work without killing some of them.'
Bhagavan dismissed my excuse. 'What is sin?' he asked. 'Is it you who are doing this? You are doing something that is for the good of everyone. If you give up the idea "I am doing this," then you will not have any trouble. This is not something that you have decided to do yourself. You are only doing this because I am asking you to do it.'
Bhagavan could sense that I was still reluctant to tread on any of the ants so he tried a different approach.
'In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna asked Arjuna to kill his enemies. When Arjuna hesitated Krishna explained that he had already decided that these people were to die. Arjuna would be merely the tool which would carry out the divine will. Likewise, because I am telling you to do this work, no papam [the karmic consequences of performing immoral acts] will come to you.'
When Bhagavan had given me this assurance I filled in the hole with bricks and cement. Many ants died in the process.
I discovered later that Bhagavan generally discouraged devotees from killing insects unless they were causing, or about to cause, injury or suffering to people or animals. However, if they were causing a problem, he had no compunction about killing them. I once saw Bhagavan take unni [blood-sucking insects] off one of the ashram dogs and kill them by throwing them into the burning charcoal in his kumutti.
A devotee who was watching asked, 'Is it not a sin to kill insects like this?'
Ramaswami Pillai, who used to take insects off dogs and kill them in the same way, justified the activity by telling a story about Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
'It seems,' he said, 'that one of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's devotees was wondering whether it was as a sin to kill bedbugs. He went to ask Sri Ramakrishna about this. When he got there he found Sri Ramakrishna killing the bedbugs in his own bed. The devotee's question was thus answered by a direct demonstration.'
Bhagavan did not answer the questioner himself, but when Ramaswami Pillai had completed his story he nodded his head and said 'Yes'.
On another occasion, when a visitor maintained that one should not kill any kind of insect life, Bhagavan replied, 'If you cook and cut vegetables, you cannot avoid killing a few insects. If you think that killing worms is a sin, then you cannot eat vegetables.'
If Bhagavan saw people deliberately killing harmless insects he would usually show some sign of disapproval. One day, for example a small brahmin boy came to the hall and began to catch and kill flies just to amuse himself. He would clap his hands together and squash the flies between his palms.
Bhagavan told him, 'Don't attack the flies like this. It is a sin.' Unperturbed, the boy replied with what he thought was a teIling counter-argument: 'You have killed a six-feet-long tiger and you are sitting on the skin. Is this not also a sin?'
Bhagavan laughed and let the matter drop.
Other people occasionally asked Bhagavan why he chose to sit on a tiger skin. Most of them felt that he was condoning the killing of tigers by sitting on their skins.
Bhagavan would usually reply that the skins had come to the ashram us unsolicited gifts and that he had not asked that any tigers be killed on his behalf.
Bhagavan strongly opposed the killing of all the higher lifeforms. He gave orders that even snakes and scorpions should not be killed in the ashram. The general rule seemed to be: insects could be killed if they were causing pain or were potentially harmful, but all higher forms of life, including dangerous and poisonous animals, were sacrosanct.
— Living by the words of Bhagavan, p. 93 ff.