What a terrible thing to say, but it’s true.
In the Tantra, there is a teaching that everything is eating everything else.
The universe births itself, then grows itself by eating itself.
In order to survive, life eats life. I suppose humans are no different.
But we have consciousness.
We have discrimination and the capacity to think ahead and go beyond
our instinct to kill as the first reaction.
That is a choice.
We can get angry, step back, slow it down, consider the bigger picture, and then choose to act with diplomacy. But if your life or your loved one’s life is truly threatened, we are all wired to kill out of self-defense. This comes from the deepest primordial instinct to stay alive. We are part of nature. It’s a good thing. But when your ideology is rigid, narrow, and fanatical, there will be trouble. This kind of violence is a crime and is unsustainable.
In Tantra, violence is not seen as something separate from us. Ahimsa (the yama of nonviolence, or kindness) is still practiced in Tantra, but violence is embraced as a reality of life. Violence is integrated into the fabric of reality. Life eats itself in order to grow itself. Tantra embraces the acts of nature that could be considered violent, as in a violent tornado, the stalking of a mouse by a hawk, when you hit a deer on the road with your car, or even giving birth.
When I first heard these teachings, I was mortified. But then I began to understand. I was able to expand my heart wide enough to include violence as a natural part of life. This helped me understand the goddess Kali, adorned in the shadow, with her necklace of baby skulls, holding a severed head, and her tongue hanging out of her mouth in a full out scream of terror. Kali tells us, “As dark as you think life is at times, it’s all divine. Just look at me.” She knows terror because she lives it. But Kali also represents the fierce longing for truth that dwells within every human heart. It’s just that we have to dig deep through the “compost heap” of fear to find our deeper self and discover our light.
You may remember last month I mentioned I raise Bluebirds in my backyard. Every year they build their nest in the nest box and lay eggs. Usually they create two broods with five babies each. This year I was so excited to see five eggs, perfectly formed, and then five baby birds. I discovered that Bluebirds love to eat mealy worms. So, I made a little dish for them and every day would put out their mealy worms. They would wait for me in the morning until I brought their breakfast, then feed that to their babies. I became so attached to these little beings that felt like a proud grandfather.
Swallows and Sparrows are territorial and can be aggressive toward other birds. So, I put up three boxes – one for the Sparrows, one for the Swallows, and one for the Bluebirds. The Bluebirds are a gentle, beautiful, and refined species. They will defend their nest. But they don’t have the power, strength, or finesse to fight off the other birds. Usually after a few territorial wars while the birds are choosing their boxes, the other birds leave the Bluebirds alone. But last week I noticed the Tree Swallows, who had their own nesting box and built their own nest, begin harassing the Bluebirds.
The next day, I saw the Swallows hovering around the Bluebird box. Magnificent acrobats in the air, the Swallows dive bombed the box. Then they repeatedly went inside the box. I knew that there were five baby birds in the Bluebird box but I didn’t know what was happening. After a day or two of this, it looked as if the Swallows took over the entire Bluebird box and nest. When I went out to check on the babies, they were limp and lifeless. I was so angry at the Swallows I dismantled their nest. But still they wouldn’t leave the Bluebird box. In an act of desperation, I cleaned out all three bird boxes as a way to “start over” hoping that the Bluebirds would return and begin working on their second brood. But the Swallows wouldn’t give it up. So, I plugged up the hole to the Bluebird box to deter the Swallows from holding on to their conquest.
My heart was cracked wide open with the feeling of loss. But then I realized no one was at fault. I just witnessed the violence, or terrorism, of nature. It was Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory of evolution playing out in my backyard! I saw how the Swallows were overpowering, ruthless, and greedy. They already had their nesting box. I asked myself, “Why couldn’t they just be content with what they had? Why did they have to bully the Bluebirds, then kill innocent babies?” I took a breath and as the tears streamed down my face, insight began to arise. For some reason, the Swallows were just protecting their territory. They must have felt threatened by the Bluebirds (or jealous of their beauty and refinement) and acted on their instinct to kill in order to survive.
I’m not sure of the consciousness or IQ of the birds – (probably not that high given the slang word “bird-brain”), but the Swallows couldn’t figure out that by letting the Bluebirds live, they would be increasing the numbers of the bird kingdom. They couldn’t understand that they were under no threat and no danger. The Bluebirds mind their own business and tend to get along with other birds. The Swallows seemed to exhibit no tolerance for “otherness” and obviously, no empathy. Nature is generally not empathetic. I did, however, admire the Swallow’s strength, fierceness, agility, and absolute resolve to protect their “territory” and do what they felt was necessary, even kill, to ward off the “perceived danger” and ensure their own safety.
This idea of life growing itself by eating itself is so interesting. I experienced being “eaten by life” one morning during the Tantra Immersion at Kripalu, which was such a high experience of life. I got a call from my credit card company saying that they think someone is trying to hack into my account. They said that they noticed a few charges for zero dollars which, I guess, is a sign that someone is testing out the card number to see if it’s a real account. So, I had to cancel the card. Douglas Brooks had just mentioned the Tantric teaching about how everything in life is eating itself to grow itself, when I had the realization that I was being “eaten” by the hacker who was trying to break into my account. You’re never totally safe. Someone or something is always trying to eat you. If nothing else, time will get you in the end.
Bluebirds need humans to help them survive. This is why I took on being a Bluebird monitor in the Berkshires. The Bluebird population was declining over the last 10-15 years. But through the efforts of many bird enthusiasts, the Bluebird numbers are on the rise. Helping the Bluebirds is like bringing more Shri (auspiciousness and beauty) into the world. I feel more connected to nature and I feel empowered that through knowledge and understanding, I can make a difference.
You can make a difference too. You can take up a yoga practice and clear your mind. You can soften and use your human powers to choose kindness over violence, stand for the greater good of the community over narrow, greedy self-centeredness. But at the same time, you can’t let yourself sit back and be taken advantage of. As yogis, we must stand up for what is right, align with nature, act with integrity, but also practice compassion, empathy, understanding, and most of all, choose the gift of intelligence that we as human beings have been blessed with.
Thanks for listening!