May 18, 2017

Is Absolute Compassion Really a Virtue?

I have been cultivating the virtue of compassion for more than two decades.

And I believe the core of living a spiritual life is nonviolence and respect for all living beings.

But now a mosquito stands between me and my quest for practicing absolute compassion.

What should I do if a mosquito comes to bite me? If I kill the mosquito, I am departing from the central tenet of nonviolence. If I don’t kill it, I’ll have to bear the stinging pain (which isn’t too much of a problem).

The problem is that my nonviolence could kill someone else. The mosquito might spread a dangerous disease, causing the death of innocent people. Around one million people die yearly due to mosquito-borne diseases.

I haven’t killed any mosquitoes in the last 20 years. The way I deal with them might sound crazy, but whenever I see a mosquito in my room, I catch and release it. My mother taught me a gentle way of doing it—you catch them in the hollow of your closed fist and then release them outside the room.

As a child, I always saw my mom gently “catch” mosquitoes and release them outside. As a child, I always argued with her, saying that we have the right to protect ourselves from any living being which causes suffering. It was after I started meditating that I realized what my mom did was her way of showing supreme compassion to all beings.

This compassion is great for the mosquito, and so off it goes, looking to feast on someone else’s blood. But if the mosquito is infected with Dengue fever or malaria and bites someone who dies because of it, would I be responsible for the death?

Either way, one sentient being dies.

There are stories of enlightened masters who protected animals at their own peril. That is fine, as the animal would harm them only, but it gets complicated when the animal has the potential to kill someone else as well. What if the snake I show compassion to bites my wife? Where is the good in compassion there? On the other hand, I know I can’t bring myself to harm it anyway—my heart is too weak for that.

Each of our actions, whether compassionate or cruel, has a butterfly effect and starts a chain of reactions which can lead to more suffering and pain. Are absolute compassion and nonviolence really virtuous? Should I gently catch and release the mosquito that is trying to suck my blood or even infect me? Or should I be merciless and just kill it?

As I write this, I can see a mosquito sitting on my desk. It eyes me suspiciously. We are both unsure what my next step will be. I move my head a little and it takes flight.

For now, compassion wins.


Author: Rajiv Agarwal 
Image: @elephantjournal/Instagram
Editor: Nicole Cameron

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Rajiv Agarwal