Every time Tim and I see them, we stop, freeze, and stand in silence and watch them. We marvel at their beauty. And my heart breaks, because they look like much larger version of my cats. They are delicate and gentle and utterly vulnerable. I stand and count mantras, "om tare tuttare ture soha". This is Tara's mantra, she is the enlightened mother who offers protection.
It was a hot August day and I was sitting in the cool of the pines by the stream in the woods. It was during the days of the depths of the Covid pandemic — when all emotions were heightened — and I was listening to Patti Smith's rendition of Bob Dylan's 'A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall'. This is the performance from when Dylan won the Noble Prize for Literature and its an incredible lesson of vulnerability and empathy. (Watch it and you'll see what I mean.)
I had headphones on, and tears were streaming down my face, because in this song I feel like Dylan is describing samsara. He's revealing how there is so much suffering in this world. And as a poet, he is bearing witness, like a Bodhisattva. He is singing the song of the suffering, and through that song, he is helping us all.
Just at the climax of the song's emotion, I opened my eyes, and there was a young deer standing just two feet from me, peering into my tears. And I froze. We sat there for the rest of the song, her looking at me with deep trust.
In coming weeks, it will be hunting season. These deer may know that the three acres behind our house are a sanctuary, but all around these woods, every now and then, there will be gun shots.
And I haven't quite known where to put my mind around this.
In a recent retreat in our temple in New York, at a Tara empowerment in fact, I brought up the vast amount of hunting that happens in Maine to a sangha friend. I was drinking tea with her in between teaching sessions, an artist from New Mexico that I've known for years. And I asked her for advice on what to do with my mind.
She reminded me of something important: How our teacher starts one of our close counting retreats with a message that sits printed out on tables at retreat centers. He teaches that as we go into retreat, we should cultivate compassion.
He shared an image, which I believe is along the lines of this: Imagine a fisherman having to go out to fish each morning. He is having to do this to be able to bring food to his family. Allow your mind to be moved for both the hunter and the fish being killed. Feel deep compassion for them all. Allow yourself to see how all living beings are caught up in samsara, a cycle of rebirth where we can't help but hurt others.
And he urged us to pray for them all.
What I love about this advice is its inclusivity and equanimity. It's not like some of us are good people and others are bad. We've all been all sorts of beings over countless lives. And compassion and prayer can anchor us in the solution. Loving kindness towards all.