Eastern Religion


Ahimsa for Ecology

I find the trait of Ahimsa an extremely careful effort to avoid the “cruel Pasu-Svabhava (bestial nature) in man.” (Anthology 235) It’s an idea that is rarely practiced in western tradition. While Christians and Jews promote good relationships between man and his neighbor, they do not include guidelines on the treatment of other creatures. In Jainism, Ahimsa is more than just a trait; “Ahimsa is a great spiritual force.” It is an “entire abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature.” (Anthology 235)  According to Jainism, Ahimsa does more than save creatures from suffering. There is great personal benefit too, as “Ahimsa will make you fearless.” (Anthology 237)


The Jain Monks have and continue to work for animal rights under

The simplistic lifestyle of the Jain monk

the ideal of Ahimsa. “The famous farmans, or special animal protection laws, of those emperors are still before us and testify to the dynamic character of the principle of non-violence advocated by the Jains.” (Anthology 244) Another impressive thing about Jainism is its promotion of openness and tolerance. Unlike many Western religions where religious groups believe it is their duty to spread their beliefs, followers of Jainism “practice onattachment to views. Remain open to receive others’ viewpoints. Do not force others to adopt [their views].” (Anthology 245) In this sense, Jainism understands how compassion can transcend denominational boundaries.

Hindu Scripture


Through the readings, I learned that the cow is sacred in Hindu belief for a multitude of reasons. Primarily, “cows are the mothers of all creatures.” (Anthology 242) With a a goddess status amongst the Hindu people the cow “descended from the spiritual worlds and manifested herself in the heavenly spheres from the aroma of celestial nectar for the benefit of all created beings.” While it may seem odd to some, I understand the belief behind the practice. The cow is a mortal derivation from the greater energy force of the “supreme Lord Krishna” (Anthology 242)

Krishna and the "holy cow"

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Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 5:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Christian Compassion

There is an overall tone change when one begins to read the new testament as opposed to the old testament. The new testament, especially the gospels, have a message of charity, service, and love. While the old testament do encourage compassion, many of the books have a severe and foreboding style of writing. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the gospel of the New Testament, contain several verses promoting compassion amongst each other.

Compassion for the Poor and Hungry

We see them everyday: Drag Rats. The affectionate term is kind of conducive to the treatment they are often given. In most cases, homeless people in urban areas are ignored. Aid is rarely provided based off of suspicious assumptions. Jesus asks of his disciples to “sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven: come, follow me.”(Anthology 131) Luke 18:25 more directly states, “it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Anthology 132) Although a literal interpretation of the bible may point to the evil of any materialism in the form of wealth, most Christians see fiscal charity as a good way to show compassion and appreciation for God-granted material blessings.

Compassion for your Enemies

This is a tough one. It seems like a paradox for most people. How are we to love, let alone stand, the few people that rub us the wrong way? According to the Gospel of Luke, it is best to “love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Anthology 129) Consider the crucifixion of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus shows compassion for his “enemies” by forgiving all those who took direct part in his own death.


Faith, hope, and charity: the three great virtues of the New testament as outlined by Corinthians 13:13. Furthermore, Charity is “but the greatest of these in charity” (Anthology 133) Personally, I believe that the Christian faith puts a lot of stress of charity because it is almost a human embodiment of God’s divine treatment of mankind. In other words, because God so loved man that he was willing to give him free will, love, and relinquishment from original sin, it was our duty to “be” God to others and serve them accordingly.

As a whole, Christianity shows definite compassion for those poor in spirit, the hungry, the imprisoned, and others in unfortunate circumstances. There is an underlying push for Christians to aid all people; the evidence can be seen in the thousands volunteering in Haiti, China, India, and other areas both near and far. Compassion for those need is fortunately a quality that reaches far beyond the religious boundaries of single denominations. By listening to our individual consciousness and our desire to help others, we can bring good to this world through a united sense of compassion.

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Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 2:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Nature and Religion

I admit, I might be a little biased. However, I see several problems that can arise from picking and choosing quotes from religious texts and applying them to the beliefs of the complex religious faiths they come from. Consider the Jewish bible. If I was to take the word of the bible literally and pull out each word as sacred by itself then I could make a boatload of ridiculous conclusions from the book of Leviticus. Leviticus condones the practice of slavery, sexism, and animal cruelty, but I know for a fact that the Jewish belief doesn’t. In these excerpts from genesis, man is meant to be “the terror and the dread of all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven.” The text also states that “every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you.” (Anthology 117B) Again, it is important not to take the texts literally; dread is not meant to be a justification for unnecessary cruelty. Just because genesis talks lowly of animals -“accursed beyond all cattle, all wild beasts” (Anthology 117A)- it doesn’t mean the Jewish faith sees wretchedness in all animals. Similar to the Catholic faith, non-orthodox judaism calls for a holistic non-literal interpretation of the bible.

There is also the need to define the dominion that both the Christian and Jewish bible describe. The readings imply that dominion doesn’t leave room for compassion or respect. I would not argue that the Christian and Jewish faiths don’t encourage mankind to respect nature. Both religions do, however, make a point of separating God’s creatures from God himself. Even today, monotheistic religious leaders warn against nature worship as if “mother nature” was a divinity herself. At the same time, most major religions understand the importance of the environment and the living creatures that inhabit it. A man who owns a pet can establish his leadership over the dog and still care for it. Man is meant to respect life on earth, but utilize the nourishment it can provide when needed. The idea of man’s superiority to the rest of nature is also evident in Virgil’s Pollio when he talks of how man , “shall have no fear.” (Anthology 124.)

More importantly, I feel the need to point out the role of man in the Jewish and Christian faiths. Both faiths expect man to worship God by treating his creations, including man, with love and compassion. Yes, both faiths establish mankind’s superiority over the rest of God’s creations, but they do not encourage cruelty and “dread.” These monotheistic faiths call more for a humbling of ourselves as individuals. In Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, each of us as individuals are nothing in comparison to God’s glory. The focus of faith is not on our power over other beings, but in the recognition of how meager we are in the light God.

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Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 5:35 am  Leave a Comment  

The Power of a Story

The End of the Story

An even older bonsai tree. (400 years old)

First I would like to recap the end of the novel. Pi is met by two Japanese transportation ministry officials, Chiba and Okamoto. They drive down from California, and after a tiring trip (ironic because it was nothing compared to Pi’s journey), they offer Pi a cookie and ask him to recall everything that happened after the crash of the Tsimtsum. After telling Okamoto and Chiba the story, they fail to believe the story based of logical reasoning. They question the sheer logical possibility of everything that happened to Pi. At the same time, Pi is able to fight back Okamoto’s skepticism as he proves that bananas can float and that the impossible is never truly impossible like the existence of bonsai trees, “three-hundred-year-old trees that are two feet tall that you can carry in your arms.” (Life of Pi 295). Finally Pi agrees to tell them a different story. In this story, the zebra is a young chinese sailor, the hyena is a heinous cook, Orange Juice is his mother, and the tiger is a part of his personality. The cook chopped of the leg of the sailor, resorted to cannibalism, beheaded Pi’s mother, and was finally killed by Pi. While the story is not as pleasant, it is more believable to the Japanese Ministers. Ultimately, the question of which story you want to believe is up to the reader.

Why the Truth isn’t Always Most Important
However, I believe that Martel wants us to understand that truth is relative and not the most important thing to take away from the story, or any story for that matter. The story of Pi proves that perspectives and interpretations can drastically alter a single truth. A story has the amazing ability to show us more than one of these perspectives and observe our own reactions to each twist of the same truth. Again, this reminds me of the novel that Emily mentioned in class, “The Things they Carried,” where the author does not reveal an objective truth, but rather explains the importance of “how things are said” rather than “what is said.”

Martel also uses anthropomorphism in a very different way than most fiction authors. Normally, anthropomorphism presents animals with human characteristics so that, even though the animal is not realistic, we can still understand how their actions parallel our own reactions in reality. In the novel, the metaphorical animals that Pi uses in his original story are not only believable, but portray a much lighter and ironically more “humane” image. Regardless of which story you believe is true, the unique use of anthropomorphism forms a readily believable alternate story that at the same time, blurs the distinctions between man and animal. His story is impressive either way as he “survived so long at sea…in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.”(Life of Pi 319) Whether it is his courage or his companion the story remains amazing…

Parallels Between Stories and Religion

Pi's personal religions

Furthermore, the stories tie into the joys of religion. At first, I couldn’t really see the connection, but once you understand the main point of Pi’s different accounts, it is easier to understand the connection to religion. Both religion and storytelling allow us to deal with the moral wretchedness we witness everyday in ourselves and in others. The view seems a little dark, but it makes sense. There is a part in all of us that preferred the first story, our undeclared willingness to be “addicted to indulgence in superficial emotion.”(Definition of Sentimental) Our own desire to be in “opposition with reason” (Definition of Sentimental) is made obvious when we are asked to consider the grotesque alternate-yet more believable- reality that Pi give to the minister.

Pi talks about why religion makes for a better “story”:

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 5:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Changes in Pi

Pi and his accompanying animals

At the beginning of Pi’s journey, he finds himself struggling to handle the harsh conditions he is thrown into after the shipwreck. Particularly, the deaths of the animals that share the life boat with him forces Pi to adjust. For example, Pi hears the hyena “snarling and the zebra barking and squealing, and he heard a repeated knocking sound. He shook with fright and… relieved himself in his pants.” (Life of Pi 127) Perhaps the event with the largest emotional toll was the death of Orange Juice to the hyena. During the first couple of days out on sea, Pi grows emotionally close to the orangutan and her human-like characteristics. When the hyena decapitates Orange Juice, Pi almost resorts to “throwing himself upon the hyena.” (Life of Pi 132) His fear and grief worsen the longer he is out at sea.

One of the more obvious indications of Pi’s personal transformation is his change in diet. Although a proclaimed vegetarian, Pi finds sustenance from fish, eyes, brains, and even blood. He describes “the blood that tempted [him], the ‘good, nutritious, salt-free drink’ promised by the survival manual.” (Life of Pi 200) We see internal conflict in Pi as he hesitates before killing a fish for food. However, his hesitation turns into excitement as he tells himself, ” What a catch! What a catch!” He recognizes that “the fish was fat and fleshy
. It would feed a horde. Its eyes and spine would irrigate a desert.” (Life of Pi 221) While Pi obviously exaggerates, the will to live far outweighs his moral obligations to not eat meat.
Pi also makes uses of habits to keep sane. He works to keep his religious practices, cleans up after Richard Parker, and works to maintain the essentials like food and water. However, the annoyance of spending each day the same way also produces a kind of monotony.

While Pi is no doubt a kindhearted religious individual, the extenuating circumstances the shipwreck places him in cause character changes throughout the second part of the novel. While Pi’s logical and emotional senses are well intact, he must make important personal choices that cause him a lot of distress. Specifically, we see the survival instinct that normally rests quiet within us roar like a lion as Pi does everything he can to ward of death. The distinction between Pi and the animals becomes more blurry as Pi’s humanity slowly degrades.

Published in: on February 9, 2010 at 4:14 am  Leave a Comment  

A Stab At Poetry

The Lamb

William Blake rights the poem from the perspective of a child. The child poses a series of questions to the lamb, primarily the question, “Does thou know who made thee?” (Anthology 140) The question reminds me of the central class theme, “Who are you?” In the context of the poem, Blake is using the lamb to symbolize Jesus Christ. His religious praise of the Son of God rests in his admiration of his mild, bright, gentle, and loving figure. All of which are qualities possessed by the lamb. The elaborate framework of plants around the poem contributes to the poem’s overall positive tone. The lamb becomes an important topic when analyzed in comparison to Blake’s, “The Tyger.”

Child shepherd with lamb

The Tyger

The Tyger reveals Blake’s Christian beliefs in a different light. Whereas Blake uses “The Lamb,” to portray Jesus’ innocence, “The Tyger” shows God’s ability to produce a creature of both great beauty and great violence. The Tyger can be seen as a metaphor for the presence of evil in a God-made world. If nature is created in the image of its creator, shouldn’t nature be perfect? Blake tries to grasp why God “dare frame thy fearful symmetry.”(Anthology 146)

The Tiger is God

Harrigan’s description of Tovar, a zookeeper at the Houston Zoo, being killed by a Tiger, is similar to Blake’s views of the Tiger as equally beautiful and horrible. Miguel, like all tigers, is “a predator, its mission on the earth is to kill, and in doing so it often displays awesome strength and dexterity.”(Anthology 153) “Harrigan talks about the idea that “the tiger was majestic and unknowable, a beast of such seeming invulnerability that it was possible to believe that he alone had called the world into being, and that a given life could end at his whim.” (Hence the title: Tiger is God). In my opinion, Harrigan is trying to remind us that the power of the tiger is simply a creature following his instinct. As he states at the end of the story “he was just a tiger.” (Anthology 155)

The tiger and its instinct:

The Windhover:

First, we can take the poem in its literal sense. A windhover is a bird that tends to fly in a hovering manner without flapping. The author is amazed by its ability to maneuver so freely in the sky. On an aesthetic level. the bird shines bright in the sun and only becomes more beautiful as it suddenly “sweeps smooth on a bow-bend.” (Anthology 159) When taken literally, the sestet after the turn does not make much sense beyond Hopkin’s admiration for the physical beauty of the bird and its flight.

Hovering windhover

However, the deeper religious meaning in the poem is much more complex. The “morning’s minion” and “kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” can be seen as referenced to Jesus Christ as son of God. Furthermore, the use of the word “Buckle!” indicates I kind of unification for some greater purpose. In this case, individuals working together to practice the word of God would be this greater purpose. The metaphor of the sheer plod is also a clever reference. A sheer plod shines the more it used. Similarly, individuals go through difficult times, but the inner goodness within them only becomes stronger as they work through them. This is likely an idea based of Hopkin’s experiences in the seminary.

Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 1:56 am  Leave a Comment  

In the Eyes of a Chimp

I am alone. Some cold gray contraption has replaced the life-filled fruit tree that I am so used to sleeping in. My capturers call it Cage 166. There is not enough room in Cage 166 to lie down. The tight space wouldn’t be so bad if my droppings had not surmounted to such a disgusting amount. My family is nowhere to be seen. I worry for their wellbeing. The fire used to seek out my large family engulfs my memory. The images still haunt me in my cramped, uncomfortable sleep. The nightmare is reoccurring: bits and pieces of the horrific day that my family was driven out of the beautiful rainforest that I had lived in since I was brought into life. The memory wouldn’t be so evocative if I didn’t feel responsible for it all. It always starts the same way…

The family fruit tree: Photo by Alain Houle, 2005

I grab a branch off of the small shrub next to me. Instinctively, I shove the stick into the appetizing termite hill, anticipating my next meal. Normally, I would quickly remove the stick and pick off all the termites I can, but the sight of two odd creatures hiding behind a tree catches my attention. After exchanging glances, the two creatures approach me. Despite sharing a remote resemblance to my own family, their appearance is nothing short of weird. They do not walk on their hands, and look unattractively naked, missing hair everywhere except on their heads. Out of fear, I quickly climb up the nearest vine and swing towards the large fruit tree that is my home. The odd creatures follow me on the ground, but keep a good distance away from my family’s home. I don’t think they mean harm. Rather, they sit on the ground, and make use of a stick like I had done in an attempt to find some termites. They are not eating though. The creatures use small yellow sticks to make marks on large white leaves of some sort. As the light in the sky fades away, the creatures quietly leave. Unfortunately, their visit was not telling of their motives, and their absence was short lived.

Burning rainforest and home

The naked creatures come back with several more of their kind. They also bring fire. It eats away at the surrounding trees like a vulture eats away at flesh, leaving nothing behind. I can’t escape. I see my brothers being swallowed by the fire. Some of my family is falling from the tree, brought down by what the creatures ironically call “tranquilizers.” With the life sapped out of all the creatures and plants around me, I can only wait until the creatures capture me. My panic and fright remain with me as I suddenly wake up.

The blazing red fire from my dream contrasts the cold gray environment I am in now, but the feeling of helplessness is unavoidable. Different creatures look over Cage 166 then the one’s who captured me. I think the creatures are called “doctors”; at least, that’s what they call each other. The pain in my right foot becomes more excruciating as the days go on. Due to lack of exercise and the uncomfortable encumbering quality of my confinement, it only gets worse and worse. The doctors don’t notice my pain until the foot is black and swollen. Fortunately, there was no feeling when they cut it off. My circumstances hardly change as the days go on. In fact, the insurmountable foulness of Cage 166 sucks the hope out of me like a leech sucks blood from its host. Just as my dismal state of being seems inescapable, I see my mother enter the room.

Seeing her face shines light into the dark space that is Cage 166. I look into her eyes for some recognition, hoping for a “meeting of the eyes for a moment beyond it all.” She does not respond. “Mother!” I start screaming. Still, she does not respond. My tiny spark of happiness is quickly smashed like a young firefly under the greater force of some larger being. The creatures have done something to her. Her unnatural drowsiness is evident as the doctors carry her through the corridor. Even wore than my own cage, my mother is attached to a bright surface, the only lighted part of the room. Her head covered by what the doctors call, “the machine.” I can’t look into her covered eyes anymore, but I still look on in confusion and fear. “Commence the machine,” the older doctor orders to the younger. Judging by his skill, experience, and relationship with the other doctors, I can tell he is the leader. His hairless skin is marked with lines, like the bark of my old fruit tree. All joy is void from his being. “Machine commencing,” responds the younger doctor. He shakes. The younger one is always nervous, like he is about to be eaten by the older dominant doctor in the room. His shaking intensifies as a tremor builds in the room. Just as the heavy wind and rain from the monsoon brings a constant deafening sound to the jungle, the tremor brings a constant high-pitched piercing sound to the dark room. The sound is finally stopped with a quieter, simpler: Ding.

The Machine.

Ding. My mother’s head is twisted sideways until it almost faces her back. Her body convulses as I reach an unparalleled level of panic. I call out to her, screeching ten times louder than “the machine” ever could. Ding. Her head twists. Her body convulses. I scream. Ding. Her head twists. Her body convulses. I scream louder. Ding. Her head twists. Her body lies perfectly still. I stop screaming. She is dead.

I had witnessed death once in the rainforest. A young starving jaguar ate an elder in my family. Oddly enough, the introduction of the concept of death didn’t terrify me. “Reperception itself, [I’ve] found, has the power to transform situations.” The loss of life was but a necessity for the jaguar. Nature, in her wisdom, knew it was time for the elder chimp to finish his life on Earth. My whole family sincerely mourned his loss in love and unity. It just seemed…”right”.

I cannot see the “right” as I stare at my mother’s emaciated, lifeless body. There is no family to share my sorrow with, no family to care for me. The longer her body shines under that isolated light, the angrier I become. “Her death isn’t even replenishing the life of any of these idiotic doctors.” I think to myself. “The creatures killed Mother for nothing!” My anger, fear, shock, and misery erupt in a fiery temper. At first, the doctor’s do well to ignore me, using those yellow sticks and white leaves as I had first seen the day I encountered these wretched creatures. Eventually, I catch the attention of the younger doctor. “Shut up!” he nervously yells at me. He aggressively walks over to Cage 166 and makes use of a tranquilizer.

I have trouble opening my eyes. “Light?” I skeptically question myself. Finally, I regain full consciousness. I am still in captivity, but I am not in Cage 166. I am in a crate. O how glorious the smell of tree is. The box must be made of tree from my home. My nostalgia is more deserved than I think. Part of my confinement is taken off right before my eyes. I am home. The smell of trees was not from the crate, but from the thousands of fruit trees towering before me. With the loss of my foot I cannot escape. Regardless, I look on with fear at the doctor who set me free. I am reluctant to approach her; I am not ready for more pain. Her face is bright and warm, starkly contrasting the face of the doctor who took away the life of my mother. As I carefully walk out of the box she turns to a gentle woman in the background, “We just rescued this one from abusive neurological research Mrs. Goodall. On behalf of Advocates for Animals, I would like to thank you for your support. Please take good care of him.” I cannot walk out, but the Misses Goodall picks me up and carries me back to a place where I belong. I am no longer alone. I am cared for.

Jane Goodall gives an amazing talk on blurring the line between human and animal and the importance of learning to find compassion for animals.

Listening to the stream of consciousness of any animal like the unnamed chimp in our story is not a reality we can experience. Unfortunately, unnecessarily violent research performed on large mammals, spider monkeys, and chimpanzees is very real. As humans, or “doctors” as our protagonists sees us, we cannot help but feel compassion towards the suffering of animals like our young chimp. As human we have the greatest capacity for cruelty, yet the greatest capacity for love. We can use compassion and love as the driving forces for our willingness to prevent and alleviate the suffering of others. “We are sharing the experience of unity.”

Word Count: 1489 with quotes. 1462 without quotes.

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Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 3:15 am  Comments (3)