Do all kids go through a phase where they squish bugs for fun? I got my opportunity one summer growing up in Salt Lake City. It was a hot year and the dry weeds rustled and wiggled with an unusual number of grasshoppers. Gardeners prayed for that legendary flock of seagulls that saved early settler’s crops from a swarm of crickets.
I may have been four or five. I was standing in the shade on the front porch. A grasshopper was doing the same at my feet. Mom walked out the door and I said, “Watch this. I’m gonna smear his guts.” I stomped on the poor bug and turned him into a bloody streak on the concrete. My mom’s eyes widened and she laughed a little and shook her head. She had seen the squashed bugs elsewhere in the yard and she must have had faith I would grow out of it. She probably consoled herself that they were only pesky grasshoppers, and were unusually common that summer.
I did grow out of it. I learned in science classes that bugs play an important role in our world. Worms and other decomposers create soil. Spiders are all venomous, but they only want to sit in their webs and eat flies and mosquitoes which can spread disease.
These days, whenever I find a spider in my house, if it’s in the way, I capture it and let it out. Mosquitoes are another story, but I think that unless you are going to eat it or wear it, you shouldn’t kill it.
It’s winter here in Alaska, and we’re still months away from bugs hatching. I’m thinking about them because I’m going to Thailand for vacation in a few weeks. I’m recalling what I know about Buddhism. I always knew that Buddhists believe in reincarnation, a bug in this life might be a human or a monkey or a dog in the next, but preparing to go there has made me consider what a belief in that kind of immortality must do to people and society.
I am trying to picture what my grasshopper smashing scene would have been like if I had grown up in Thailand. If my parents had been buddhists and they saw me smashing bugs, would they have been more determined to stop me?
Is it hard to make a small child who does not understand death to stop rejoicing at the fun crunching sound of a bug underfoot?
If you are a farmer who needs to protect crops, is it okay to kill bugs?
Buddhists are not necessarily all vegetarians, does their worldview make them more humane to the animals they do need to use?
It seems the beauty of a belief in reincarnation lies in the humility it requires to look at something so weak and susceptible and see a possible future, or past, self.