Skip to content

An hour with ants

March 3, 2012

I had started to have serious doubts on what compassion really means. My love towards us humans, trees and animals was looking more and more flawed. A few questions stood before me like boulders; questions I had no answer to.

Why is it that I would feel miserable seeing a chicken or goat killed for food but still mercilessly continue to kill mosquitoes and ants? Why is it that my feeling of compassion is limited to a few? We would feel nothing after squashing an ant but would drown in guilt after having done the same with a stray dog. Is it because the compassion and love we have towards a living beings is closely linked to their size, which seems quite amusing? Or is it something else?

The place I am staying in is infested by ants. They would just come out of nowhere and get into sugar bowl, bread packets, almost anything that is left open. There is no easy way to get rid of them. Either one has to keep the sugar/rice bowl out in sun, wherein all the ants would slowly get out, burn and die, or throw the sugar and the ants along with it. I did not want to kill them and so whenever in a soup ended up throwing the stuff (or just giving the whole of it away to the little ants). Was I being caring and compassionate? Not really, I was being guided by a dry principle of non-violence and the feeling of love towards these small beings with life was not coming naturally from within.

And then a few days ago a little of that changed. I had nothing to do and so was sitting and watching a trail of ants going from one place to another. These little ants were taking small rice tidbits to their home. Just to see how they react, I drew a line with water in between to see if the trail would break. It did and a lot commotion was induced in what seemed to be a peaceful journey. The ants would come and then turn and go back. Then I put an onion peal over the line of water, to see if the ants would start using it a bridge to cross the river that had come out of nowhere. After about an hour of struggle, they had found the way and were going over the bridge. Spending an hour with them made me see so much more in these little ants, it changed my relationship with them. They have life and this was a realization. They have intelligence, emotions. Like us even they get fidgety when confronted with a problem, struggling to find a solution. I could see that they are just like you and me, just a little smaller and may be a little smarter.

Last year I had spent some time learning in a monastery. There was this monk who used to come for a walk daily. He would walk slowly and pick any insect that was moving on the road and keep it on a nearby plant. I would be enamored and yet could not see the seed for the motivation to do something like that. But now to a little extent I can feel it. My understanding that we can be as sensitive or insensitive to life in general as we want has grown stronger. We can understand and groom sensitivity and also mercilessly kill it slowly. We can choose to feel no qualm while spending 1000 bucks on a dinner even after seeing an old lady sitting outside and begging for a morsel. Or we can choose to be compassionate to not only her but to little forms of life too.

The one hour with ants made things more clear and made me look at life quite differently. The more I run and disconnect myself from the pain and misery my actions are causing more insensitive I will become. To feel compassionate we need to reconnect with life, with little things happening around us… To connect we need to stop running and slow down… just so that we do not miss out the small child looking for a some food or the lady beetle that is struggling to get off the road… Some of us have gone a long way in the other direction and probably need to come back.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Kush permalink
    March 3, 2012 12:12

    Just loved it a lot 🙂 Thnx for this brilliant piece !


  2. March 3, 2012 18:25

    this is very moving story…


  3. koikahin permalink
    March 3, 2012 20:26

    i wanted to write something like this for a long time, especially about ‘the choice of being as sensitive and as insensitive as we want’. and especially about ants and life etc. as usual i have lots of comments, but i am overpowered by laziness right now. maybe some other time. thanks for dipping your pen into my head and writing it down…


    • March 3, 2012 20:40

      may be u will overpower ur laziness someday.. ha ha.. hope i have done justice to your thoughts about the same 🙂


  4. Sree permalink
    March 5, 2012 20:05

    Nice post Amit!

    This could also be viewed as an example of “you fear what you don’t understand”. After your one hour, you reflexively were able to start thinking from the point of view of ants. You had more information with you than the handed-down binary choice of kill-or-throw. You had less fear about infestation, wastage of food, or ants.


    • March 6, 2012 21:38

      Hi Amit,
      a good one .Such kind of insensitivity is shown by me towards Buffaloes.I go everyday to give roti and gur to a cowshed where both r standing. I only feed a cow n dont even look at those buffaloes standing by their side.Each time i wonder why?


      • March 6, 2012 23:31

        Hello Aunty.. It is so nice to hear from you after such a long time.. I am sure I have done the same quite a few times too.. but it helps to take a step back and look at my actions, to try and find out reasons and then if needed resolve them subsequently.. would love to meet you sometime soon and go with you to the cowshed 🙂


    • March 6, 2012 23:25

      Sree – thanks.. yes true.. and to understand I think one needs to have time and spend that time with what one wants to understand.. hope you are doing great 🙂


  5. Nikunj permalink
    March 14, 2012 10:27


    I am new out here…but this post of yours and a few others remind me of a wonderful book,,rather a collection of essays by Henry David Thoreau..its called “Walden: Or Life in the woods”. Do read this one…if you havent….it is full of stuff that you write here!


    • March 14, 2012 19:39

      I just happened to see the book at a friend’s place a few days ago, read first 2 to 3 pages and fell in love with it.. I was thinking of getting a copy.. will do it soon now that you suggest 🙂 thank you. Thoreau I think is one of the reason why I fell in love with Dead poet’s society..


      • Nikunj permalink
        March 14, 2012 21:57

        You are welcome…for me Thoreau is one of the author that enlightened me about life and nature in some sense…his illustration & understanding of nuances of nature are impeccable and his philosophy truly inspiring.


  6. Urmila Samson permalink
    April 28, 2012 14:32

    Very moving piece about stopping to think about, to watch, to step back, to take time…for the little things.

    Killing is not necessarily a sign of non compassion. On the one hand we have a certain sect of Jains who cover their mouths in order to not even kill the too tiny to see insects that we breathe in and kill all the time inadvertently. On the other hand we have even Buddhists in the mountains where no crops grow who live on meat alone. There are coastal folk again where crops don’t grow who live on fish. We kill microscopic organisms all the time. We pluck live fruit and vegetables to eat. The only thing that is not alive would be grains and milk, but vegans say that even getting milk is denying the calf, and so not compassionate.

    Growing up non vegetarian, I could not bear seeing an animal killed, but I ate non veg anyway. My son will not kill a mosquito, and says his arm is ‘a lady’s night out for mosquitoes’! But of the three children, he has turned out to be naturally non veg. Each child has evolved their own diets naturally.) It has something to do with genes, I think, and he will surely change to veg as he grows. But still, do you know how many small bugs die when we pluck and cook vegetables??

    In the Bible there is a passage in which it says there is a time to reap, a time to sow, a time to live and a time to die, a time for…and a time for…(I don’t remember, but it goes on about many things) and then it says a time to kill ,which I thought was shocking, until I found that every religion has in its holy book a passage or more endorsing killing.

    So I loved your whole piece and the photograph, and I agree with everything you say, but I did not get the connection between compassion and killing large and small creatures.


    • April 28, 2012 22:59

      I am not sure if I understand, because i see a very clear connection between compassion and killing anything that has life for that matter. Some killings (the small bugs, parasites, small creatures that die because of the activities that we have to pursue, the killing that has to be done up there in the mountains for survival) are beyond our control, but a lot of it is.. And I wouldn’t want to be part of it, naturally.. I do not feel like being part of it.

      I can see the pain every creature small or big faces at the time of death. I would not want to be a reason for that pain, especially when the act of killing it at that time is so unnecessary. So I see a very clear connection. May be I have not understood your question..

      For the Buddhists up in the mountains, may be they do not have a choice. If they had a choice, like the ones living in the plains do, may be they will try and explore the less harmful choices..


  7. Maya permalink
    May 2, 2012 18:49

    had never thought that someone would get time to be with ants, time to learn to love from them, and time to share it with everyone. hope people take out time from whatever they are doing to experience the love you felt.


  8. Gaurav permalink
    June 13, 2012 13:33

    “Some of us have gone a long way in the other direction and probably need to come back” very true


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: