慈濟傳播人文志業基金會
Instincts
Kiki (left) and Momo are dogs of the same breed, but their instincts and behavior are very distinct.

Master Cheng Yen once said, “Our instincts breed our behavior, our behavior brings about our habits, and our habits form our character, which in turn determines our fate. Our fate actually lies in our own hands!” I perceived the Master’s meaning more thoroughly when I encountered two dogs in Peace Park in Taipei.

Before I moved from Taipei to southern Taiwan for work in July 2015, I used to exercise for an hour or so each weekday morning at around 6:30 in Peace Park. The park, noted for its exquisite pavilions, lotus ponds and landscaping, was a popular place for people practicing tai chi or walking their dogs in the serenity of the early morning.

One day when I finished my exercise and was about to leave, I suddenly heard the sound of a dog barking fiercely from the other side of a pavilion. Driven by curiosity, I walked toward the source of the noise, and I found that two dogs had been leashed to a bench. One of them was barking ferociously at anyone walking by. A woman exercising near the bench would occasionally try to calm the dog by giving him a pat on the head. Presumably she was the owner of the two dogs.

“Are these two dogs yours?” I asked as I walked toward them.

“Yes they are! That noisy male is called ‘Momo’ and the quiet female ‘Kiki,’” she replied.

We struck up a friendly conversation. She told me her name was Maryann, and that she lived just a few blocks away. Momo started to growl at me while we were talking, but I noticed Kiki’s tail wagging in a friendly manner. I could also read in her body language that she wouldn’t mind if I touched her. I held Kiki in my arms and positioned myself carefully on the other side of the bench, beyond Momo’s reach. Momo’s snarling grew louder when he saw the cuddly Kiki licking my jaw and face as I petted her.

“Momo is jealous of Kiki because you’re giving her so much tender care and love,” Maryann commented.

At that moment, the Master’s words echoed in my ears. I could understand that Momo and Kiki were of the same breed and age, but their instincts and behavior were very different. As a result, their respective fates were different, one oriented toward isolation, the other toward popularity. I believed nobody would want to get close to Momo other than his owner, since his behavior towards others was aggressive and intimidating. In contrast, Kiki was sweet and amiable toward anyone who approached her, and that made her an adorable creature. The Master’s teaching proved to be true even in the case of Momo and Kiki; it can be applied to all creatures as well as human beings.

My brother, James, shared a fable on instincts with me the other day.

Samten, a devoted Buddhist novice, took a walk along a creek in the Himalayas one day. He suddenly noticed something struggling for survival in the water. Taking a closer look, he saw a scorpion bobbing up and down in the creek. The kind-hearted Samten quickly clung to a tree stem with one hand, and reached out to save the scorpion with the other. He grabbed the black bug and saved its life. To his surprise, the scorpion ungratefully stung him on his thumb right before he released it.

“Ouch! How could you do this to me, after I just saved your life?!” the monk groaned furiously.

“Sorry, but it was my instinct to sting,” replied the scorpion in an apologetic tone before crawling into a bush.

Bewildered, Samten rushed home to put medicine on his thumb and alleviate the excruciating pain. A few weeks later, when he was walking along the same creek, he saw the same scorpion again struggling for survival in the water. The kind novice decided to save the bug, but this time he used a twig. The twig, however, was too thin and slippery to hold the scorpion’s weight, and he was unable to lift it.

“Save me with your hand,” the scorpion begged.

“Oh, no… Why would I make the same dumb mistake twice?” the monk blurted out. A moment later, the bug was swallowed up by the rapid current.

It lies completely within our own hands to create a good or a disastrous fate. Subduing the dark elements of one’s instincts, and developing good behavior and a favorable character, would be good strategies for any living creature to lead a joyful and rewarding life.

November 2017