A Fly on the Wall

This post was written by Ashley Brazil, co-President of DePaul Interfaith. Ashley is a senior, finishing up her degree in Sociology this June.

A few days ago, I returned to my dorm room after a long day to find that my roommate had left the window open and a fly had gotten into the room. My first thought was “Darn! How am I supposed to sleep tonight with this fly in here?”

Buddhism has greatly helped me overcome my irrational fear of bugs. Whenever a bug of some kind entered the space that I considered “mine” and therefore inappropriate for it to be there I would mindlessly kill it. However, after taking the 5 precepts, one of which is to refrain from killing, I now stop and remember my vow to not kill any living creature and this gives me the appropriate amount of time to stop myself from responding with mindless violence every time something happens that I don’t like. So, seeing the fly in my room my first thought was “kill it”. But then, remembering my precepts, and realizing the fact that I couldn’t possibly reach the fly to kill it if I wanted to. It was perched on the ceiling. I thought about some other way to get rid of it.

The fly was perched on the ceiling near the light. Knowing that flies are attracted to light I turned off all the other lights in the room and opened the door to the hall, which was brightly lit. I found myself beginning to speak to the fly as if it were a person. “Come on fly. Go out. You can do it…” I wanted the fly to leave not only for my own comfort but because I knew if the fly stayed indoors overnight it would die. I stood by the door for several minutes, trying to coax the fly out. By taking the time to try and do what is compassionate for the fly instead of just killing it this forced me to think in a different way, to not be so self-centered. The fly was not budging and evidently did not fall for my trick. He stayed perched on the ceiling, probably eyeing me with his thousand eyes and snickering under his breath.

By this time a thought had occurred to me. Three major elements of Buddhist cosmology and ethics are reincarnation, karma, and interdependence.  This fly could very well be a friend from a previous life, or has probably been my mother at one point in the past. Perhaps this fly is a teacher I had in a past life and has come back as a fly to teach me about compassion or to check up on how I’m doing with my practice. When these thoughts occurred to me my compassion for the fly grew and I became less irritated about it being there. I gave up on getting rid of it and so I closed the door and sat down at my desk, resigning myself to live with the fly instead of assuming it to be an inconvenience to me. The fly flitted around a little with a loud buzz and so I knew it would soon die. Realizing this and calling up compassion I decided it would be good to say some mantra for the fly and send it off with some good karma.

I sat down and took out my mala, began saying a mantra that is good for clearing negative karma. As I sat there with my beads reciting the mantra over and over again, and saying prayers for the fly’s future lives, it became a deeply spiritual moment and I felt my heart open wide. I no longer was concerned about my comfort but about how I can be of help to a fellow living being. I became immersed in the mantra recitation and realized that what at first seemed like an inconvenience had really been a blessing, and that any situation, good or bad, large or small, can be an opportunity to learn and to practice compassion. A famous saying by the founding teacher of my Zen school, “A good situation is a bad situation, a bad situation is a good situation” came to mind. If we are open to letting our experiences teach us then everything can be a chance to be better human beings.