Mongolia can be a country of such shocking contrasts.
The other evening I was invited to dinner by a lama friend of mine. He chose a local pizza joint because it was easy to get a meal there without meat. This lama, from Mongolia’s westernmost province of Khovd, amazed me by saying he had been vegetarian for the past 30 years. Apparently his father had also been a lama and had once shared with his son a Mahayana scripture which detailed the faults of eating meat. It may very well have been this fierce excerpt from the Lankavatara Sutra. Deeply impressed, this lama never touched meat again, no mean feat in Mongolia where one is almost never served a meal without it.
So I tripped out my building’s door, nothing but happy thoughts of a mushroom pizza on my mind, and literally jumped backward when confronted by this sight right in front of me:
I couldn’t quite believe it was real, even as my hands spontaneously clapped into prayer position and I reflexively began chanting Om Mani Padme Hung. But yes, someone had driven their Land Cruiser straight into the heart of Ulaanbaatar with a freshly slaughtered Siberian wolf lashed to the front protection bars.
I took these pictures with the car’s license plate in the hope that such hunting was seasonal and perhaps illegal and some justice might be brought to the hunter. My dinner companions assured me that even if such laws were in place they would not be enforced; such a kill would be regarded by many with admiration.
Mongolia is, of course, a country in which the livestock outnumber people by about 20:1. For a herder whose livelihood depends on the wellbeing of his flock, the killing of wolves is at least understandable, if karmically unfortunate. But the sport hunting of wolves is another matter altogether. To get some background for this post, I clicked around sites offering wolf hunting tours in Mongolia (regrettably, there are many). A few cited some version of the following Mongolian saying: One cannot even see a wolf unless one is the wolf’s equal; one cannot kill a wolf unless one is the wolf’s superior.
For followers of the Buddha's teachings, this is a bitterly ironic statement. According to the Buddha’s enlightened point of view, the wolf was born in such a body and came to a violent end due to correspondingly violent actions in previous lifetimes. Its murder marks the end of that particular karmic episode. For the hunter, on the other hand, whatever short-lived satisfaction might be experienced out of ignorance, such killing plants the seed for acute suffering in future lifetimes. To the Buddhist way of thinking, the sport hunter is no being’s superior.
I was told that in the past, for a certain radius around each of Mongolia’s thousands of monasteries, hunting and other non-virtuous activities were strictly prohibited. Such traditions do not seem to persist.
I had thought to end this post touting the Defenders of Wildlife campaign to abolish the abominable practice in Alaska, promoted by Gov. Sarah Palin, of the aerial slaughter of wolves and bears by helicopter and light plane (fellas – OK and some of you ladies too – go watch the short video: Ashley Judd!). But let’s end with a cheerier story, shall we?
One of my good friends here is a prominent government official, whose devout Buddhism I knew to be of fairly recent vintage. The first time I was invited to his home I scanned the living room walls and was startled to see a photo of him kneeling over a wolf he had just killed, smiling from ear to ear. I didn’t say anything then, but quietly asked his wife about it later. Oh, it’s interesting, she told me. Not only did he love hunting, but he was an avid gun collector. But once Buddhism took hold in his mind, one day he decided to destroy all his guns and never went hunting again. They meant to change that picture, but hadn’t gotten around to it.
It just so happened I had recently been at a gathering with this family and a visiting lama from Tibet. At that time, I had snapped a wonderful portrait of this man in a prayerful pose while the lama was chanting. I printed a large copy, bought a frame for it, and slipped it to his wife a few days later. The next time I visited, lo and behold, the wolf hunting picture was gone, replaced by my photo of the man in devout Buddhist attitude.
I told that story at the pizza dinner to the delight of all, a little ray of hope in these twilit times.