Real question (this happened today). Imagine you're meditating by the fireplace. Outside is cold winter with snow. You have achieved a nice level of concentration, and suddenly you see a stink bug awoken by the heat, crawling into the fireplace. Your choices:

  • Let it keep crawling into fire, noting "crawling, crawling".
  • Pray for it to achieve a speedy human rebirth.
  • "Save" it by taking outside and letting die from the cold.
  • Put it in a safe place inside the house and let it die from hunger and dehydration.
  • Put it in a safe place inside the house and provide care and feeding.
  • Hop on an airplane and take it to China, its natural habitat.
  • Focus on achieving Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.
  • Simply switch attention away from the issue.
  • There is no stink bug.
  • Mu.
  • Your own option.

You have about five minutes left on the timer, so you can either finish your meditation properly and then act, or choose to interrupt the session.

What teachings are relevant in this case? What should I do, according to Dharma, and why?

  • Are you doing intolerant practice ? This might help. Dec 11, 2017 at 1:31
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    I often wonder about your second point. I wonder if “mercy killing” will allow the bug to be better in another life.
    – NuWin
    Dec 11, 2017 at 6:00
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    How do you know the stink bug was going to go die in the flames? Maybe he just wanted to roast marshmallows!
    – user698
    Dec 11, 2017 at 13:33
  • @xxxx how do u know that's a he?? there's a gecko sneaking at the back of the kettle today, said only for getting warm in winter ~ if i heard the silence correctly ~ Dec 11, 2017 at 15:36
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    It is a good oportunity to observe nama constituents feeling, perception, intention, contact and attention.
    – user4878
    Dec 11, 2017 at 18:54

7 Answers 7


The moment your awareness was drawn to the reality of a living being about to experience dukkha dukkhata, the most karma neutral action you could do is to take it away from its apparent predicament and go about finishing your meditation without allowing any after thoughts about this past event.


Let it keep crawling into fire, noting "crawling, crawling".

This is wrong meditation. It should be seeing, seeing, seeing..

One can practice Metta, Karuna, Uppekkha or Satipattana meditations or do physical acts of Metta and Karuna. It is not the appearance of the act that determines if your actions are skillful. It is the state of your mind when you perform the action. Whether it is tainted by greed, aversion and ignorance.


I don't remember that the Buddha made efforts to keep people (or animals) from dying, i.e. to preserve (alive) their physical forms. I think he was more focused on teaching dhamma.

The (Buddha's) Vinaya however does include a lot of rules intended to avoid accidental harm (e.g. "don't dig the soil", e.g. "filter water before drinking it") so if you/they are not going to help, at least be careful not to hurt. Perhaps you feel some responsibility (for the bug's welfare) if you may have accidentally brought the bug in with the firewood -- perhaps that's something to be more careful about, next time you pick up wood.

The Jataka tales include a lot of examples of the Boddhisattva caring for beings' physical well-being (including e.g. feeding the tigress), so although "saving" the stink bug might seem out of character for the Buddha, perhaps it is not out of character for the Boddhisattva.

The notion that the bug will die eventually anyway may be true but perhaps a little odd: because isn't that true for everyone, yet not a great reason to do nothing for anyone?

I too use a kind of "barrier" thinking about the house: inside the house is insect-free; outside the house, insects live their own lives without my interfering. It can be considered "compassionate" to keep or put insects outside, because inside is a hostile (e.g. foodless) environment for them. Your outdoor climate is probably more hostile (cold, icy) than mine is now, though.

I think I expect a bit of intelligence in an animal, even an insect. I might hope (though mistakenly) that it would feel the increasing heat and of its own accord avoid getting too close to the fire. If not, the doctrine of equanimity suggests it's heir to its own karma.

Far be it from me to tell you how and when to practice (meditation) but your reluctance to help may have root in some attachment ("You have achieved a nice level of concentration ... You have about five minutes left on the timer, so you can either finish your meditation properly..."). Some stories (e.g. Tetsugen Doko publishing the sutras) suggest some "masters" are willing to interrupt or postpone their (spiritual) ambition[s] in the midst of a mundane emergency which they can alleviate.

Sometimes you can find an answer by putting yourself in someone else's shoes (or by putting someone else in your shoes). "What would Jesus do?" became a popular question or catchphrase among American Christians, for example. Similarly perhaps you might ask, "What would my teacher do? What would my spiritual friend do?". Maybe you mentioned something like that, once, in your answer describing the simplest case of tantrayana.


You can do whatever you want. Just make sure that whatever you do, you give your whole life over in the effort. One way destroys what is alive. The other gives to life to a possibility that was dead. i.e...

Case 5 Kyõgen's "Man up in a Tree" 五 香嚴上樹


Kyõgen Oshõ said, "It is like a man up in a tree hanging from a branch with his mouth; his hands grasp no bough, his feet rest on no limb.


Someone appears under the tree and asks him, 'What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?' If he does not answer, he fails to respond to the question. If he does answer, he will lose his life.


What would you do in such a situation?"

Mumon's Comment


Even if your eloquence flows like a river, it is of no avail.


Though you can expound the whole of Buddhist literature, it is of no use.


If you solve this problem, you will give life to the way that has been dead until this moment and destroy the way that has been alive up to now.


Otherwise you must wait for Maitreya Buddha and ask him.

Mumon's Verse 頌曰

香嚴眞杜撰 Kyõgen is truly thoughtless;

惡毒無盡限 His vice and poison are endless.

唖却納僧口 He stops up the mouths of the monks,

通身迸鬼眼 And devil's eyes sprout from their bodies.

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    I like this answer. However, the Mumon's Verse appeared an incorrect translation of Chinese (if that's in Chiinese): 香嚴眞杜撰 Kyõgen is truly lying (杜撰 means writing a make-up story); 唖却納僧口 He shut up the mouth of mine the monk (納僧 is for a monk to call himself) Dec 12, 2017 at 2:33
  • Huh. I'll have to look a Sekida's translation and see what he wrote. He's usually pretty good. I just copied this from Sacred Texts because it was convenient. "Lying" definitely makes more sense than "thoughtless"!
    – user698
    Dec 12, 2017 at 14:28

If you hear noises "hearing hearing hearing" -- thinking it might be a bug crawling to the fire "worry worry worry" or thinking*3

but if you see a bug crawling to the fire and know that its hapening for sure - than practice karuṇā and metta and save him - stop the formal meditation mindfully get up mindfully labeling all your actions and pick up the bug and put it far away - i wouldnt think it needs feeding but if you do than yes put him some water and food why not thats extra - no dont go to china - you help him enough with common sense

than you get back to the formal practice .... but helping the bug is also part of the practice

and not helping the bug can come from aversion and greed and ignorance quite as easliy even if you are not aware of it


If Andrei is able to help the bug without kill countless by doing so, he might do it.

Better to do not light fire and lure being in wrong direction for ones indentification "I am a great helper" now not able to help himself get rid.

Maybe good to attend to a/the fire sermon.

One left house, in training or finished, working the best way for all being, has no duty to help.

But one should, now not left house, not directed to Nibbana, not keeping precepts and abstain from sensuality, not misuse ideas of anatta, anicca, sunnata to avoid the merits of giving if possible.

It's very common today that so called Dhamma practicing people neglect giving and duties (Sila) and use high Dhamma, yet not understoid as excuse. This is called kilesa mara. Some think "well that's his kamma" and yet forgetting the own kamma by wrong intention, words/no-words and deeds/no-deeds while acting based on greed/aversion/delusion with it.

If one has the possibility to help without harming at the same time others or him/herself or break basic precepts, there is seldom reason not to do.

For one doing such like most/many sample in the question, such is an ordinary fool, just counting how many he/she will harm, usually not able to walk two steps without crashing others and lighting fire all day long...

So first aways ones duties in a relation, precepts, being mindful and what is left to give, then give and let go.

Don't light fires of acquisitions, attracting food for your identification, a practice of fire worshipping, what esle is it good for then to nurish one ego, enlarging the fields of corpse.

And if actually really interested to understand where there is still doubt, on a heart to heart level, doors are always open.

That's the way precepts-gift then even with samadhi, with panna, are the greatest gifts, renouncing put into fires for the sake of becoming this or that. Such one is called to follow the wise, one on the eightfold path.

Why does one believe that the lightening of certain A-Dhamma and Mohayana attracts so many being? Nibbana? Or a huge fire assuming it for a refuge... now would a fire worshipper have enough fuel to continue if there are no bugs nurishing it?

The Blessed One, having known with his awareness the train of thought in the awarenesses of the 120,000 Magadhan householders and brahmans, addressed Uruvelakassapa in verse:

“Having seen what, while living at Uruvelā, has the teacher of ascetics, abandoned the fire?

I ask you about this matter, Kassapa: Why has your fire oblation been abandoned?”

[Uruvelakassapa:] “Forms, sounds, and flavors too, Sensuality and women — sacrifices promise these.

Having known of acquisitions: ‘This is stained,’ I no longer delight in oblations or sacrifices.”[1]

(Mv.I.22.5) [The Buddha to Kassapa:] “Now your mind doesn’t delight, in forms, sounds, or flavors.

Then, in the world with its humans and devas, what is your mind’s delight? Explain it to me, Kassapa.”

[Uruvelakassapa:] “Having seen the state of peace, without acquisitions, having nothing, unattached in sensuality and becoming,

the state unchanging, leading to nothing else, I no longer delight in oblations or sacrifices.”

Now what's the questioners answer why not simply train Dana, Sila, Bhavana but busy in lightening fires and "safe" bugs?

It's good to increase samvega seeing on self as possible next bug and the misery of being bond to the sense and the world, then seeking for real light and put much effort into it.

Then, as the night was ending, the Blessed One, having consumed (the nāga’s) fire with (his own) fire — without damaging his outer skin, inner skin, flesh, tendons, bones, or bone marrow — put him in his bowl and showed him to Uruvelakassapa the coiled-hair ascetic, (saying,)

“Here, Kassapa, is your nāga. His fire was consumed by fire.”

The thought occurred to Uruvelakassapa, “He’s powerful, the great contemplative, and mighty, in that, with his own fire, he consumed the fire of the fierce nāga king — powerful, with poisonous fangs, terrifyingly poisonous! But still, he’s not an arahant like me.”

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordly gains my means of trade and exchange]


Imagine you're at a resort hotel by the ocean for a week by yourself, looking out the windows thinking: coffee, coffee, when you decide to check in on the Buddhist site and notice Andrei's question crawling upwards in the stats...

I used to run a retreat center, and mice would get in and run around on the suspended ceiling above us while we meditated. This invariably happened most on the occasional evening when a guest or outside visitor was sitting with us. So embarrassing! We put live traps in the ceiling and caught the mice and drove them a ways off. Lots of effort and more came in. Sometimes a snake would be heard up in the ceiling, although guests did not know what that sound was. Eventually found the hole and plugged it.

I no longer run a retreat center. I do throw animals back in the sea when walking on the beach, or carry bugs outdoors if possible. But it is not a big dilemma. Every day when I take a shower, I must be killing multitudes of bacteria. That's life, just do what you can.

  • Was it really coffee, coffee, or beer, beer?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Dec 18, 2017 at 2:57
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    I do drink coffee every day, beer less often. Yesterday I came across another spiny urchin way up the beach, and another... Every 50 feet or so. I looked to see if they still lived then carried and threw in to the water again, wondering if they were already too far gone, or if they were only on shore in the first place because they had been dying. Saw a man laying asleep, still unmoving hours later. Then later still, not there. Does the world need my meddling?
    – user2341
    Dec 18, 2017 at 13:18

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