Let’s say you’re in a room doing something, perhaps meditating on universal loving kindness, perhaps just writing a blog post, and there’s a puppy right outside the door crying. And let’s say that you know this puppy and you know that all she wants is for somebody to pet her.
You are aware that there are puppies all over the world crying for attention. You also know that it’s just a coincidence that you are there in that room at that moment, hearing this particular puppy.
Unless you are a puppiopath, you will want to pet the dog. The dog’s whining is causing you anxiety. As you go to pet her, you ask yourself, “Am I petting the dog primarily to relieve her suffering, or am I petting the dog to shut her up, in order to relive my own suffering?” Maybe you are petting the dog so that you will feel like a good person.
Do we have more of an obligation to help things nearby us than to help things far away, things we don’t see but know about? Couldn’t you go knocking on the neighbor’s doors and ask if they have any puppies in distress that you could pet?
This brings up the questions: Am I really here? What does it mean to be here, in this place and time? What are my obligations in this world?
The other day, I saw this video of a horse petting a cat, and I felt happy:
I think it makes me happy because I have a deeply engrained desire for love to reign supreme in my world. It seems logical that love and goodwill would be beneficial for survival. If everybody tends to take care of everybody else, you as an individual are safer.
I have a desire for the puppy in the other room to be happy, and that’s what I’m thinking as I pet it, and perhaps that’s what this horse is thinking. And the reason that desire is built into us is that we survive better in a world filled with love and compassion. The more the world’s inhabitants act to relieve suffering and increase happiness around them, the nicer a place it is for everyone to live. Makes sense.
I’m reminded of the story of the old person seeing the child saving star fish that have washed up on the beach. She asks the girl why she bothers, pointing out that there are thousands of star fish washed up on the beach and the girl will never make a difference in the problem by saving the individual ones near her. The girl puts a starfish back in the water and says, “It made a difference to that one.”