by Lynn McDougal

The year 2010 has now drawn to a close and, right on its heels is the drawing down of the first month of the White Tara retreat which I am participating in from afar. My experience doing this retreat has thus far been mixed – alternately enthusiastic, rushed, or missed amidst career and holiday madness. That said I have discovered that changes have happened in spite of my “self.” A familiarity and personal connection with White Tara has definitely evolved and deepened. But the biggest change has been a solidification and understanding of who and what the phrase “all sentient beings” really includes.

I am an animal lover in a slightly obsessive fashion. My finances have often suffered because I have rushed numerous domestic pets or hurt foundlings to the vet for some needed care. When I first began to practice developing the altruistic intention that all sentient beings have happiness it was very easy to generate true feeling when I thought of those who roam in the animal realm.

Outside my kitchen window stands a venerable Italian plum tree. I have several bird feeders hooked up in various ways. Year round it is host to many varieties of birds but now, over the past couple of winter months, it only hosts a group of “regulars” – Cassin’s finches, goldfinches, sparrows, chickadees and one pair of nuthatches. I love these little birds. They are so small they just fit in the palm of your hand…warm, round and fluffy. I am delighted to be able to provide nourishment to them during this time of year when food is scarce. I delight in offering them mantra and prayers as I look out and watch them eat in the snow as I go about my kitchen tasks.

Yesterday, as New Year’s Eve day dawned, it was cold and bright and beautiful. My White Tara morning practice was infused with gorgeous light and made for an especially joyful offering to her. After practice I went outside to extend my dedication of the practice to my wee feathered friends. The snow had melted off the ground so I knew that they would find it easy to get to the seed. I was very generous in filling the feeders to the brim and tossing great quantities of it across the lawn in front of the small Buddha statue that is there. All the while my heart felt so loving and full as I silently chanted “Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha.” Bodhisattvahood felt almost within my reach!

I went inside and tossed the empty food bags into the trash, then looked out the window awaiting the arrival of my friends so that they might begin to feast on this bounty. Suddenly I froze in horror. From out of absolutely nowhere I made out the shape and attributes of two huge magpies in the sky slowly approaching the feeding grounds!

Now….a word about me and magpies. They are the only birds with which I have a love/non-love relationship. In the love category I place their physical beauty. They really are gorgeous with their white breasts contrasted to their sleek, shiny blue black wings. They are highly intelligent (you really can see it in their eyes!) amazing architects with regard to nest construction, very social, and I don’t even mind their caws which are definitely on the louder side of the force. In the non-love category, well, they are absolute bullies to all the smaller birds on the block and so greedy that they would decimate my cherry tree in a single day if I let them. On any given summer morning they swarm our neighborhood and it’s like a gang of teenagers pulling up in their ’57 Chevys with their radios blasting continuously, hanging out and smoking ciggies and just laughing at you if you try to shoosh them off. I can almost hear them saying, “Take a chill pill, lady!”

So, standing in my frozen state I watched those two magpies land on the ground and begin to gobble down in furious fashion the seed I had scattered for my little gentle friends. I did a quick mental calculation of the rate with which they were feeding and realized that, if left unchecked they would go through every bit of food in about 4.8 minutes and leave none behind for my favored ones! Why those! …..

I threw my hand towel to the ground and raced for my shoes and headed for the door, just filled with righteous indignation on the part of all finches and chickadees everywhere! This just would not stand! No one gets to be a bully on my watch! We all need to live in PEACE and HARMONY and I am going to make those magpies sorry they ever thought to get greedy on MY turf……………………….

[insert sound of needle being pulled hard and slow across the vinyl record]

Eight inches from the door, with my hand just touching the doorknob I was instantly transfixed as if my feet were nailed to the floor. My heart lurched and my breath stopped. And then I swear I heard the tinkling of a small bell. I heard a quiet laughter and I felt as if a light and gentle hand just guided me down to the floor. I put aside my shoes and an upwell of feeling arose from my entire being and burst through my heart as if light from White Tara’s TAM. Words arose and surrounded me as if I was sitting in a small cyclone of grace – “May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of ALL sentient beings…”

I reflected on this: Here I thought that I was such a lover of all animals, everywhere. That I was a Bodhisattva champion and provider for those who could not speak for themselves…the two and four legged of fur and feathers. What an image I had built for myself about myself, but the reality was that I was just as conditional with my compassion and generosity in this realm as I was in the realm of human beings. Running around with my likes and dislikes. Wanting to build up those whom “I” perceived as deserving of “my” good qualities and tear down and deny those whom “I” felt did not.

Well, all means all. Even magpies.

I did a small and immediate act of purification on the spot and added a special dedication to White Tara for her great compassion in intervening on my behalf lest I create more negative karma through my afflicted ways of thinking and acting. I got up slowly, put my shoes away and went back to the kitchen window.

There they were – the two magpies, undisturbed in the business of having their breakfast. As I watched with a quiet heart two finches came down and began to eat beside the magpies. After a couple of minutes, they were joined by a sparrow and two chickadees. Within ten minutes the ground was filled with finches, sparrows, chickadees, two mourning doves and a pair of squirrels. All of them had plenty to eat, no one was stealing food from the mouth of another. All were relaxed and in harmony.

May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha!