An old Hindu fable is about a guru sitting on a river bank. He notices a scorpion drowning at the water’s edge and lifts it onto the bank with his hand. Of course, he gets stung. A pupil watching all of this asks him why he did it when he knew he would be stung.
The guru replied, “I do not blame the scorpion for stinging me. He is merely following his dharma. My dharma is to rescue.” (Dharma is our role in the cosmic order that we oppose at our peril.)
Skip ahead to last week at my house. I was draining a small pool I maintain for water plants, mainly water hyacinths. I had earlier noticed tiny fish swimming in the pool. I had not added them, and thought they could only have come from eggs attached to the single water hyacinth I had originally bought in early spring. Now when I drained the pool, I found 17 of the fish flopping around. They looked like guppies to me. My dharma, too, is to rescue, so I put them in a fish tank from long ago with some of the drained off water. They seem to be thriving.
But now what? I did buy some goldfish food that they seem to like, but to keep them, I will need a bubbler, a filter, and perhaps a heater. I really do not want a new hobby of raising fish, but flushing them down the toilet is definitely not my dharma. They are only guppies, and I eat tuna, crab, and salmon sushi without regret. They are not sentient beings. What’s my responsibility to guppies that I did not buy and do not want? Isn’t my dharma also to live a simple life?