I wonder what they think. A small gathering of cattle stare at me while I am hiking in one of my favorite areas of desert east of Bend. The bovines are here as part of a lease agreement between a rancher and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It is hard not to be a little disappointed as the herd is trampling wildflowers and munching sparse bunchgrass in this sagebrush covered plain. I doubt the cattle have any awareness of their actions. They are just trying to survive on very limited grass.
“Just look at all that steak on the hoof,” my farmer grandfather used to say as we passed a herd. Even at a very young age I thought that comment about a life form was very degrading. Now, as I look at these browsing ruminants, I wonder if they know their eventual fate. That would be very cruel. Or maybe they are using this time of relative freedom to savor whatever they can get from life until they end up on the barbecue grill. This, of course, is only the musings of my mind.
I realize a better use of my time is to offer a prayer—a wish for the cattle to be free from suffering until they meet their end. I visualize them as a part of a greater community of sentient beings and expand my prayer to include all life. I think of my friends who would be railing at the inhuman treatment and the negative effect on the environment that comes from cattle production. Even though there is some truth to this, I find it more valuable to develop compassion for the life in front of me.
I continue my moo mantras while I delight in the wildflowers at my feet. Whatever my mind projects is mingled with bodhicitta and the imagined line dividing self and other becomes blurred. I see a pile of fresh cow shit, smell the unmistakable aroma, and begin to laugh. I watch my mind and see how much crap is there. May it all become fertilizer to benefit beings as infinite as space!