At a recent memorial service, Ethel Wan-Sharp told the story of how the slain Starbucks manager, Anthony McNaughton, once went out of his way to stop her from killing a moth, spending more than 30 minutes gently shooing the creature out the window to safety.
"Tony heard me swearing at this huge, ugly black moth one night at work," Wan-Sharp told the mourners. "He came running in, and with his Irish accent, he said, `Stop! What has that moth ever done to you? It could be a reincarnation of your uncle or auntie.'"
Wan-Sharp, who had worked with McNaughton, broke down in tears after telling her story, saying that McNaughton "had always said you should respect all life forms. To us it had just been an ugly moth that eats your clothes."
Friends of McNaughton, who was a devoted member of the Buddhist sect known as Soka Gakkai International, believe his intense religious commitment to respecting all life played a role in his heroic decision on Jan. 29 to step in the way of a man threatening one of his employees with a long knife.
McNaughton told the employee, Ildiko Seres, to run, while he blocked the assailant.
The mayor of Vancouver, police officials and others have said McNaughton, 39, who moved to Vancouver from Ireland six years ago, should receive the country's highest awards for bravery. The international coffee chain is establishing a memorial fund for McNaughton.
Ned Boyden, a Vancouver member of Soka Gakkai, speaking at another memorial service, said adherents of the religion are taught not to fear death.
"It was Tony's karma to have an untimely death. But he's created a lot of value out of that in terms of affecting other people in a positive way. The response from here and around the world to his heroism has been amazing."
At the Soka Gakkai center here, religious colleagues of McNaughton spoke about his 12-year devotion to the Japan-based religion, the fastest-growing Buddhist group in North America. Rock singer Tina Turner is one of its many celebrity devotees.
British Columbia Soka Gakkai official Harry Miyazaki said the religion teaches about the equality and sanctity of all human life.
Although no one knows what went through McNaughton's mind when he protected the Starbucks employee from a man alleged to be her estranged husband, Miyazaki said McNaughton may have been adhering to the Soka Gakkai admonition to reduce the suffering of all people, because every human being "possesses Buddhahood."
Soka Gakkai, whose 8-million members in Japan are closely tied to an influential political movement known as the New Freedom Party, are dedicated to working for peace in the world.
McNaughton was such a strong proponent of nonviolence, Boyden said, that he would spend several hours each week chanting for peace between battling factions in Northern Ireland.
As a result of his heroic death, Boyden believes McNaughton will build up a great deal of positive karma, or ethical standing, and "have a very enjoyable passage to the next life. His life has merged with the universal life force."