When I take nature walks I often see snails that are about to, or on their way of, trying to cross the gravel path where I am walking. Since this path most often have people walking, running or biking there, it feels like these snails face a very big risk of (if not even being doomed to) getting smashed on their no doubt hard and draining struggle to cross this dry "desert" to the green grass on the other side. Almost every time I see a snail here, I get an impulse inside telling me that the right thing to do, would be to just stop and pick this snail up and carry it safely to the other side, in the direction it was going, which I quite often do.
No matter how many snails I help this way, I feel guilty for not helping every single snail that I see. Why should I be allowed to differentiate and judge this way based on my sheer laziness to decide not to take every single snail I see across? Which snail deserves to be saved if I can, and which does not? All of them deserves to get safely across. I can't explain it further but my inside tells me: "By helping them across, you help all of us across."
1) Is stopping and picking a snail up and carry it safely across the the gravel path to the other side to prevent it from getting smashed by other people, a skillful, neutral or unskillful act, and why?
Skillful because you earn relative merit for acting on a compassionate thought. Also skillful because you can make a wish / cause with that snail so that maybe it can have the opportunity to be born as a Dharma student, in its' next life. This is made stronger if you visualize your tongue as a flat, golden, three pointed vajra and say the Mani mantra (with Hrih) and blow on the snail. (Helps if you have accomplished the creative visualization / absorption of Chenrezig, but it is also ok without this.)
2) Is this skillful because we know that the snail will be smashed and we can prevent this from happening by carrying it across?
3) Is it unskillful because we ...interrupt ... events unfolding... that is not our business (even if we would like to make it our business) ?
Skillful because free will exists. If something is in my face, and my intervention can be helpful, I deal with it. That is where I draw the line, otherwise there is no end to involvement with the sufferings of the world. There are many snails, crossing many roads.
4) If this is skillful, does that mean that ideally we should stop and help EVERY snail across? How do I know where to draw the line? (I guess I should think of "the middle way" here and that helping a few is better than none)
Ideally yes. See above.
5) What are your other thoughts if any on this?
Saving lives is unequivocally virtuous. All the great Tibetan Masters practice this. I have happily gone on several "ransom" adventures. My first was an assignment to let loose 108 large crabs, one at a time, into Long Island Sound while saying a mani and blowing on each one. I bought the crabs at 5AM, from a Chinese grocer in Chinatown, NYC, and then drove to Long Island. Then I had to open the crate, dip one hand, protected with a welding glove into the crate, have one crab grab the glove, the remove the crab from the crate, then use my un-gloved hand to remove the little wooden sticks that had been placed in the claws to make them safe, then say the mani and blow on the crab, then lower the crab into the water and wish it well as it floated away, then repeat 107 times.
I also went on several "ransoms" with the great Yogi, Lama Sang, Ku Sum Ling Pa. We had a caravan of rented vans that picked up a menagerie at wholesale markets in Brooklyn, and then drove to a lake and let 100s of creatures loose: fish, ducks, frogs, eels, and birds. It was beneficial to be present while Lama Sang gave his blessings.
In general I take the little creatures outside, when I find them in my house. Sometimes I shnupf them up with a special "soft" battery operated vacuum that does not hurt them, and then immediately take them outside, and put them in the garbage can, with a wish that they should make it to garbage heaven.
I think that building relative merit is good for my practice and has the very useful side effect that I am not shy with strangers and in general get on well with all types of people.
Maybe I rescued them in a past life. When I meet someone who doesn't like me, I think that maybe I was mean to them in a past life. Karma matters.
There are many good posts, and some of the less obvious unintended consequences were helpfully pointed out.
That said, I think it is GOOD to save lives
: hopefully with full presence and awareness of the triple empty.
Hope this helps.