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Thoughts on hunting

Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 8:42 AM
I am considering trying to deer hunt this upcoming season. I am very conflicted about how to view this and just wanted to hear some more thoughts from others. I would not be hunting for sport, but am trying to research not only what parts of the animal are edible, but how I can use any inedible parts so that no part of the animal goes to waste. I'm also trying to learn more about things like properly "thanking" the animal and whatnot so if I do it, it can be done as ethically as possible. This being said, I may go out there and should the situation arise where a deer is in my sights, not be able to pull the trigger at all, as I don't know how I will react in the moment. I would be going with experienced hunters who understand I am a "city boy" and am not used to this.

One side of me thinks killing is killing is killing so basically don't kill, and that would include hunting.

The other part of me is in defense of hunting. I live in Pennsylvania, so hunters balance the ecosystem. If there were no hunters, deer populations would spike and cause all sorts of problems, ie. spread of disease, more car accidents, increase in dangerous predators. So hunting may in effect, save the lives of more humans and other animals. From my research, hunting with a rifle seems to be the most humane way to hunt, as opposed to bow hunting.

In trying to study whether this is "right" or "wrong" 2 stories tend to come to mind. One is the story of how Buddha in a prior life let himself get eaten by a tiger so that the tiger's cubs could eat. This story would lead me to say let nature run its course and not hunt.

The other story is of Buddha and the ship Compassion, where a bandit was planning on killing 500 of his shipmates so Buddha stabbed him to death to prevent his shipmates from being killed and also saving them of the karma of having to murder the bandit themselves. This story would lead me to say, there are circumstances where it is justified.

I am really having trouble with this gray area. I am typically a vegetarian, but do on occasion eat meat so my reason for hunting is I just want to be closer to the experience of eating an animal, as I am so far removed from it, and through my experience will either emerge as a hunter or as a strict vegetarian. As a westerner, I am also in a situation where I would not die of starvation if I did not hunt. If I eat meat though, I am causing someone else to do the dirty work.

The subject of "good" killing ie to save another's life or using antibiotics, and things like that, seem to be a subject where many teachers ride the fence. Any thoughts are appreciated.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 9:49 AM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
If you're going to eat meat anyway on occasion then it seems brave of you to get closer to the experience of the animal's death. Especially in light of the fact that this experience may inspire you to become vegetarian. Sounds like a very clear-thinking attempt to be real about something in your life, and it sounds like you are going to learn important things from the experience one way or the other.

Also the points about the ecology of hunting are important and often seem to be overlooked by folks who take an ideological, black-and-white view of the issue. There would indeed be serious ecological consequences of deer populations spiking-- just off the top of my head I am thinking of several friends who grew up spending time on islands of the coast of Maine where the deer were practically tame who now suffer from lyme disease as a consequence of the out-of-control deer populations on those islands. And if humans stop hunting deer then we would need to reintroduce big predators to maintain the ecological balance, and folks don't often think about the consequences of doing *that*. Just ceasing hunting without re-introducing predators would, innmy understanding, likely result in instability (boom and bust) in deer populations which would result in lots of periodic starvations, damage to property and wild plants/trees, and indeed increased car accidents.

In short, I notice that many people seem to take a very black-or-white view of the topic and also I notice that this is often accompanied by a big emotional charge so it's a pretty controversial issue. But it sounds to me like you are being real and I'm all for that. Good luck working it out!

ETA: I am not a Buddhist scholar, I don't subscribe to Buddhist ethics in a fundamentalist way, and this answer above has absolutely no claim on moral authority of any kind whatsoever. Personally, I think that whether folks live by a secular ethical code informed by philosophy or by a given religious ethical code, basically what they are often looking for is to be off the hook for making tough decisions, so I try to be mindful of my choices and the consequences of those choices for other living beings but I also try not to fool myself that there is one clearly articulable correct way of responding to situations because my feeling is that the desire for such is actually *often* a desire to not be responsible for my choices and their consequences. As Heidegger put it somewhere, the fact of having to make a decision about something means we DON'T KNOW. Being willing to not know what is right or wrong in a given instance and yet to still act is courageous in my opinion. And scary.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 10:55 AM as a reply to . Jake ..
Thank you very much for the response Jake! Like you said, I live by my own ethical code, but some of that has the flavors of not just buddism but all major religions in terms of things like, don't steal, don't kill, treat people the way you want to be treated, etc. I don't know if there is a correct answer for this situation, but just figured that hearing thoughts of others might help me come to my own conclusion, so I appreciate your input.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 11:02 AM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
Having compassion for animals is an honorable thing, but that doesn't mean that hunting is "bad" or "wrong." We live in a darwinian reality. Animals eat other animals all the time. As long as you have respect, and understand that you are basically trading the animal's life for yours, I don't see the problem.

All indigenous cultures had great respect for the animal life around them, but they certainly hunted. You have teeth in your mouth that specifically evolved to chew meat.

The Buddha did say that bikkhu's ought not to kill in order to eat. The Buddha also included plants-- a bikkhu who pulled a plant up by the root would have broken a precept.

Bear in mind that this sort of moral code came about on the Indian subcontinent, where an entirely plant-based diet was possible. If you wanted to go preach the Dharma to, say, the Inuit, you would have to tweak things a little bit, unless you wanted them all to starve.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 12:01 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Thank you Eric.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 12:10 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Eric M W:

The Buddha did say that bikkhu's ought not to kill in order to eat. The Buddha also included plants-- a bikkhu who pulled a plant up by the root would have broken a precept.

Good point, and they were allowed to eat meat if it wasn't slaughtered for them specifically as I recall. All those codes also came about in a society where it was perfectly acceptable to make alms rounds, very different from our current circumstances. Didn't the Buddha die from eating some bad meat that was given to him?

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 12:33 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
Michael A Speesler:
I am very conflicted about how to view this and just wanted to hear some more thoughts from others. I would not be hunting for sport, but am trying to research ...

Since you already have doubts, and you say you are only into this for "research",
i'd like to strongly advise to not be directly involved in the actual killing of the animals.
There will be a lot of other input, especially for a "city boy", so no need at all to go "all the way" on your first date ;-)

Once you've pulled the trigger you can never go back to the state of mind before you did that;
so maybe simply let others do that.

There is also some Buddhist rule or advice to not eat meat when you've witnessed the killing of the animal (even by hearing),
or when you know it has been killed especially for preparing this meal for you.

Adhereing to this rule during your hunting trip would possibly also be another unrepeatable experience.

Just my 2 cents, but in no way do i want to judge whatever decision you will make - enjoy your travels!

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 12:43 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
IMO, if you eat meat, you are complicit in the killing of the animal regardless if you 'pulled the trigger'. I highly recommend undertaking this task. I did and I learned a lot. A few years ago I decided that if I was going to eat meat, I should have to raise, slaughter and butcher an animal of each type that I wanted to continue eating. Obviously you don't raise deer but you can certainly slaughter and butcher one. I did a chicken, rabbit, deer and buffalo. I raised a goat with the same intention but couldn't bring myself to kill it. I now don't eat goat.

The experience is visceral and will likely change you. I no longer eat near as much meat as I used to and the meat I do eat, I try to get from a local ranch that allows the animal to live a normal, pastured life.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 1:16 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
maybe this video will help you

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 1:48 PM as a reply to Superkatze one.
Thank you all for your opinions and thank you for the video.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 2:21 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
That is an excellent video. Here's a great article on killing by Thanissaro Bhikku.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 3:23 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.

There is no easy resolution to this problem. I avoid hurting anything living whenever I can, but I never intentionally do it. I believe the entire point of the precepts is to be harmless to oneself and other people.

The point is not a rigorous and anal mentality with regard to keeping the rules, but rather a respect for the life of other living beings, for their property, for their loved ones, for the information you give them and for your body.

If you can grasp this inward notion of harmlessness then you will keep the precepts, you will also know what to do.

The person in question is not you here, it's the animal you're killing.

Do you think the deer wants to be hunted like there's no tomorrow? Thinking about the adrenaline and fear, the blood pumping and its last moments before death.

Before you do anything.

In peace,


RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/21/14 7:43 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
The other part of me is in defense of hunting. I live in Pennsylvania, so hunters balance the ecosystem. If there were no hunters, deer populations would spike and cause all sorts of problems, ie. spread of disease, more car accidents, increase in dangerous predators. So hunting may in effect, save the lives of more humans and other animals. From my research, hunting with a rifle seems to be the most humane way to hunt, as opposed to bow hunting.

First of all, I eat meat, though I don't buy most of it myself, but I sometimes do. Obsessing about various moral decisions and what is wrong and right is also conducive to suffering, excess mental proliferation. "wandering on" and is a sign of not seeing reality clearly enough.

However, imagine there were a cannibalistic serial killer, like Hannibal Lecter, who tracks down and kills humans, then consuming them. The serial killer's argument is similar to the argument above: that the human population is running rampant, causing resource shortages, and he is doing humanity and the earth a great service by bringing down the excess population. Would you agree with him? Then again this argument is using a human in the place of an animal and clearly there may be some problems with this comparison.

On the other hand, imagine that you are tribal person who hunts for food for his family and then, of course, there is nothing wrong with it in this scenario. Though most humans today, unlike animals or tribal persons, are not hunting out of a need for food, but rather for fun. Though I eat meat not out of a necessity to eat meat, but for convenience. On the other hand, is it more convenient to go out of your way to track down, hunt, kill and eat an animal than it is to order a hamburger at Burger King? One could still make an argument against eating any meat since many animals are raised for consumption in some particularly harsh environments, though this may not be the case for all animals raised for food.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
4/23/14 10:25 AM as a reply to Tom Tom.
Again, thank you all for your thought provoking opinions. As some of you have alluded to, I have certainly considered that me killing a wild animal may be more humane than the animal being raised in harsh conditions as a commodity and then slaughtered.

The other side of this as some of you mentioned is that the act of killing may be worse in terms of suffering in my own subjective reality.

All of the points mentioned by others in this post will be good points to ponder. I plan on doing a lot of sitting before I potentially do this in December, so that may add some clarity as well.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
5/12/14 3:15 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
I don't think there is an easy answer, but I do think that this reality as currently desgined is based on things eating things.  Animals kill animals or they kill plants to survive.  Even the plants grow up on the rotted corpses of previously dead plants and animals and bacteria.  Plants need those nutrients in the soil in order to survive and grow.  Cells in your body kill other cells daily.  But if death is just a change in form and all creatures choose their own paths, then what does it mean to kill?  Did you choose your role in this play even if the role you chose may have been that of  'victim?'  We will choose in the future to alter how this play is designed?  Yet there seems to be a universal instinct that some kinds of killing are not right.  Perhaps intent behind an action is important and certain kinds of intent are counterproductive to development.

RE: Thoughts on hunting
5/12/14 5:43 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
I am glad you are putting a lot of thought into this.  I know that giving up things we used to do is a very sensitive part for people when it comes to Buddhism.  I had to quit drinking alcohol, it was awkward at first but now I have more fun when I'm out than my friends who are drinking.

Anyway, I think you know the answer to your question.  Follow it.


RE: Thoughts on hunting
6/9/14 1:05 PM as a reply to Michael A Speese.
I am baffled not by your question, but most of answers you have received.

Thanissaro, whom I consider a more capable guide than anyone else in the west, reiterates what the Buddha said :

Keeping precepts even in the face of death. 

The exuses I read on here around topics like these are egos looking for loopholes. It shows how insensitive we have become as a society, and that we need to use animal behavior as a justification for our questionable human behavior. 

Now, you may still want to go ahead and kill a deer or few. Just ask yourself if it's worth the accompanying delusion, and the possibility of being born in a lower realm (possibly even being hunted like you may hunt).

Goat Who Saved the Priest
Once upon
a time, there was a very famous priest in a very old religion.
He decided it was the right day to perform the ritual sacrificing
of a goat. In his ignorance, he thought this was an offering demanded
by his god.He obtained
an appropriate goat for the sacrifice. He ordered his servants
to take the goat to the holy river and wash him and decorate him
with flower garlands. Then they were to wash themselves, as part
of the purification practice.Down at the
riverbank, the goat suddenly understood that today he would definitely
be killed. He also became aware of his past births and deaths
and rebirths. He realized that the results of his past unwholesome
deeds were about to finally be completed. So he laughed an uproarious
goat-laugh, like the clanging of cymbals.In the midst
of his laughter, he realized another truth that the priest, by
sacrificing him, would suffer the same terrible results, due to
his ignorance. So he began to cry as loudly as he had just been
laughing!The servants,
who were bathing in the holy river, heard first the laughing and
then the crying. They were amazed. So they asked the goat, "Why
did you loudly laugh and then just as loudly cry? What is the
reason for this?" He replied, "I will tell you the reason.
But it must be in the presence of your master, the priest."Since they
were very curious, they immediately took the sacrificial goat
to the priest. They explained all that had happened. The priest,
too, became very curious. He respectfully asked the goat, "Sir,
why did you laugh so loudly, and then just as loudly cry?"The goat,
remembering his past lives, said, "A long time ago, I too
was a priest who, like you, was well educated in the sacred religious
rites. I thought that to sacrifice a goat was a necessary offering
to my god, which would benefit others, as well as myself in future
rebirths. However, the true result of my actions was that in my
next 499 lives I myself have been beheaded!"While
being prepared for the sacrifice, I realized that today I will
definitely lose my head for the 500th time. Then I will finally
be free of all the results of my unwholesome deeds of so long
ago. The joy of this made me laugh uncontrollably."Then
I suddenly realized that you, the priest, were about to repeat
the same unwholesome action, and would be doomed to the same result
of having your head chopped off in your next 500 lives! So, out
of compassion and sympathy, my laughter turned to tears."The priest
was afraid this goat might be right, so he said, "Well, sir
goat, I will not kill you." The goat replied, "Reverend
priest, even if you do not kill me, I know that today I will lose
my head and finally be released from the results of my past unwholesome
action."The priest
said, "Don't be afraid, my fine goat. I will provide the
very best protection and personally guarantee that no harm will
come to you." But the goat said, "Oh priest, your protection
is very weak, compared to the power of my unwholesome deed to
cause its necessary results." So the priest
cancelled the sacrifice, and began to have doubts about killing
innocent animals. He released the goat and, along with his servants,
followed him in order to protect him from any danger.The goat wandered
into a rocky place. He saw some tender leaves on a branch and
stretched out his neck to reach them. All of a sudden a thunderstorm
appeared out of nowhere. A lightning bolt struck an over-hanging
rock, and cut off a sharp slab, which fell and chopped off the
goat's head! He died instantly, and the thunderstorm disappeared.Hearing of
this very strange event, hundreds of local people came to the
place. No one could understand how it had happened.There was
also a fairy who lived in a nearby tree. He had seen all that
had occurred. He appeared, gently fluttering in the air overhead.
He began to teach the curious people, saying, "Look at what
happened to this poor goat. This was the result of killing animals!
All beings are born, and suffer through sickness, old age and
death. But all wish to live, and not to die. Not seeing that all
have this in common, some kill other living beings. This causes
suffering also to those who kill, both now and in countless future
ignorant that all deeds must cause results to the doer, some continue
to kill and heap up more suffering on themselves in the future.
Each time they kill, a part of themselves must also die in this
present life. And the suffering continues even by rebirth in hell
worlds!"Those who
heard the fairy speak felt that they were very lucky indeed. They
gave up their ignorant killing, and were far better off, both
in this life, and in pleasant rebirths.