Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 566 Join Date: 7/28/13 Recent Posts
On Fridays, I have a 30-minute sit with a meditation group at work, and then we eat lunch together. Today I was asking my meditation buddies at lunch what they do about ants or cockroaches in the house, explaining that I don't like to kill them but can't convince them to just leave my house. I feel intense aversion to cockroaches. In fact, although I won't kill them, I will find ways to get my husband to come kill them so that it is not "on" me, which raises the question whether inducing my spouse to kill for me is on me, after all. I was shocked that every single Buddhist at the lunch table said, without the slightest compunction, "I just kill them if they are ants, mosquitoes, or roaches." Then they detailed all the ways you can devise for killing ants, including elaborate baiting schemes and fumigation bombs.

This conversation reminded me of something that happened about a year ago. I had woken up in the middle of the night and gone downstairs for a glass of water. When I walked into the kitchen, I saw an adult male mosquito dying a slow, painful death on the edge of the kitchen sink.

Those of you who are parents, have you ever gotten down on your small child's level (physically) and looked closely into his or her face and been shocked by the full-on sentience there? I remember that I used to ignore the intricacies of my son's being for whole weeks at a time when he was small, wrapped up in my adult worries and penchant for teaching and directing him from on high rather than receiving and listening to him at his level. Then one day I would get down on my knees, look into his face on his level, and really listen to his speech and look into his eyes for every nuance of expression. The result was always astonishing to me. I was full of the sense of this incredible being in this little boy, this being that my "directing things" spent most of our time together glossing over, subsuming, refracting, and ignoring--even though he was my only precious child. 

A dying adult mosquito is like a child in this way if you take the moment to tune in.
 The moquito on that night had a broken left wing and several crushed legs. Moreover, he was caught in a puddle of water and was struggling to drag himself, by his two good legs, out. I leaned in closely and just observed him a while, "listened" to him, if you will, to what he was experiencing. I saw that he had a "will" to live, to escape that water puddle, no matter what, and live on even without flight and ability to walk, no matter the pain and struggle. I could see that he was suffering. I could see his fierce struggle, the stress, the strong will, and the defeating pain he was in as he flapped in the puddle and tried over and over again to save himself. Strangely, this affected me greatly. I felt in a moral bind, somehow horrible for merely watching.

I dried up the little puddle with the edge of a paper towel so that the mosquito was at least not struggling to get to dry "land." Then I deliberated whether I should kill the doomed mosquito, to put it out of its misery. The Buddha, I had read, condoned killing under no circumstances. He permitted his monks to fight back in self-defense if attacked, but not with an intention to kill the attacker. According to the Buddha, there are simply no other exceptions. However, the Buddha also said that one has to test his ideas and come to accept his findings experientially, not on faith, and moral training comes down to intention. As I stood there over the mosquito, I remembered a passage I had read by Trungpa Rinpoche in which he said he would kill anyone who was about to press the Doomsday Nuclear Missile Button, and do it gladly. I thought at the time I read it how weird a statement it was.

Finally, unable to bear watching the mosquito flail about another hopeless minute, I crushed it, killing it in one swift instant. The next day, my now teenaged son was discussing another matter with me and asked me this classic moral dilemma question: "If you saw a train heading down a track toward 5 stangers, obviously about to kill them, and you could stop the killing, but only by diverting the train to a side track on which stood one person who would be killed, what would you do?" I almost instantly answered that I would save the 5 people and divert the train to kill the one person. My son said, "We are morally divergent; that is the wrong answer."

My son's point was that, from the point of view of each person on the tracks, he or she had one life to lose, his or her only life. The other lives had no additional value, since each person had one life and only one, and from each point of view that life was the one to be taken. Without any rationale to value 5 "one life" instances over one "one life" instance, my son would have no moral justification for intentionally intervening in the scenario. I argued that not diverting the train was in essence killing the 5 original people. my son disagreed. He stated that he didn't set the train in motion or put the people there, and to divert the train to the one person was to directly kill that person and incur moral responsibility for the choice in a way that merely observing the original 5 die did not. 

Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes, "Thus, from the Buddha's perspective, encouraging a sick person to relax her grip on life or to give up the will to live would not count as an act of compassion. Instead of trying to ease the patient's transition to death, the Buddha focused on easing his or her insight into suffering and its end." I'm not sure how this would work for a mosquito.

By contrast, in a 1996 article entitled "Dalai Lama Backs Euthanasia in Exceptional Circumstances" regarding his position on legal euthanasia, the Dalai Lama is asked his view on euthanasia, the Dalai Lama said Buddhists believed every life was precious and none more so than human life, adding, "I think it's better to avoid it. But at the same time I think with abortion, (which) Buddhism considers an act of killing ... the Buddhist way is to judge the right and wrong or the pros and cons." He cited the case of a person in a coma with no possibility of recovery, or a woman whose pregnancy threatened her life or that of the child or both, where the harm caused by not taking action might be greater. "These are, I think from the Buddhist viewpoint, exceptional cases," he said. "So it's best to be judged on a case by case basis."

Back when I was following a Tibetan Buddhist tradition, I told one of the nuns the story about my resident mosquito. She said that my killing it was a wrong action because I had interfered with that being's karma--although this statement rested on the notion that one needs to live through such torment as the mosquito did in order to expend any undesirable karmic accumulation.

Thoughts?

Are you surprised that every person in my mediation group nonchalantly stated that he just kills bugs if they are ants, mosquitos, or roaches?

And, perhaps more urgently, how do I convince these ants to take their party outside? emoticon
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 1626 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
I have caputured flies and bees and sent them out when it's not a problem or infestation.  Cockroaches leave allergens and ants really take over if you let them.  Kill them!

They are invading your home so punish them.  This is one of the weirdest Buddhist ideals.  Viruses are life forms that are trying to kill you.  Your body fights it naturally and kills them.  Don't be so naive that we aren't assaulted once and awhile.  

They are competiting with you so fuck them up and feel no remorse.  If you are looking in nature, like a forest, and you aim to kill animals there without needing food then you are behaving like they are in your house.  Your house is your house.  Their forest is their forest.  Cockroaches aren't endangered.

I know that the Dalai Lama gets servants to release flies but that's royalty behaviour.  Your home is your home and you want to receive people so kill the fuckers! LOL!  Fucking kill them!  Your the queen of your house.

Use common sense.

http://www.pestworld.org/news-and-views/pest-health-hub/posts/the-truth-about-cockroaches-and-health/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Nile_virus
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 566 Join Date: 7/28/13 Recent Posts
Richard:
I know that the Dalai Lama gets servants to release flies but that's royalty behaviour.  Your home is your home and you want to receive people so kill the fuckers! LOL!  Fucking kill them!  Your the queen of your house.

Laughing so hard tears are rolling. . . . emoticon
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 566 Join Date: 7/28/13 Recent Posts
What I was taught in the Gelug-pa center I used to attend was the following:

1. Intent to harm is the unskillful portion of the act of killing, not the act itself (so our killer cells don't count as breaking precept).
2. You have a duty to kill bacteria (or anything else) if they otherwise will make you or your family sick (ie, self-defense).
3. The precept is not about "good and evil" but about how you instill habits of aversion in your mind (when you liberate an animal instead of killing it, you will notice a difference in your level of peace--however, I still hate the little cockroach bastards).
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Droll Dedekind, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 634 Join Date: 11/15/13 Recent Posts
Maybe this will help.
One of the things that struck me about Bill was his willingness to
walk his talk. The first day I met him, he needed to go to his storage
unit to get something out of it. Since Bill drove an old yellow
Volkswagon bug, he asked me to drive him there in my Honda wagon, which
had more cargo space. At the storage unit, rummaging around in boxes,
Bill found a black widow spider. I would’ve just killed it, but Bill
left it alone. When I asked him why, he told me that one of the five
precepts of Theravada Buddhism was to avoid killing. I was impressed by
the fact that he not only knew about these precepts, but actually
followed them, unwilling to kill so much as a bug. Inspired by Bill’s
example, I too adopted the precept to avoid killing “sentient beings,”
and for years I didn’t kill insects either. Incidentally, a few years
later I was on retreat at Bill’s Whidbey Island Retreat, which was his
retreat center (made available by a generous friend) in Washington
State, consisting of 20 acres of pine forest and Bill’s tiny trailer,
along with an extra motor home for a yogi or two to stay in. I was the
only student there at the time. One day, I saw Bill smack a mosquito. I
said, “I see you’re no longer abstaining from killing insects.”Bill said, “Last time I was [on meditation retreat] in Burma I felt
like killing them. So I did.” Bill had been following the non-killing
precept for years. I interpreted this not as backsliding, but as
progress. Notwithstanding the beauty of a life without killing, Bill had
come to a place in his practice and his life where he could question
even his own dogma.
http://contemplativefitnessbook.com/book-one-story/bill-hamilton/
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 566 Join Date: 7/28/13 Recent Posts
I think that perhaps the most interesting thing here is that it becomes fine to let go of the precept, but only after having had the thorough practice of keeping it. You have to feel the difference.
Albin Hagberg Medin, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 12 Join Date: 8/24/13 Recent Posts
First of all, thank you for sharing your story with the mosquito and your child, it felt a heartfelt impression emoticon

As for your question - I've never considered myself a buddhist or taken any precepts, but ever since I was a child I have had a very very hard time intentionally killing animals, plants, anything. That includes insects that triggers aversion, disgust and hatred in alot of people - like wasps, cockroaches, flies, mosquitos.  This of course, was combined with a childs curiosity so at time I found myself shameful or mourning after burning up ants with a magnifier, drowning them, feeding flies to my venus fly trap, or putting salt on slugs.

I have also probably killed countless of these insects when bitten and the body reacted unconsciously with a smackdown slap on however tried to take a bite. And it wasn't until a few years ago I adopted a vegetarian/vegan diet. 

One pointer that opened up alot for me in these regards was the recent remembering that actually all borders are human-made. The border between plant and animal life for example. What makes an oyster more sentient than an oak? Or a human more sentient than a horse? Of course we humans tend to elevate our own status and rationalize this with some human-made constructs like IQ, empathy, or by looking at the flesh of things and finding more of certain fleshpieces like nervous systems in humans than other animals.

But how do i know a mosquito has more "life drive" than the trees constituting the firewood I just used to heat up my house? 

Or that bacteria or viruses have less "value" merely because of their size and simplicity? Is it not so that my own body is made up of similar cellular components, all the way down the atomic parts that I share with the rock and earth beneth me. And beyond that scale down to exotic subatomic particles, wavelets and other dominant theories of physics. 

I like the Bill quote posted and probably roll a similar route. When an action feels bad, unconstructive, harmful, it's not for me to take it. That includes lack of action as well such as not sweeping away the wasp before it bites me or hurting the ant colony about to take over the house.

For a concrete advice I've heard that essential oils from mint and lemongrass supposedly are extremely potent to scare of insects and bugs of any kind, so you could try to pour that all over the place and watch the ants response? (and also enjoy the fresh fragnance!)
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Noting Monkey, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 48 Join Date: 7/24/11 Recent Posts
I am also very confused with this topic.
Is it possible to kill out of compassion? Kind a „mindfull killing”? Maybe if you kill them then this was their karma to die like this. So basically you just saved them from this shit body they have.

Are we going to have negativ effects because of these "small killing" actions? Like the Buddha's headache. 
"In a past life I was a little boy, and they drained a pond. I went to the empty pond and started playing with a fish lying there in the drained pool, flopping it up and down and hurting it. Now that karma has matured and I’m experiencing a bad headache as a result." and he was't even killing...

Is there difference between the actions before attaining arahatship and after? So can an arahat kill without getting negative result? Is there a difference between a „lay arahat” (maybe not strictly following the precepts) or a „monk arahat” who stricktly follows them? If they are already arahats anyway should they be bothered by their actions? 
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Eric M W, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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I think it's important to remember that the Buddha lived on the Indian subcontinent, one of the few places in the world where a vegetarian-only diet was feasible. Virtually all indigenous peoples hunted and fished for survival. If they didn't, they would starve. Imagine asking an inuk to take the precept of not taking life, when this person could literally spend their entire lives without seeing a single plant.

However, indigenous peoples had an immense respect for animal life, as shown by the prominence of animals in their myths and legends, and the taboos that surrounded the practice of hunting. I remember a native American man in my area telling me that his people always prayed to the animals asking for permission to hunt them before embarking on a hunt.

The Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian. Many monasteries in Tibet, if I recall correctly, keep and slaughter sheep for feed. This is only logical, as the Tibetan plateau is a very arid place with little vegetation.

I would say that one should abstain from killing unless it is absolutely necessary. We live in a Darwinian reality, and our existence relies on the death of other beings-- plants, microrganisms, etc.
Tom Tom, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 466 Join Date: 9/19/09 Recent Posts
I think it's important to remember that the Buddha lived on the Indian subcontinent, one of the few places in the world where a vegetarian-only diet was feasible.


The Buddha and his disciples were not vegetarians.  Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha, tried to split the sangha and demanded a vegetarian diet.  The Buddha consistently refused this proposal and stated that the monks could eat fish and meat as long as the animals were not specifically killed to feed the sangha.
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Eric M W, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 288 Join Date: 3/19/14 Recent Posts
Tom Tom:
I think it's important to remember that the Buddha lived on the Indian subcontinent, one of the few places in the world where a vegetarian-only diet was feasible.


The Buddha and his disciples were not vegetarians.  Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha, tried to split the sangha and demanded a vegetarian diet.  The Buddha consistently refused this proposal and stated that the monks could eat fish and meat as long as the animals were not specifically killed to feed the sangha.
Hi Tom Tom, you are correct. It is an interesting synchronicity that I am reading U Pandita's take on this subject in his book, In This Very Life. Since the entire book is available for free online, I will go ahead and post the section here:
Some hold the view that it is moral to eat only vegetables. In Theravāda Buddhism there is no notion that this practice leads to an exceptional perception of the truth.

The Buddha did not totally prohibit the eating of meat. He only lay down certain conditions for it. For example, an animal must not be killed expressly for one’s personal consumption. The monk Devadatta asked him to lay down a rule expressly forbidding the eating of meat, but the Buddha, after thorough consideration, refused to do so.

In those days as now, the majority of people ate a mixture of animal and vegetable food. Only Brahmins, or the upper caste, were vegetarian. When monks went begging for their livelihood, they had to take whatever was offered by donors of any caste. To distinguish between vegetarian and carnivorous donors would have affected the spirit of this activity. Furthermore, both Brabmins and members of other castes were able to join the order of monks and nuns. The Buddha took this fact into consideration as welt with all of its implications.

Thus, one needn’t restrict oneself to vegetarianism to practice the Dhamma. Of course, it is healthy to eat a balanced vegetarian diet, and if your motivation for not eating meat is compassion, this impulse is certainly wholesome. If, on the other hand, your metabolism is adjusted to eating meat, or if for some other reason of health it is necessary for you to eat meat this should not be considered sinful or in any way detrimental to the practice. A law that cannot be obeyed by the majority is ineffective.
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Florian Weps, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Jen

The way I view Morality, it is a practice. Thus, there are no simple, "right" answers. I like how you are using it for exploration, for examining yourself, your mind's workings, the rationalizations and excuses and shortcuts which help us navigate our lives. This is excellent practice.

Basically, the precepts as I understand them and practice them lead to greater all-round safety: by avoiding threatening, violent actions, the world becomes less threatening and violent. By practicing them, ultimately you give more safety, and you get to live in a safer world. These considerations include you and your family, of course. You want yourself and your loved ones to be safe and comfortable as well. That is their aim, in my opinion, rather than some abstract karmic excel sheet.

On the practical, insect-contol side: I have no idea about the ant/roach situation where you live. In my place, it's usually sufficient to remove food sources or make them inaccessible/unnoticeable for the insects: crumbs, garbage, fruit bowls etc, use airtight containers for loose stuff like flour and oats and raisins. But I've lived in places where this would not help, I've had cockroaches eat the glue from my paperbacks, and I had to kill them.

Cheers,
Florian
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Yes, Florian, I agree. And this is very much what the existentialists said, too.
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Not Tao, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Hi Jen,

This was a really great read, and I can tell you've thought a lot about it.  I've thought a lot about it too, so I think I can help you with some of your dilema.

Up until very recently, I was afraid of spiders.  I couldn't accept having them in the same place where I slept, and if I saw one crawling around I had to kill it or it would ruin my whole day.  Most of the time it still ruined my day because I'd be imagining more of them crawling around my apartment, and I'd be hyper aware jumping at every little spot on the wall.

Now, I knew, logically, that this was a rediculous way to behave, but I didn't think I could help it.  I knew logically that it was hypocritical to kill spiders and also be a vegetarian, but I didn't want to care about them.  They're just bugs, right?

At some point, though, I don't remember exactly why, I decided that I didn't want to be that way anymore.  So I spent some time every day looking at pictures of spiders on google, watching videos of people handling them, and most importantly, I made a vow to stop killing them.  What happened was fairly extraordinary (from my perspective).  I simply stopped being afraid of them.  It was an uneasy transition, especially with the first few spiders I found in the house (took some time to get the nerve to catch/release haha) but it took hardly any time at all - maybe a week or two.  There was a day where I was playing with the cat in the hallway and I noiced a fairly large spider hanging in the corner.  After a few moments of looking at it, I realized I didn't feel anything at all.  It might have been a fly sitting there instead.  So I just left it alone.

After this, when I was looking at spiders online, I realized they were actually kind of cute looking.  I found myself sitting there at my desk enjoying the experience of looking at spiders.  I think this is the real reason to take the precept not to kill.  Killing only really happens out of aversion in our modern lives.  If you can't suffer the cockroach and you ask your husband to kill it, you're simply creating more future aversion and indulging it in the present. Learn to love to cockroach, and your life will be better.

Also, ants only come where there's food.  You don't have to kill the ants, just seal your food and they go away on their own.  Or maybe there are ants in your house for a while.  Are they hurting you?  Maybe it makes you embarrased when company comes over?  Maybe you just believe ants aren't supposed to be in a house?  These are all things you don't really have to care about.  Just decide not to!  It's no more difficult than that.  You may be uncomfortable for a little bit as you acclimate your emotional responses to your logical understanding of a situation, but it really takes so little time to change how you feel, if you genuinely want to, that it's amazing there's anything that bothers us at all in life.  All aversion is fear, and fears can go away completely with acceptance.
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 1 Year ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 3180 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I remember being on a work retreat at Gaia House for a summer in 1999 before medical school. I had taken the 5 precepts.

As part of my work duties, I worked in their organic garden. They were very proud of their good, vegetarian food.

Unfortunately, their tomato bed in their greenhouse got a fungal blight, and they informed me that the only way to fix it was to dig out the entire bed a foot deep, transport all the soil outside the greenhouse, and replace it with fresh soil from elsewhere.

This I did, using a shovel and wheelbarrow. It took me two days, as it was a lot of dirt to move in and out.

The dirt was really good dirt, the process of lots of composting, and it contained an extremely large number of earthworms, grubs, beetles, ants and other similar creatues. I killed them by the thousands in the process of moving that dirt.

I crushed insects. I cut earthworms in half. I tore up grubs, slugs, even a small garden snake. I destroyed ant colonies. Such staggering killing for some organic tomatoes.

During the small group meeting, the teacher (who will remain anonymous) asked my how my day was going and what I had been up to. I mentioned that I had spent the day working in the garden moving dirt and killing thousands of beings for the organic, vegetarian tomatos and he immediately shushed me to silence, saying, "We don't talk about that here!" I was shocked, but that was the end of the interview. The moved on to the next person, with everyone there looking very nervous about the topic.

So, if you think you aren't killing all the time, realize that you are. Driving down the road at night in the South in any season except winter kills hundreds of insects on the front of your car. Everything you eat involved the killing of many, many beings. Everything you buy involved it also in some way. We kill constantly for our survival one way or the other. You can't walk on the lawn without killing things. You can't walk in a forest without killing things. Just today I breathed in a bug into my nostrils and it died when I went to remove it. It is sad but true.

I agree, it is really moving to consider the suffering of an individual creature, and I myself go out of my way to move the red wasps that sometimes get into my house outside without harming them, but still, I recognize that, as a top-of-the-food-chain predator, killing is our lot. We can contemplate it deeply, try to avoid it in those circumstances when we can, and yet it is going to happen anyway.
Tom Tom, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 466 Join Date: 9/19/09 Recent Posts
Just today I breathed in a bug into my nostrils and it died when I went to remove it. It is sad but true.

Yogiraj speaks about this topic with a light heart:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9ssOOErq4o

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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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So, if you think you aren't killing all the time, realize that you are. Driving down the road at night in the South in any season except winter kills hundreds of insects on the front of your car. Everything you eat involved the killing of many, many beings. Everything you buy involved it also in some way. We kill constantly for our survival one way or the other. You can't walk on the lawn without killing things. You can't walk in a forest without killing things. Just today I breathed in a bug into my nostrils and it died when I went to remove it. It is sad but true.

But these examples don't rise to the Buddhist precept against killing, for they don't show the four elements of so-called throwing karma. We aren't talking Jainism here, are we?

I'm surprised no one here has discussed the necessary four elements of karma and how that translates into a definition of killing:

Motivation
Object
Action
Completion


I'm talking about intention to kill a sentient being, taking action specifically to fulfill that intention, and then watching the fulfillment of that action (the dying of the being before one). Without this chain, we don't have killing in the Buddhist precept sense. There are a lot of red herrings on this thread!

I have a Christian mystic friend who, before she mows the lawn, walks all over her yard to ask the bugs and creatures to leave. Even though her mowing her yard is not killing in the precept sense, I think her mindfulness is exemplary, the extra mile that it can only do anyone's own mind/heart good to take. 
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Eric M W, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 288 Join Date: 3/19/14 Recent Posts
Jen Pearly:


I'm surprised no one here has discussed the necessary four elements of karma and how that translates into a definition of killing:

Motivation
Object
Action
Completion


I'm talking about intention to kill a sentient being, taking action specifically to fulfill that intention, and then watching the fulfillment of that action (the dying of the being before one). Without this chain, we don't have killing in the Buddhist precept sense. There are a lot of red herrings on this thread!

Alright, so this is more interesting. A lesson I've learned lately is that the intent behind our actions is more important than the actions themselves. How compassionate are our actions? How much lovingkindness is behind them? How selfless are they? 

If I'm driving down the road, squishing frogs and bugs and whatnot, I'm not necessarily doing anything "wrong" if it isn't my intention to do so. I just want to get from point A to point B, and I certainly don't mean to hurt any beings on my way there. Thus, even if I squish a bug, no bad karma is created, because there's no ill-will behind my intent.

But let's take another example, one that happens all the time. Say you go hiking in the north woods, in winter. You get lost. You manage to find shelter and water, but the time for wild edibles is long past. Hours turn into days. If you don't fish or hunt, you will starve. Is it "bad karma" if you go out and kill another being for food? You certainly aren't being malicious, you only want to survive.

Related to this example, isn't the Buddhist attitude towards meat a little odd? Bikkhus are allowed to eat meat as long as they don't kill it, obviously, and as long as the animal is not killed specifically for their consumption. But this policy always assumes that there is someone else to do the dirty work, a hunter or butcher to get all the bad karma so bikkhus don't have to.

What if every butcher, hunter, and fisherman in India decided to become bikkhus? This seems like wonderful news, but now there is nothing to eat.
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Eric:
But let's take another example, one that happens all the time. Say you go hiking in the north woods, in winter. You get lost. You manage to find shelter and water, but the time for wild edibles is long past. Hours turn into days. If you don't fish or hunt, you will starve. Is it "bad karma" if you go out and kill another being for food? You certainly aren't being malicious, you only want to survive.

In a word, no. My understanding from the teachings I had at a Tibetan center I used to attend was that, no, you have to do what you have to do for your and your family's health.

Related to this example, isn't the Buddhist attitude towards meat a little odd? Bikkhus are allowed to eat meat as long as they don't kill it, obviously, and as long as the animal is not killed specifically for their consumption. But this policy always assumes that there is someone else to do the dirty work, a hunter or butcher to get all the bad karma so bikkhus don't have to. 

What if every butcher, hunter, and fisherman in India decided to become bikkhus? This seems like wonderful news, but now there is nothing to eat.

I agree: It is very odd. That's why, in my original post, I talked about my becoming aware that, even though I won't kill a cockroach, I'll contrive, through helplessness, to get my husband to kill it for me. Somehow, this seems even worse than if I killed the bug myself, because I'm being dishonest and I'm leading my spouse into killing (not to mention basically effecting the killing of the bug indirectly). It is all problematic, no?



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Teague, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Eric M W:

Related to this example, isn't the Buddhist attitude towards meat a little odd? Bikkhus are allowed to eat meat as long as they don't kill it, obviously, and as long as the animal is not killed specifically for their consumption. But this policy always assumes that there is someone else to do the dirty work, a hunter or butcher to get all the bad karma so bikkhus don't have to. 

What if every butcher, hunter, and fisherman in India decided to become bikkhus? This seems like wonderful news, but now there is nothing to eat.

I think someone brought this up, but the reason for allowing meat is isn't because monks really like it.  The bikkus (ideally) aren't going out with their begging bowl thinking "man, I hope I get some meat today."  They go out and take whatever they get.  If a householder puts meat in their bowl and the monks turned their noses up, then the householder would be offended and maybe stop giving food.

If every butcher, hunter and fisherman decided to become bikkhus, then you wouldn't hear a peep from the monks; they would just eat rice, daal, aloo palak, biryani, saag, naan, paneer, kheer, samosa, jalfrezi, chana masala,   Mmmm... what was I talking about?
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Just remember, it is basically impossible to grow and harvest and transport even grains and vegetables without killing zillions of beings. Death and life are part of the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the oxygen cycle, etc. This is inescapable.
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Daniel, yes, but see above: None of the things you mention involve intent to harm, right?

Jenny
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Say an ignorant man left destruction in his path wherever he went, yet had no idea of this and no intention to cause it. Consider the point of view of those destroyed and those who cared about those who were destroyed. Is their some solace for them in the knowledge of his ignorance? Is their suffering somehow reduced by it? Was the destruction somehow less by blindness? Is he more or less likely to keep destroying things by lack of insight into what he is doing?
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Teague, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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It seems like there are different levels to view this issue on.  Here are two:

1) The global/cosmic level where killing happens on epic scales, but not necessarily with intention, but out of need for the system to operate.  In this case, incidental killing can't really be considered wrong; maybe just unfortunate in some cases.

2) The being-trying-to-attain-enlightenment level, where someone is trying to cultivate purity of mind through right action right speach and right livlihood.  Incidental killing will still occur, but this being will avoid intentional killing because it developes mental turmoil and is not conducive to enlightenment.  At some point (as in Bill Hamilton's case) he/she may feel that occasional intentional killing is somehow okay.  (Maybe killing a mosquito while doing insight meditation).

Personally, I try not to kill whenever possibly.  Removing a spider or wasp vesus killing it makes me feel less conflicted and might just make an iota of difference in my meditation.  

-T
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Not Tao, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Daniel M. Ingram:
Say an ignorant man left destruction in his path wherever he went, yet had no idea of this and no intention to cause it. Consider the point of view of those destroyed and those who cared about those who were destroyed. Is their some solace for them in the knowledge of his ignorance? Is their suffering somehow reduced by it? Was the destruction somehow less by blindness? Is he more or less likely to keep destroying things by lack of insight into what he is doing?

Do we get angry at tornadoes and hurricanes, or do we just acknowledge that nature is doing its thing and we do our best to survive within it?  Would you recover more quickly emotionally if a lightning bolt set fire to your house and burned it to the ground or if a person that hated you set fire to it and burned it to the ground?  How about if a person accidentally set fire to your house?  Or if a mentally ill person set fire to it?  It sucks in all situations, but the emotional impact is different each time.
Andreas, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Not Tao:
Do we get angry at tornadoes and hurricanes, or do we just acknowledge that nature is doing its thing and we do our best to survive within it?  Would you recover more quickly emotionally if a lightning bolt set fire to your house and burned it to the ground or if a person that hated you set fire to it and burned it to the ground?  How about if a person accidentally set fire to your house?  Or if a mentally ill person set fire to it?  It sucks in all situations, but the emotional impact is different each time.
That is only true if we assume people have a choice in their behavior. If one is to listen to both modern science and Buddhism there is no choice. People act according to their "nature" or history. There is never a choice in behavior, whatever happens could never have happened anyother way. So in essence there are no difference between a tornado or a person destroying stuff. We however "assume" intention and agency to the person but this is wrong according to Buddhism and science as I understand it.
J J, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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This sounds like the denial of agency, the Buddha affirms agency in the Attakari sutta:

http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/7.6-Attakari-S-a6.38-piya.pdf
Andreas, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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J J:
This sounds like the denial of agency, the Buddha affirms agency in the Attakari sutta:

http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/7.6-Attakari-S-a6.38-piya.pdf

I should have made it clear that my point was about choice. But I cant see in that suttha any logical argument for free will. As I see it. for there to be free will there needs to be someone that is independant to make a choice. But since there is no such thing there cannot be free will or choice. That not do say that we do not act, since Im writing this message there is by definition agency since agency is just the mechanistic aspect of doing by a living organism.
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Not Tao, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Andreas, isn't that a good basis for how to be compassionate toward all things? emoticon

JJ, enjoying a steak isn't the same thing as killing the cow - enjoying the steak requires killing the cow.  If you buy a steak from the supermarket, or you order a steak at a restaurant, that is the same as killing the cow because if you didn't buy a steak, demand would go down, and less cows would be killed.  Enjoying the steak after this is indulging in sensual pleasure.  So, your act of buying the steak is the same as killing the cow, and you do it for sensual pleasure.
J J, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Ok but I don't understand how eating a steak is the equivalent of killing a cow, which you seem to be implying.

I'm just eating a steak, there seems to be some ambiguity here that you can't deal with. For example, and this what the Buddha said in regards to eating meat:

As long you don't hear, see or suspect that the meat was killed for you. Then it is fine to eat it.

That's the position I take.

But here's a good counter-question: Would you for example, not buy certain clothes, furniture, or electronic products knowing that they were made using unethical business practices or child labor?

If so, I think your living room would be empty.

Also I don't see why someone should feel bad for enjoying sensual pleasure. The unethical aspect of enjoying sensual pleasure is the rife hedonism that there is nothing wrong with it and falling head over heels into it. If I eat a steak am I going to hell?

It depends entirely what my view is, if I view the steak as being the blood of murder and that I'm a bad person for eating it, then maybe. If it's just an unfortunate fact of life, then probably not.

View is eminent amongst all factors.

Feel me?
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Not Tao, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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The reason for the Buddha's rule, I think, is he told his monks that they shouldn't own anything or do work.  All the food they got was from begging.  So it would be rude (and difficult to survive) if they were to beg, then turn down food that was offered out of compassion.  The people who made the food weren't making it for the bikkhu, they were sharing the dinner they made for themselves.  If that dinner had meat in it, it wasn't killed for the bikkhu specifically.

Buying the steak from the supermarket is different.  The cow was killed specifically to be bought by someone.  The supermarket isn't offering you a steak out of compassion, they're trading it for your money, and you intend to buy the steak specifically.  It's a choice to purchase, not a compassionate gift.  More importantly, by purchasing meat on a regular basis, you are asking for more animals to be killed so you can be supplied with them.

I don't believe in hell, personally, but I don't think eating meat or indulging in sensual pleasure would send you to hell.  Buddhist karma works through intention, like jenny said.  You reincarnate where your craving sends you.  If you are a glutton who pigs out on meat - you might reincarnate as a shark or something, haha, but if you are just eating meat beause it's normal and you don't care about animals very much, you're not any different from most of the rest of humanity (or the animal kingdom).  Maybe hell is pretty crowded, though, haha IDK.

I think it's wrong to cause suffering because I don't want to suffer, myself.  Animals seem to be capable of sufering and plants don't (for the reason I stated above).  So I do my best not to kill animals or insects that might suffer, and not eating them falls into that.
Andreas, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Not Tao:
I think it's wrong to cause suffering because I don't want to suffer, myself.  Animals seem to be capable of sufering and plants don't (for the reason I stated above).  So I do my best not to kill animals or insects that might suffer, and not eating them falls into that.
Well if the pig was happy and the killing quick and painless would there still be suffering?
Personally I no longer eat fish etc since they are suffocated and stressed to death. I have similar approach as you. Goal is to minimize the suffering one causes to other beings. In future might go full vegan, but Im not there yet. But I can say that earlier in life during some of my periods of existential dread I could not eat meat at all. It felt like cannibalism of sorts. Current dread period does not have the same effect on eating habits. Though im moving ever closer to vegetarianism.
Andreas, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Can also add which I think is an important moral question is that I have a hard time justifying having children because that is essentially creating life that will suffer and die. So killing and creating life is essentially two parts of a whole. If there is no life there is no aware suffering and death. I personally have a very hard time understanding why any secual buddhist would ever have children. Seems a litte unethical given the 4 noble truths etc. (Of course this stem in part from my own existential dread but also from a reasoning. I wont create human life, but I might adopt. So many children are already here.)
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Not Tao:

Learn to love to cockroach, and your life will be better.

I live in the U.S. South. They fly right into your face down here! Used to be even worse when I lived in Florida. They aren't very cuddly, y'all.

Not Tao:
Also, ants only come where there's food.  You don't have to kill the ants, just seal your food and they go away on their own. 
I wish. They seem to stick around even where there is only water, as in the bathroom. One time I did get them to leave by literally asking them to leave. Or maybe my husband poisoned them when I wasn't looking. 

Not Tao: 
Or maybe there are ants in your house for a while.  Are they hurting you?  Maybe it makes you embarrased when company comes over?  Maybe you just believe ants aren't supposed to be in a house?  These are all things you don't really have to care about.  Just decide not to!  It's no more difficult than that.  

Well, they are annoying and can really build up their population! My husband's main strategy lately has been to find where they are coming in and block that entryway. With the cockroaches, they really can be health threats, not just annoyances, so I definitely don't want them nesting in the house, though I think everyone in the South has them nesting in their abode, whether they know it or suppress that knowledge. I think that the cockroach is a good object for extreme equanimity practice, though! It may do me good if I could attenuate that reaction of rage and disgust and fear when I seem them. If I could find a way to see them as being with a plight. 
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tom moylan, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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My wife has arachniphobia so the disposal of spiders falls on my spiritual shoulders.  I catch spiders under a glass an slip an envelope under it, then set them free outside.  I slap mosquitos.  In my garden I pretend to be good and harmless against all wiggling evidence to the contrary.

I eat meat although not too often.  I used to hunt but never enjoyed the killing part.  I don't do that anymore but acknowlege that I hire killers to do my dirty work.

My taxes go to droning kills and water flouridation and CIA murders and indirectly monsanto poison production.

If I were really a perfect person I would starve in prison scratching mosquito bites and eating vegetarian GMO.

But i aint.

tom
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Don't get me started on water fluoridation . . .  
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Simon T., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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There is a post somewhere by Andrew K. that report being on a retreat at Wat Ram Poeng in Chiang Mai and one day they had exterminators spreading insecticide all around the site, as mosquitoes can carry Denge fever there. 
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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My first wife and I got Dengue coming out of Cambodia into Thailand: it friggin' sucked. Had I the knowledge of what that mosquito was about to do to us and the opportunity,  I would have killed it with only minor regret that it found itself in such a position that it must make people sick when just performing its natural functions.
Tom Tom, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Apparently there is some research trying to make mosquitos extinct or to eradicate large populations.  http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-07/killing-mosquitoes-genetic-trick-makes-digesting-blood-deadly

T
his can't be something the Buddha would advocate....
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Simon T., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Tom Tom:
Apparently there is some research trying to make mosquitos extinct or to eradicate large populations.  http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-07/killing-mosquitoes-genetic-trick-makes-digesting-blood-deadly

T
his can't be something the Buddha would advocate....

Being a mosquitoes seems like a very stressful life. Let's end there agony in masses and give them a chance to get reborn as higher beings...
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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The Tibetan center where I used to sit had a railway on one side of it and an and exterminator company on the other side. Try staying concentrated sometime with an earth-shaking train roaring past on one side, and the unmistatakable smell of bug poison wafting in from the other. Like trying to meditate in a hell realm.
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Tough topic. It raises a few questions for me. I'm not sure if the Buddha really innovated in regards to morals - someone here might be able to point this out. It might be wise to research into more recent concepts and writings on morality. There are many essential topics that were not part of the Buddha's world view and many of those were not even part of that ancient world (global environmental impacts seems a very big one).

Intention is an interesting idea - I tend to associate intention with self. It is committing an act consciously. If we have faith in what the Buddha taught (or are awake, it seems) then we realize intellectually or experientially (for those who are awake) that there is no self. That means that intentions are NOT only the decisions we consciously acknowledge. This is an essential point - it can explain why "willful blindness" is treated in the same manor as "intent" by the justice system. 

I'm guessing we are all willfully blind to many things - not to pick on you but you probably didn't "think" about all the insects being killed by driving a car. It is however clear to 3rd parties that you have no excuse in regards to your responsibility for the resulting insect deaths. Now you may not have felt bad (self alert) about it but that does not seem a reasonable criteria for morality.

One of the big problems I have with the Buddhist ethics is how it seems to be often intepreted as what one should NOT do. That is a door wide open to hiding behind willful blindness.

I think I have a moral responsibility to seek another moral framework when the Buddhist one clearly can't be observed. Not killing anything is litterally impossible.

The example your son gave is a great example of how the focus on not acting leads to terrible conclusions. Pushed to the extreme it leads to a political system where priveleges are preserved - behaving like that in the real world it would not be random chance that the majority are in the firing line. On a simpler level your son (observing those morals) would not call the fire bigade or an ambulance either because that intentionally puts those people at risk (even driving to the scene is dangerous).

I suspect that there are much larger moral concerns you (I) should be putting more energy into. The concern over killing flies is an understandable one but it seems like a lesson of how we trick ourselves into a vision of morality that is willfully blind.

I think we are destined to act immorally because we are human - I don't buy into the idea that emotional/psychological perfection is possible (thanks Daniel).

So morality becomes a question of how to "get better at it" rather than "find the absolute rule set". Which seems in line with Virtue Ethics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue_Ethics The idea that morality is the reinforcement of virtues (which we can consider as independent of the self) rather than a reinforcement of the ego (through guilt or fear of guilt) seems to sit well with Buddhist practices.

To answer your first question - I'm not surpised most western buddhists are not very attentive to morality. Most groups seem to meet to meditate. You could probably find a "morality meetup" group that would discuss the ants emoticon

To answer your second - you could build or modify your home so that it is actively ventilated and effectively sealed. It would be very expensive to do retroactively. So the best option would be to buy a new house that is pretty much hermetically sealed except for a filtered ventilation system. That way there will be very few entry points for insects and when one is found you can block itemoticon Doesn't seem like a very practical answer, sorry!
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Argh! I wrote a lengthy response to this comment, but as I pressed "publish," impermance ate it, killed it dead! emoticon

And if I tried to reconstruct, then I would miss my sit. So, hold those thoughts. . . .
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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Mark:
I'm guessing we are all willfully blind to many things - not to pick on you but you probably didn't "think" about all the insects being killed by driving a car. It is however clear to 3rd parties that you have no excuse in regards to your responsibility for the resulting insect deaths. Now you may not have felt bad (self alert) about it but that does not seem a reasonable criteria for morality.

I don't drive a car in order to kill beings; I drive a car to get to work to support myself and my family. In Buddhist precept terms, this is not karma for killing. It doesn't fulfill intent to harm, and it does fulfill protection of my family by the means available to me.

Mark:

Intention is an interesting idea - I tend to associate intention with self. It is committing an act consciously. If we have faith in what the Buddha taught (or are awake, it seems) then we realize . . .  that there is no self. That means that intentions are NOT only the decisions we consciously acknowledge. 

I'm not following a logic here at all. First, I don't think it is completely accurate to say that the Buddha taught that we have no self. In terms of the moral training, and even in terms of wisdom training, we certainly do exercise a self. (See the chapter on "No Self vs. True Self" in MCTB.)

Moreover, having "no self" means we are somehow personally responsible in the here and now for intentions we are unaware of . . . how? If we are unaware of an "intention," then in what realm of consideration or by what definition can it be said to be intention at all? I get that you are talking about legal concept of neglect, but in the case of neglect, there has to be a codified standard of behavior (statutes, case law) first and the person's willful and reckless disregard for that standard when acting in the world. The Buddha's precepts don't codify a standard against driving my car to work because bugs may accidentally be killed on the way by flying in front of the car. 

Ethics, as opposed to a moralistic morality, is always a matter of making tough decisions.

Mark:

I think I have a moral responsibility to seek another moral framework when the Buddhist one clearly can't be observed. Not killing anything is litterally impossible.

Again, the Buddhist precept is not against accidental killing or killing that happens on the way to fulfilling another goal that is necessary and good to meet, like feeding one's family or protecting them from deadly organisms. Our primary moral dilemma as mammals is that life eats life. As Florian tried to say above, working through moral dilemmas and tough tradeoffs is the practice. Working within the precepts is a way of grappling with ethics. The five following components of killing are required for karma to be thrown:

Object (targeting a particular insect)
Intention (through the arising of habit/ignorance, aversion, or attachment, motivation to harm/annihilate that insect forms)
Act (doing the harmful act by which killing may be achieved)
Completion (watching the insect die before one's eyes as a result of the intended action)
Feeling (fulfilling the intention through completed action reinforces feeling, view, and future action)

The reason that in practicing we avoid killing an insect is because killing habituates our minds to future killing. We are trying to reprogram ourselves out of habits that cause us suffering (and incidentally cause other beings suffering).

Mark: 
The example your son gave is a great example of how the focus on not acting leads to terrible conclusions. Pushed to the extreme it leads to a political system where priveleges are preserved - behaving like that in the real world it would not be random chance that the majority are in the firing line. On a simpler level your son (observing those morals) would not call the fire bigade or an ambulance either because that intentionally puts those people at risk (even driving to the scene is dangerous).

My son encountered this scenario in a college philosophy class. He's not a Buddhist. The philosophy professor was deconstructing morality into ethics. Are you saying that you would definitely know who in that scenario ought to live and who ought to die, and you would be willing to be the selector? Really? Explain to me exactly why the one person should lose life by active intervention of a bystander to save 5 other people. Are you comfortable with playing God to that extent? If so, on what ethical basis?

As for your slippery-slope argument that my son's refusal to choose a particular person to die by his own hand means he will also subtend a politics for the privileged is a bit farfetched. And, in fact, my son is a self-identified socialist.  As for refusing to call the fire fighters--no, he would not refuse to call the fire fighters. His intent would not be to kill the firemen, nor is it more probable than not that a fire fighter, by being called to do his job, would die.
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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Jen Pearly:
Mark:
I'm guessing we are all willfully blind to many things - not to pick on you but you probably didn't "think" about all the insects being killed by driving a car. It is however clear to 3rd parties that you have no excuse in regards to your responsibility for the resulting insect deaths. Now you may not have felt bad (self alert) about it but that does not seem a reasonable criteria for morality.

I don't drive a car in order to kill beings; I drive a car to get to work to support myself and my family. In Buddhist precept terms, this is not karma for killing. It doesn't fulfill intent to harm, and it does fulfill protection of my family by the means available to me.

Perfectly undestandable position Jen. But you do have a choice to not kill all those insects. It would require making compromises in your life that you don't want to make. I would not want to make them either! Most people are ignoring a lot of things that break the precepts e.g. funding wars (paying taxes) 

Mark:

Intention is an interesting idea - I tend to associate intention with self. It is committing an act consciously. If we have faith in what the Buddha taught (or are awake, it seems) then we realize . . .  that there is no self. That means that intentions are NOT only the decisions we consciously acknowledge. 

I'm not following a logic here at all. First, I don't think it is completely accurate to say that the Buddha taught that we have no self. In terms of the moral training, and even in terms of wisdom training, we certainly do exercise a self. (See the chapter on "No Self vs. True Self" in MCTB.)

I'm learning and not a teacher - a recipe for bad explanations, sorry. May also just be flat out wrong!

I should have written no-self instead of "no self". I'll try to reword what I wanted to say.

We may be aware of some intentions and unaware of others. Some of the intentions we are aware of will be latched on to by the "ego/self" and we project "my intentions", we may choose not to own some of them too e.g. "X made me do it". Intentions that are unconscious (the latent tendencies in buddhism) still lead to actions that are mine (I and others suffer the consequences). So I think we can use the buddha's teachings to see that moral responsibility includes those unconcsious intentions. For example I'm not as compassionate as I "should" be, but it is not a conscious intention on my part to be uncompassionate, still I'm better off realizing that I should change the latent tendencies - thereby owning the ugly bits that my ego/self often tries to hide.


Moreover, having "no self" means we are somehow personally responsible in the here and now for intentions we are unaware of . . . how? If we are unaware of an "intention," then in what realm of consideration or by what definition can it be said to be intention at all? I get that you are talking about legal concept of neglect, but in the case of neglect, there has to be a codified standard of behavior (statutes, case law) first and the person's willful and reckless disregard for that standard when acting in the world. The Buddha's precepts don't codify a standard against driving my car to work because bugs may accidentally be killed on the way by flying in front of the car. 

At the risk of confusing things I'll try to reword. I am responsible for my latent tendencies. Owning those is better than not owning them. Because by owning them I'm more motivated to address them. There is a risk that I play games (strategies of avoidance) if I think I'm not responsible for them, leading to things like suppression of emotions.

To give an example in your case - the intention is to kill the insect when you let your husband do that. If the intention was not to kill the insect then you would not let your husband do that e.g. you would save the insect. Not acting (or acting to get others to act) is as intentional as acting yourself (as far as morality is concerned).

There are different approaches to ethics, one is codified rules. I'm interested in the idea of virtue ethics which gets away from the idea of rules. You are right that it is codified rules in the judicial system.

Ethics, as opposed to a moralistic morality, is always a matter of making tough decisions.

Mark:

I think I have a moral responsibility to seek another moral framework when the Buddhist one clearly can't be observed. Not killing anything is litterally impossible.

Again, the Buddhist precept is not against accidental killing or killing that happens on the way to fulfilling another goal that is necessary and good to meet, like feeding one's family or protecting them from deadly organisms. Our primary moral dilemma as mammals is that life eats life. As Florian tried to say above, working through moral dilemmas and tough tradeoffs is the practice.

I was a bit harsh in that satement. It did send me off looking at things outside of buddhism in regards to ethics. An ethical framework that is based only on the precepts is not enough. I don't think that is what the buddha taught but I think buddhist circles can reduce it to that. There are so many interpretations and I think there is value in looking to ideas within one's own culture for ethics because there is a huge cultural aspect to morality.

Working within the precepts is a way of grappling with ethics.

Agreed and lots of value to that - maybe it can be complimented by other ideas too.

The five following components of killing are required for karma to be thrown:

Object (targeting a particular insect)
Intention (through the arising of habit/ignorance, aversion, or attachment, motivation to harm/annihilate that insect forms)
Act (doing the harmful act by which killing may be achieved)
Completion (watching the insect die before one's eyes as a result of the intended action)
Feeling (fulfilling the intention through completed action reinforces feeling, view, and future action)

I think this is a case in point of distorting things - the risk of codifying the precepts if you like.

"targeting a particular insect" would support random acts of violence e.g. the Boston bombing was not targeting a particular person. 

"through habit/ignorance" - this is what I tried to say earlier - we are often not aware of habitual reactions and we are often not aware of our ignorance. If we are lucky the awareness arises with insight practices.

"doing the harmful act" would allow someone to use another person e.g. a child soldier is executing orders but should this make the person giving the orders free 

"Completion" back to my grissly bomb example - the perpetrator does not hang around to watch it 

The reason that in practicing we avoid killing an insect is because killing habituates our minds to future killing. We are trying to reprogram ourselves out of habits that cause us suffering (and incidentally cause other beings suffering).

That is one reason. It also leads to discussions like this. If we take the extreme - targetting a particular insect, focusing on a dislike of it, squashing it slowly to observe the act in detail then reflecting on right the action was. Well  that is certainly going to mess someone uyp in the worst sense. I don't think many people would behave in that way so it is nearly not worth considering.

I do think it would be positive for you to not kill insects - it is obviously something that resonates in you. If you are conscious of greed/aversion/ignorance driving the action then going ahead is not skillful. I would avoid trying to convince people who don't have the same sensitivity on that particular issue.  They may be more sensitive on other issues that you are not. Seems to have been a good discussion point.

The reason I see for teaching karma is to help improve morality. If you can see an interpretation of karma that allows for immoral actions then I would question the interpretation rather than think the immoral action is OK.

Mark: 
The example your son gave is a great example of how the focus on not acting leads to terrible conclusions. Pushed to the extreme it leads to a political system where priveleges are preserved - behaving like that in the real world it would not be random chance that the majority are in the firing line. On a simpler level your son (observing those morals) would not call the fire bigade or an ambulance either because that intentionally puts those people at risk (even driving to the scene is dangerous).

My son encountered this scenario in a college philosophy class. He's not a Buddhist. The philosophy professor was deconstructing morality into ethics. Are you saying that you would definitely know who in that scenario ought to live and who ought to die, and you would be willing to be the selector? Really? Explain to me exactly why the one person should lose life by active intervention of a bystander to save 5 other people. Are you comfortable with playing God to that extent? If so, on what ethical basis?

I was stupid taking your son to task - nothing personal in that. It was just the example you offered.

Now that I have dug the hole I'll try to get out of it emoticon

That particular situation is constructed to cause the debate. For example in a real world situation we don't know how many people will die when making the decision. They may all jump out of the way in time. The train may be able to stop. Someone else may intervene. So it goes on. If I was trying to dodge the bullet I'd say there is more hope of saving someone by avoiding the train heading toward a crowd. So I'd think about it in terms of saving life rather than killing.

But for the sake of the hole, lets assume we know the one person is sure to die. These types of decisions are made all the time. For example in hospitals, drug research and humanitary aid, the list goes on. I think the underlying question is "is one human life worth the same amount as five human lives" my answer is no. So if you put me in some god awful situation where I must decide I'll try to "save" as many as possible (rather than "kill" as few as possible). I would not be comfortable with that decision - but I would be even less comfortable not acting.

An ethical basis would be virtue ethics - I guess a lot of people would appreciate 5 people being saved.


As for your slippery-slope argument that my son's refusal to choose a particular person to die by his own hand means he will also subtend a politics for the privileged is a bit farfetched. And, in fact, my son is a self-identified socialist.  As for refusing to call the fire fighters--no, he would not refuse to call the fire fighters. His intent would not be to kill the firemen, nor is it more probable than not that a fire fighter, by being called to do his job, would die.

I think I am on the slope emoticon My point is to say that inaction is a moral choice. So for example if a system supports a favored few at the expense of many our inaction maintains that status quo. I'm guessing you are living in a western country and I'm guessing you can see that we have a political system (both the left and right) that is very much looking after the interests of a small number of people.

I'm sure your son would call the fire fighters too. It is on the other end of the scale of the same type of question. My point is that we do accept to act and those actions do have negative consequences - it is unavoidable. We can try to choose to not see the negative consequence but I understand buddhism encourages owning them.

Best wishes to you and your son.


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Jen Pearly, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 566 Join Date: 7/28/13 Recent Posts
Thank you, Mark, for engaging in this conversation. You've given me a lot to think through, which I'll do for a while instead of hastily replying. Besides, I've become quite busy. . . . 

Jenny
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Jen Pearly:
Thank you, Mark, for engaging in this conversation. You've given me a lot to think through, which I'll do for a while instead of hastily replying. Besides, I've become quite busy. . . . 

Jenny

Hi Jenny, it was a very worthwhile chat for me - thanks. Motivated me to look more into improving morality off the cushion. 
Omar Pieters, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 2 Join Date: 11/25/13 Recent Posts
Mark:
Jen Pearly:
Mark:

I don't drive a car in order to kill beings; I drive a car to get to work to support myself and my family. In Buddhist precept terms, this is not karma for killing. It doesn't fulfill intent to harm, and it does fulfill protection of my family by the means available to me.

Perfectly undestandable position Jen. But you do have a choice to not kill all those insects. It would require making compromises in your life that you don't want to make. I would not want to make them either! Most people are ignoring a lot of things that break the precepts e.g. funding wars (paying taxes) 

Great discussion.

Initially, I sided with Jen's reason for needing intention, but I believe it is because we are both laypersons (i.e. have families, work).  

With the knowledge that we kill beings, by driving our cars to work (southern here), are we not intentionally justifying killing for our livelihood?

My understanding of the (Theravada based) path so far:

The degree to which a person is able to undertake this precept is in accordance to one's commitment to the path of liberation (layperson vs monk).

Striving for higher levels of morality/virtue is a training that is never-ending, until liberation is achieved.  Perhaps once liberation is achieved and the vehicle of this precept is no longer needed the insight into situational killing is understood (no karma is produced)?
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Jenny, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 566 Join Date: 7/28/13 Recent Posts
Omar Pieters:
Mark:
Jen Pearly:
Mark:

I don't drive a car in order to kill beings; I drive a car to get to work to support myself and my family. In Buddhist precept terms, this is not karma for killing. It doesn't fulfill intent to harm, and it does fulfill protection of my family by the means available to me.

Perfectly undestandable position Jen. But you do have a choice to not kill all those insects. It would require making compromises in your life that you don't want to make. I would not want to make them either! Most people are ignoring a lot of things that break the precepts e.g. funding wars (paying taxes) 

Great discussion.

Initially, I sided with Jen's reason for needing intention, but I believe it is because we are both laypersons (i.e. have families, work).  

With the knowledge that we kill beings, by driving our cars to work (southern here), are we not intentionally justifying killing for our livelihood?

My understanding of the (Theravada based) path so far:

The degree to which a person is able to undertake this precept is in accordance to one's commitment to the path of liberation (layperson vs monk).

Striving for higher levels of morality/virtue is a training that is never-ending, until liberation is achieved.  Perhaps once liberation is achieved and the vehicle of this precept is no longer needed the insight into situational killing is understood (no karma is produced)?

No. Actually, intention to harm, along with the other elements I listed up thread, is required for the karma to be "bad." Most people on this thread seem to be missing the doctrine on this and simply free-forming some kind of personal ethos in place of the Buddhist teaching. Two geshes and three nuns instructed me that, for example, if I wash my son's bedclothes in a laundry additive that kills dust mites, and I do so because I want to protect my son from allergy attacks, not because I have it out for dust mites, then that is fine.
J J, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 225 Join Date: 3/31/14 Recent Posts
This is a tricky topic.

I think it's fine to kill animals. Despite what certain people might say (ethicists), animals are not human beings. Because of this we owe no real allegiance to them as persons. Certain ethical philosophers would have you believe that other animals have just as much moral worth and dignity as a human being and should be considered as such. This is completely false. We are human beings, we take care of our kind.

That having been said, animals do have a capacity to suffer, as a personal thing I try to avoid killing insects and flies and whatever. But most situations in which someone would kill an animal would be when it's impinging on your human body:

1) Mosquito sucking your blood.
2) Flies eating your food.
3) Bees trying to sting you.
4) Cockroaches eating your food.
5) Larger animal just straight up clawing or biting you etc.

Why exactly, would you not attack or put down such an insect/animal? If anything it's just plain stupid to let the animal/insect eat your food or attack your body.

Kill it, plain and simple, or if anything beat it down and ward it off.

Now systematically killing and raising animals to kill them is slightly different, but once again it's the intention as you say.

If someone is genuinely sadistic, and wants to raise animals for the sake of taking pleasure in inflicting pain on sentient beings capable of feeling pain (i.e possess a pleasure/pain faculty), then... ok, that's kind of weird. But I still don't see anything ethically wrong with killing the animals.

What I see wrong with them is their deluded/violent/twisted mental state, which is in fact the actual source of their demerit.

See the Upali Sutta if you want details on how mental acts are the most intense in terms of karma. In other words: mind is the most blameable.

But if they're raising them because it's business and they need to eat... still don't see anything wrong with that.

A sane, ethical and rational person can do no wrong. A twisted/deluded and retarded (not in a mentally handicapped sense, although, we can get into that later) can do all sorts of wrong.

This is why ignorance is a cardinal sin in Buddhism.
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Not Tao, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

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JJ, the only reason to eat meat here in the west living our modern lifestyles is for sensual pleasure.  You can be perfectly healthy eating a vegetarian diet (and you can still even indulge in sensual pleasure doing it).  So you don't have to be sadistic in your killing of animals.  The pleasure that you get out of killing them comes when you enjoy the food itself, as that is the only reason to eat meat.

As a response to Daniel too, in order to grow meat products, you still have to farm vegetables to feed the animals, so there is more suffering involved in producing meat products than just eating the vegetables themselves.  That's not to mention the enviromental aspects.  Also for consideration - if everyone was a vegetarian, we could end world hunger right now.
J J, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 225 Join Date: 3/31/14 Recent Posts
Hi Not Tao,

You seem be equating eating meat with killing animals, this is obviously not true. Would you say that enjoying a steak is the same as killing a cow?

-James
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Not Tao, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Is Killing Ever Right? Of Mosquitoes and Men

Posts: 997 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
Jenny, your responses here are great!  I was a bit frustrated by this thread back when it first started. People seemed to be making the argument that, because it was impossible not to kill things by accident, you might as well eat a steak and slap mosquitos. I didn't realize there was an actual definition as to what created karma and what didn't. It makes sense, though. In the Buddhist reincarnation beliefs, it's intention and motivation that causes people to be reborn. So that's what needs to be considered.

The word "killing" seems to imply intention in it. Dying by accident isn't anyone's fault.

The line I currently draw is, if it can run away from me, it can suffer. It wouldn't make sense for plants to evolve pain since the pain wouldn't motivate them to do anything. They can't run away, so it would just cause undue stress and would be selected against since stress makes them less able to mate. Plants certanly react to things, but these reactions are not immediately urgent, so they wouldn't need urgent motivators, just some kind of cause/effect reaction.

The tougher questions, for me, are predators and parascites. They are just fulfilling their natural role in life, like Daniel says, but then so are we by killing them. If there is something we can do that is inconveinient but saves a few parascites - like wearing some mosquito netting - then that seems like the right thing to do to me. It's pretty easy to brush a mosquito away without killing it too.

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