A Hindu friend of mine asked me to talk to his friend who is an active practitioner of the Ananda Marga teachings. At first, when we chatted a little bit about this and that, and it seemed like Ananda Marga is a regular-type Hindu organisation that is all about uniting with our paramatman and practicing loving kindness without restraint. Then, he suddenly mentioned a couple of beliefs that immediately alarmed me, especially in the light of my Hindu friend telling me Ananda Marga was involved in some ethically doubtful things earlier. First, this Ananda Marga guy told me that we should actively fight oppression in our world, which is always an alarming thing to say. Who defines what is and what is not oppression? Even the ISIS are fighting against oppression as they see it. Second, he mentioned the famous talk between Krishna and Arjuna on the Kuru field, when Krishna told Arjuna it is okay to kill people on a battlefield and not feel remorse for it, because they are bad people and he was merely fulfilling his duty. It does not take a large leap of imagination to think how this thining can be exploited in some gruesome ways as we witnessed in the 20th century.
So I tried to counter his arguments with saying that consciously killing a living being is always unethical, something that he said is ‘impractical to take as your ethical imperative.’ He provided me with lots of examples, some of which I was able to exlain within the ethical Buddhist framework (like whether a judge should regard his condemning other people for jail sentences as unethical). As for some other things he said I felt I was not able to provide a satisfactory explanation for them:
Is taking antibiotics unethical? Bacteria are obviously living being and by taking antiobiotics we consciously kill them. On the other hand, refusing to take antibiotics for ethical reasons sounds like a pretty stupid thing to do. If we say it is okay to kill bacteria, where should we put the line between those beings who are relatively okay to kill and those who are not. On a side note (something you shouldn’t answer), can an arahant give his or her consent to taking antioiotics knowing about their effects?
What should I do as a lay person do when some thugs are trying to rape a lady or attacking a child? Should I fight them back phisically, knowing full well it can lead to much phisical harm to these people, while my refusal to stop fighting will most likely result in harm to me and the attacked person? I always wondered how come it is not a Vinaya offence (admittedly, as of the Vibhaṅga’s definition of taking life as cutting off the life faculty) if a bhikkhu does not help a drowning person. Still, in order to avoid a difficult discussion about Vinaya perspective on this problem (any Vinaya discussion is difficult, isn’t it?), I focused in my question on the person involved being a lay person.
Should I kill a tiger attacking another person if I happen to be having a loaded gun within my grasp? In a situation like the one described, it seemed to make no sense to try to negotiate with the tiger, the only way to end the violence being the violence. If it turns out it is okay to kill this tiger, should I kill it if I see it attack another animal? If not, why is a human life more valuable as an animal life?
Could someone give me additional advice about how I should confront these ideas from Bhagavad-Gita that killing someone can be an okay thing to do?
I would like to emphasize that answering these questions using as little Buddhist jargon as possible is essential as the person I talk to is not a Buddhist. Even more importantly, I would like to point out how vital it is to give this person a nice rational interpretation of these ethical problems. It is not even that Ananda Marga is a dangerous organisation, which is debatable. It is that these ethical ideas as presented in the Bhagavad-Gita are in my opinion rather dangerous. Presenting a logically cogent argument for the Buddhist position we may not convince this guy about his religious views being false, but we can at least provide him with an alternative interpretation, thus allowing him to be more skeptical about his own position.