The factors needed for the first precept to be broken are:
(1) a living being; (2) the perception of the living being as such; (3) the thought or volition of killing; (4) the appropriate effort; and (5) the actual death of the being as a result of the action.
Of which all five factors must be fulfilled for it to be considered breaking the precept (although, it is important to note that this is apart and independent from kamma, as even attempting to kill, or even thinking one has killed when it is not the case, can have detrimental kammic effects—even if it is not breaking the precept).
However, when someone is in a conundrum similar to situtations like these:
- A farmer about to harvest his crop—all the while knowing that his machinery will kill hundreds of small rodents and possibly thousands of insects.
- Someone living in a rural area where there is no electricity, whom, during the cold winters, must use wood for heating—all the while knowing many worms and insects, in the bark or in the wood itself, will be burnt alive as a result of the wood being added to the fire or used to start one.
- Driving a vehicle—all the while knowing hundreds of insects will hit the windows or car and die, as well as that rodents and vertebrates will be squashed by the tires.
How can one make sense of these kinds of situations? Also, would these situations result in breaking the first precept?
What I’m trying to investigate is the following:
Regarding the precepts (and even the Vinaya), what differentiates perception of a living being, compared to knowing without a doubt that there are living beings—although while not perceiving them at that moment—of whom will be killed as a result of your actions?
Having perceived the living beings in the past—such as a farmer having seen that insects and rodents live in the field year-round—does this not fulfull the factor of perception? Is the mind not classed as one of the 6 senses?
Does knowing that a certain action will result in the death of a living being, in a way, directly and to a small degree, not involve an intention of killing?
How should one approach similar situations, fully knowing that your actions will result in the death of living beings, such as with having to heat with firewood, driving, or things of this nature?
NOTE: Read this post for a condensed/shortened version.