Knowing that living beings (such as insects) will directly be killed as a result of your actions?

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I read it whilst visiting a Thai Forest Monastery (Santacittarama) - it was in a book on their shelves; don’t know if it can be found online. I hope I have quoted it correctly. I think so because I remember I was a bit puzzled and surprised and I remember this had also prompted a question by a lay person, which was also reported in the transcript.


Ok so I understand from the quotes of the Vinaya and the messages contrasting Buddhism to Jainism that killing a human being is worse than killing an animal in Buddhism (in agreement with what happens in our society).
But what is the ground of that? I mean, if we take the judeo-christian tradition the book of Genesis says that God created man in order to give him dominion over all creatures; so there’s hierarchy in the human-animal kingdom.
What about in Buddhism? Is it perhaps because human beings have a higher chance of attaining enlightenment that killing a human being is worse kamma?


In truth the issue involves the complex views regarding how kamma works, but for now I’ll say that you’re right: it is not possible to equate the life of that which is capable of total self-purification, with the life of that which is incapable even of the slightest self-awareness! ‘If’ we agree on “Nibbana” as the ultimate purpose of life, and if we agree that only a human is capable of attaining it (or at least stream entry), then the best achievement an animal can amount to is to be reborn as human (& we’re not even sure whether an animal can do anything to bring about that particular result, thus rendering the karmic significance of animal life unknown to us!). This doesn’t mean that the lives of animals are worthless or karmically insignificant (though we don’t know exactly how is it karmically significant, and that’s why we should never interfere with it intentionally).

Life is one of the most mysterious things! & we must learn how to relate to it in ourselves and in others. From a psychological and moral or behavioural point of you, being reckless with the lives of other creatures reinforces the callousness and misery of the heart, and is therfore contrary to the development of sensitivity, compassion, and sublimity. That’s also (if not basically) why the non-harm precepts exist in a Buddhist context; for our sake as humans as well as (if not even more than) that of the physical well being of animals! But growing obsessed with the safety of other beings or developing fear and guilt (“just in case I might harm them”) etc. crosses beyond the Middle Path, and friend @Mat gives a good explanation of this condition above.

There may also have been much social pressure on the Buddha to conform to already existing standards expected by society from renunciates. Many of the strict vinaya rules mentioned above seem to had been developed in such situations.

By the way there were other discussions on this forum about this same subject before, you might like to check them using the search box! :O)


Well … Venerable Jayasaro is an excellent speaker of Dhamma; I guess he meant to emphasise sensitivity towards other creatures.


Thank you for your answer. I noticed in this post as well in others, the idea that morality in Buddhism is mainly about purifying one’s mind, more than having a positive impact on the outside world. (If I understand your quote above, that’s what you mean I think).
However, there are critics to this view, like Gombrich who in an old post in this forum (here Interview with Richard Gombrich ) is quoted as saying the following:

What do you think?


Thanks for asking! The moment you take upon yourself the responsibility for other’s happiness, the moment you lose your own! What the Buddha offers is a path of practice that you can realise by and for your own self, but not on behalf of others. He promises you that you can get happy, but not that you can make others happy! One has to be realistic and humble about what one can achieve! And you could only control strictly your own mind and body, thus never harming others (& even that is difficult! ). Of course it’s great if we can reinforce others, but i think it’s even greater if we can make them feel safe and relaxed (off guard) in our presence! So what’s important, what’s dutiful, what’s necessary, is to train to withdraw from harmful actions and cruel thoughts and feelings. That is certainly good enough by way of compassion!

Fundamentally the Buddha’s core teaching is about cessation, to stop, to give up on craving and aversion, but not to invent or produce new attachments. Compassion arises naturally as a result of the gradual progress in this practice. One does not need to do things externally to become compassionate; the withdrawal of evil and growth of understanding is compassion! Fortunate is he who has the chance to encounter non-harmful and wise persons.

We have strayed off the topic! :slight_smile: you may start a new one if you wish.


It must be because all things are interconnected :wink:
more seriously thanks for your answer; that’s fine, I don’t need to take this further at least for now :grinning:


Not sure if anyone has mentioned it yet but as far as I remember, there is a place in the BMC where ven. Thanissaro speculates that it’s okay if you do something that needs doing and it might injure small insects that are difficult to account for in the process. It’s probably in the discussion on the rule to not kill animals. That being said, there is a great deal of explicit attention given to mosquito larvae in water supplies as far as I remember.

Monks in strict Vinaya monasteries do burn wood for washing or dyeing robes for example, even though it is statistically certain there will be some insects trapped in the wood when put in the fire. They just try to minimize the damage as much as they can by first placing the wood in a place less accessible to insects for a few days.


Prof Gombrich’s concept of compassion divorced from the rest the path of Buddhism, is a narrow perspective at best, and misleading people and at worst. It is for another thread though I think.

With metta


What would determine it is the mind state in which the volitional actions (kamma). The mind state of someone who formulates a volitional action to kill their mother is different than someone who kills a rat out of fear, for instance. That’s just my understanding, but Dhammarakkhita is doing a far better job explaining this than me! :slight_smile:


I still like to come back to the idea of precepts as training rules, rather than laws or ordinances that can be “broken.” Instead, these precepts are instructions and guides to the development of our practice, and our intention and the resultant kamma can operate along a wide gray scale. So long as we endeavor to cultivate good intentions and actions, and minimize the negative, we are implementing these training rules well.

So, rather than seeing the actions of driving a vehicle, for example, as an activity that “breaks” the 1st precept, we endeavor to minimize the harm that we cause as much as possible. Knowing that insects will die as a result of driving a vehicle, we might choose to make a long drive during hours of the day where fewer insects are out and about.

I feel that when we take the idea of “breaking” precepts out of the equation, we introduce a bit less neurosis and self-punishment about the training, and the actions we take and the resultant kamma are all part of a gray scale continuum that we really cannot measure day to day. We can only strive, with these precepts in mind, to do our very best. We take the precepts very seriously, and do not give license to the idea that as guidelines we can be undisciplined in our training about keeping them, but see them as training rules and not commandments that subject us to “sin” and self-imposed punishment.

I’ve heard too many stories of young monks who caused some small infraction (ie slept on a bed 1 mm too high, for an absurd example) and then grieved and worried about the infraction for days. I don’t feel that this is the spirit of the training that is intended.


I posted a link in the AV thread, which seems relevant, even if not a direct response to the first post in this thread. Not sure how to directly link it here, so I apologize for the duplication, but I thought some others might be interested (moderators, feel free to delete if inappropriate here):


Thank you Michael. I agree that they are training guidelines and that kamma is a much more complicated concept.

I agree. The feelings I was describing are not really associated with sin or punishment. They are not even voluntary (I don’t think.) It is just a sick feeling when I think I might be hurting or killing sentient beings. In the example of mowing the yard, the problem arises that my parents are not healthy enough to mow their lawn and if they don’t they will be fined for not doing so. It becomes an issue of choosing between compassion for my parents or compassion for the beings living in the yard. It’s a very difficult situation for me and I don’t feel really good about either choice. I think there are a lot of these “gray” actions that we deal with every day in Samsara.


I think it is appropriate Linda. I watched this documentary a few days ago and thought it made some really good points. It was very hard for me to watch some of the scenes of animals being hurt, but I guess that was the point. :heart:


And, Alfred, I didn’t mean to pick out your quote necessarily, but only as it was a thoughtful comment that inspired me to write something. I think the fact that you meditate on these questions and struggle with the most skillful response cultivates, in and of itself, bright kamma. In a way, we blend into our daily decisions elements of bright kamma, and perhaps some sense of samsara as well. I recall the Buddha lauding the care that we give to our parents, and the idea that even if we carried them on our shoulders (with other complications involved) we could never fully repay them for their giving us life and caring for us. So, your actions in favor of your parents seem to me to be very bright and well supported by the Buddha’s own words. I hope that any sick feelings you have can be brightened by the thought that you clearly have your heart and mind in the right place!


I didn’t think that you did Michael. Your kind words are greatly appreciated!


I have to say that I had to turn my eyes away from a couple scenes. But not out of denial as I certainly don’t need convincing… I became vegetarian over 40 years ago and can’t bear to kill even the tiniest insect and I do all I can in terms of ethical consumption, helping animals/the environment, etc… Of course I know that many insects and others, are killed just by virtue of growing veggies & grains or driving when we have to, and many other things!

But as has already been said in this discussion, as well as in the film, it’s beneficial to do all we can to minimize the suffering of any beings, take good care, and certainly not to intentionally kill, while at the same time knowing as long as we are in samsara (and certainly the goal is to get out), there is suffering, and each person has to investigate for themselves and make their own choices… (I usually don’t even get into discussions about such things as vegetarianism/veganism, etc and hesitated to even post the link, but I felt the film has a lot more to it than whether one should adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle)

Just to say, for those who might be considering watching the film, there are only a very short few scenes that are disturbing. The footage is beautiful, the interviews are excellent (and really framed in terms of the teachings) and I found it to be very inspiring.

with much mettā


Well said! :pray:


Wonderful reminder - thank you :slight_smile:


Just to clarify, I understand the precepts in regards to what I wanted to discuss—as well as that some aspects of the questions I proposed are not Buddhist in and of themselves. My intention with the topic was to push the discussion of unintentionally—but knowingly—killing living beings (such as insects), past the application of the first precept.

In certain situations, where a choice that you make—either out of preference, convenience or obligation—results in significant amounts of living beings dying—and that you are knowledgable that this is taking or is going to take place—I think any good person at one point asks him/herself if such mental and bodily action (kamma), in regards to such choices, negatively effects one’s mind (of which I fully believe it does, even though it wouldn’t necessarily break the precept).

When this is simply being discussed (and I’m addressing everyone), it is difficult to relate to it. However, when such a situation happens to you (such as myself these past few weeks, slightly agonizing over having to burn firewood that has a significant amount of bugs/worms on and in the wood, or chopping up frogs in the case of Mara and Alfred) the matter takes a whole other meaning/perspective. :wink: