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

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Bhante @Dhammarakkhita, would you have access to the origin story of pācittiya 20 (pouring water containing living beings) and pācittiya 62 (use of water containing living beings)?


Hi friend @samseva … What do you mean “have access”? :smile: anyways of course I know these rules; I studied vinaya in so much detail and will possibly publish a book about it.

I totally understand what you mean. Example: seeing a line of ants passing through the road back and forth horizontally and you cannot wait till nightfall when they retreat to their home before you drive on! You drive on anyways knowing this situation, does that count as intentional killing?

Certainly yes from a Jain perspective. But not necessarily from a Buddhist one, though there’s no agreement amongst Buddhists on this point. But these things are determined according to scale, that is, is it a line of ants or squirrels? How many will die or be injured? How often do they appear on this road? And so on.

Another factor is whether you have alternatives or not: are there ant-free roads that you can take? Do you have the time and capacity to wait or resort to alternatives? Is it convenient or is it turning your life very difficult?

Again the point is not just about the life of the individual ant, but perhaps equally about your heart. If this practice is making you grow in Dhamma, then great; but if you observe yourself growing uneasy and agitated, then you’re doing something wrong here, and the ant has died anyways by another (ridiculous) cause already! Obsession with this sort of situation is certainly the work of Mara, the work of ego, and of the desire to feel good about oneself! So the quest to save the animal does not always emanate from a noble heart as might readily appear! Otherwise it is due to Jain philosophy about life and kamma, which is contrary to Dhamma and is a serious form of false view from a Buddhist perspective.

I usually take measures to make the environment in which I live safer for other beings. For example I’m cautious not to leave a water surface exposed. But I’m not agitated about these things, and even when I catch myself negligent! I get ants on the sink occasionally, and they usually stay for few days! I don’t know what interest they have in it, but I avoid using water on it those days because I have an easy alternative. But what if this was the only way to get water?! I would remove the ants first. But what if I was in great hurry for an urgent reason that requires me to use the water instantly? I would use it with regret only if I wasn’t sufficiently mindful! Otherwise I’d use it with compassionate equanimity (& wonder later about where’s the citta of those ants now, and what cosmology brings about kamma in the form of an ant in the first place!).

And what would I be really and immediately regretful about? Hurting the feelings of a human being, even slightly. For here, friend Samseva, there’s always an alternative! And the heart of a human being, is worth a universe and everything in it!


Though we may kill rarely, or occasionally, one shouldn’t become complacent and feel ‘this is unavoidable’ and harden one’s heart. Just as being overly remorseful is falling into defilements, so is becoming overly heard hearted. There must be that twang of remorse- its the sound of healthy moral life. Letting it then carry on and on is a self-indulgence, more connected to conceit of the ‘moral Me’. Honesty, and to oneself, is a very important factor.

with metta


I would just say we should avoid unintentional/indirect harm as much as we are able and willing, with an eye towards expanding over time what we are willing to do to avoid indirect harm. There isn’t really much else we can do aside from that.

Think: Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart. - Sn 1.8


Yes, but this is not an obsession and isn’t something that has been occurring for a lengthy period of time at all. The questions and reflections simply came about due to a particular situation where I had to burn wood covered with insects and worms (both outside and inside the wood), on a daily basis. I didn’t completely stop burning firewood needed for heating (careful checking), but it did make me think about how I was presented with the conundrum of unintentionally having to kill, or of having to do without heating. Are those complex situations not important to look into?

It’s not about Jainism or even about Buddhism (or about one’s ego) at all, but about not wanting living beings to be burnt alive and suffer a painful death.

I don’t doubt that you know these rules; I was wondering if you had access to the Sutta Vibhaṅga, since it is not available on SuttaCentral, as to know the origin story of those rules.


I’d been interested in seeing how the following two situations are understood, as well as the moral aspects of each choice. Anyone feel free to give your thoughts on the matter or even directly reply to the questions themselves. :slight_smile:

Option 1 and 2 are very similar—although option 2 is slightly and trivially better. Option 1 results in 10-20 insects dying, while option 2 results in no insects dying—and the person is knowledgeable of this.

Would option 1 be the most wholesome choice? Would choosing option 2 (again, slightly and trivially better) be unwholesome? Would it be in the grey zone of intentionally killing—as him/her choosing the trivially better option directly results in living beings dying? Would it be blameless?

A very wealthy man is about to buy his future wife’s wedding ring and finds two of which he particularly likes. The first ring is sold by a company who sources its diamonds from North American mines, while the second ring is sold by a company who sources its diamonds from African warlord mining operations (i.e., blood diamonds). The wealthy man is fully knowledgable of these details, from having studied and owning stocks of diamond mining companies in the past.

Both rings look exactly the same, have the same karats of gold, as well as the same carats in diamond, however, the second ring (with the blood diamond) costs $100 less (for a $7000 ring).

If the man chooses the second ring solely to save the $100 (“I’ll have a good meal at a nice restaurant tonight.”), would it not be an unwholesome choice rooted in greed? Would it be correct to say that he is indirectly funding African warlords (and very possibly the death of civilians or combatants in those regions)? Does this choice not negatively affect his mind?


Sure they are! That’s precisely what we’ve been doing here! And I have spoken a lot! Even tired by now! :slight_smile: And the bloody ant is still oblivious to your and my suffering; to its own suffering!!

The vibhanga is available on the glorious SuttaCentral as well as in so many other sources. I have been reading it in Pali though, and the translation of venerable Brahmali on SC is excellent, I think.

Origin story on most such rules show “social pressure” as the main reason behind the rule. “People complained and spread it about; how could these monks do such and such” and so on. In other rare occasions though the rule is made by Buddha out of compassion for the living beings. But anyways the authenticity of all these origin stories is subject to much scrutiny at the moment, and many argue that they are, mostly or wholly, late additions. Some of them don’t even fit as a rational explanation of the rule. So it’s not that the origin story settles the matter for or against any argument.


Bhante @Dhammarakkhita. Please forgive my ignorance when it comes to the depth of the suttas. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: There are still a few things I don’t understand:

Obsession certainly, but what about simple compassion. While obsession or attachment to negative feelings is clearly against the suttas, why would one not feel remorse for killing a sentient being?

Why would slightly hurting a human’s feelings be worse than killing a non-human? And isn’t the “heart” of a human being just a form of ego or self?

Please know that I do not ask these questions to be argumentative. I am truly seeking understanding here and would appreciate any references to suttas regarding these matters. If I am holding Jain views that are against the Buddha’s teachings, I would like to investigate that. Thank you Bhante!


I agree! :heart:


Hi friend @aconlan,

No problems at all. That’s what the forum is for. Well, I already did my best on this thread! :sweat_smile: But if the matter is seriously impotent for you, I strongly encourage you to read more about it directly from the original Jain and Buddhist texts rather than listen to someone like me interpreting those texts. For I may be totally wrong or inadequate in presenting these teachings (I feel I already am!).

Unfortunately the suttas don’t discuss this matter at such level (what we get is only calls for compassion toward beings, probably made to address the phenomenon of cruelty), but we can glean a Buddhist view on these matters from our general understanding of Dhamma and from the Buddha’s deconstruction of Jain views (particularly concerning kamma), scattered across the nikayas.

Jain texts are naturally rich in material on these issues, and you can find them in translation easily online, I guess. There’s nothing wrong in holding Jain views! The problem is in confusing them with the Buddhist doctrine. This is quite common though and you’ll agree that “Buddhism” has been appropriated to suit a multiplicity of moral stances, and even political ideologies! Strange though in the case of animal harm! Because people don’t need to do that as Jainism can serve and reinforce their positions quite perfectly! It’s the popularity of Buddhism I guess, and the extreme nature of Jainism. The problem is also that the attitude of many people on these matters is predominantly emotional, with little or no interest in cosmological understanding or dharmic foundation. That’s why I encourage you and others to read those texts, as I said earlier, perhaps you’ll conclude that Buddhism is lacking! Or that you prefer Jainism. Or that Dhammarakkhita is ignorant!

It’s the emotional attitude that makes concern for animal life characterised by upadana or attachment. This is what I mean by the word “obsession” here (I don’t really mean it in the strongest sense). Of course no one is speaking here against compassion for animals or is promoting their wanton murder. But a line exists, which separates an equanimous compassion founded on understanding, from an agitated worry founded on emotional attachment - and not a thin line.

The reason human is orders of magnitude more valuable than animals is that he can -even if just potentially- transcend existence (bhava), while animals cannot. In more simple words, but profound too:

It is human, not the animal, that can make something out of life that will not be squandered by death.

It is human, not the animal, that can utilise life for a purpose that transcends death.


All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill. - Dhp 129-130

If I were a mouse, I’d rather not get chopped up in a lawnmower.

Try to store firewood away from bugs, limit driving in whatever way you reasonably can, and generally just minimize all this sort of harm as much as you are able and willing. Also, avoid jobs that will involve large amounts of collateral damage.

I think if you see an animal in front of your lawnmower and just run over it anyway, you’re probably breaking the precept, perhaps out of convenience rather than malice though. If I were stuck in traffic and decided to drive my car up onto the sidewalk purely for the convenience of getting home quicker but also knowing that I was running people over, I’d be a murderer.



Thank you! :pray:


Ah, I was looking for it in the ‘Sutta’ tab and thought it was only going to be released with SCNext. :smiley:

Okay, we won’t bring up the trolley problem, then. :wink:


I have a real-life example, of which I think illustrates well what I wanted to discuss regarding this topic.

I went to burn wood earlier and picked up a log to put in the already-burning fire. When picking it up, a bug crawled and fled into a hole inside the log.

Now, had I used the log and put it into the flames (rather than take another log), fully knowing there was a bug that crept inside a hole in it, would I have…

  1. Intentionally killed a living being?
  2. Broken the first precept?
  3. Would this have been an unwholesome action (kamma)?

I think ‘yes’ for the first, although it would be good to find Sutta references to support this position, and definely ‘yes’ for 2 and 3.


There is an element of awareness that we should probably avoid putting ourselves in situations where we are faced with impossible choices about whether or not to break precepts- for example one of the reasons I left my home country was because Sri Lanka has mosquitoes and while I had got used to brushing them off, it was rather impossible to do this all of the time. Ants were another problem there. I like beautiful flowers but some were not probable without killing snails. I let go of my desire for those plants. There was a wasp nest which I waited for the longest time as I was afraid it might sting a child but fortunately we kept away and it emptied over a winter and then I got rid of the nest. I used a humane rat trap and capture spiders to release in the wilds. Being prepared, minimise harm but don’t forget if the animals and you are both stuck in samsara, there’s no point.

The ultimate purpose of morality is the facilitation of the next step, which is unification of mind. Saving everything is wonderful but it’s like Christmas in the middle of the dark winter- death is inevitable. :skull: :evergreen_tree: :skull:

With metta


I think if you saw the bug and then threw it into the fire, then #1 would be true. If #1 is true, then to me that would make #2 and #3 true also.


Yes, that would be true. Also it would cause remorse, and that would not be conducive to samadhi, thereby temporarily closing the path to nibbana.

with metta


Excellent point. Thus, the reason for precepts (in my understanding.)


Yes, that’s right, without internal moral purity, purer states of mind aren’t accessible.:hearts:

with metta


“The wise in heart mourn not for those who live, nor for those who die.” _The Bhagvad-Gita