Practical dilemma regarding right livelihood

This is a timely topic as I am heading back to Chiang Mai today, in part to meet with some young men from Koung Jor Shan Refugee camp that want to start a pig and fish pond farm on some land in Mae Rim that has been gifted to them. I’m providing the startup funding, which makes me very complicit in the development of the pig farm. The pigs will be raised for market and for use at Koung Jor, as the camp receives only broken rice and oil as a food source, and even this supply has been cut off. Families have to scratch for local vegetation and some are able to buy small amounts of protein with money earned from hard labor in the chili fields. But, the kids at the camp all test with poor blood levels every year for vitamins, iron, and other requirements for basic health.

So, funding this pig farm is my one way ticket to a hell realm, but I am very willing to help these young men to start an enterprise that will provide some funds and food security for the camp. NGOs have stopped providing direct aid ( see article below) and so the residents of the KJ camp need to fend for themselves. I’m wrestling with the ethics of doing this, but in the end, the bright kamma I hope mitigates whatever dark kamma is involved. SPF 30 for the next life.

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We have drifted away from the core focus of SC Discourse in recent months.

Please note that general discussions need to reference EBT Suttas, rather than just be general chat and views and opinions. :slight_smile:

Metta

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Thanks for sharing your situation openly. I suppose feedback is welcome having posted on this forum. Here I would like to offer the following, canonical and personal.

Much mettā to the people subjected to this problematic situation. I can empathize with them to some degree having spent some months in Myanmar with low quality food myself. I hope all their lack will disappear without residue as soon as possible.

Though the intention to meet the need is good, indeed such kamma may lead to a sub-human rebirth nevertheless, yes, just to re-emphasize the scriptual perspective. Also, from this perspective this isn’t much of a favor for young entrepreneurs in the long run really. It makes not a substantial difference for the good that it is for livelihood, it doesn’t loose its general thrust for generating sub-human rebirth with that, as Buddhisms teaches from various sources.

Is it not the case that we, as intelligent human beings, are capable of finding alternatives to killing for food? I was Vegan before I became a monk and know of some easy to do alternatives for protein supply. Did you know that you can produce around 10 % pure protein from washing out wheat flour? The final product is called Seitan: YouTube

The Chinese are quite good at finding all kinds of other good alternatives to meat for protein … I am quite sure that it is overall more efficient too.

Wish you and all involved much success in finding a way to cancel out suffering for all beings.

Mettā

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Pig disease: not a good time for pigs in Thailand
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-17/thailand-on-red-alert-in-bid-to-stop-pig-ebola-crossing-border
Have you considered learning how to make tofu?

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Hi @UpasakaMichael- just a tiny comment: would you mind to change “dilema” into “dilemma” in the title (if it’s not possibly intentional, in this case just ignore this)

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@Nessie…thanks! I actually think that I can spell “dilemma” correctly, but of course am glad for the correction. As long as you don’t smack me with a ruler the way the nuns did at Curé of Ars. I was actually the school’s 8th grade spelling champion, and went on to the Kansas state regional finals, where I lost in a middle round. The word that I lost on haunts me to this day.

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Truly, if my friends would consider a tofu farm (ie soybeans), I’d be more than happy to finance it. But they are Shan, from a unregistered refugee camp that gets no formal support from any agency or NGO, and are focused on farming that is familiar to them and their families.

The more time I spend in Thailand, the more my perspective is shaped and reformed in terms of what some very lovely, smart, and competent people need to do here in order to survive, and to be able to send money home to their families or kids in their home villages (one of the drivers of the efforts of young adults here) . Bright young women without university educations work occupations that you wouldn’t wish on an enemy. Young men here without educations work brutal construction jobs, or end up in Malaysia working on fishing boats for $5.00 a day.

So, this project is a chance to give some young men and women from a refugee camp a chance to start a business that they might leverage (assuming the farm makes a profit), per our meeting last night, into a farm-to-table cafe in 5 years. Perhaps in time they can convert some of the production into soybeans, for example.

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Connection for advice or help:

https://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org/index.php/en/about-us-en/what-we-do

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Thanks. I’ve donated to BGR in the past, and am a supporter of what Bhikkhu Bodhi has done, and is doing, with BGR. I’ve communicated with some of his staff on issues through the years, and they’ve been very helpful. This passage from the BGR link you’ve cited is instructive:

  • Food sovereignty. BGR seeks to promote food sovereignty rather than food dependency. The concept of food sovereignty is based on the principle that “everyone must have access to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity” (see www.viacampesina.org). Our projects are intended to enable our beneficiaries to develop projects that they themselves can implement and manage for the benefit of their own communities.
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Have you considered using that funding money to provide aid in some other way? Or if you really feel that there is no way to help these refugees other than by starting a hog and fish farm, have you considered putting whatever money you would have used for that to use in aiding some other group of people in such a way that is not harmful to other conscious beings?

A brief internet search for effective charities leads to nothing in the particular region you’re thinking of but you might keep an eye out on the research results of the below linked project: EffectiveGiving.Asia | About Us

I wish you luck in your quest to help others.

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These are friends of mine that I have known for years through the Koung Jor camp. All have been Shan State refugees, that teach English at the camp, and this education has allowed many Shan kids to matriculate into Thai schools and make good lives for themselves in Thailand. These teachers now want to start a longterm sustainable project that will provide food and funds to Koung Jor; the small NGO I started is founded on the idea of empowering Shan people to build sustainable projects, and not merely to send rice and cooking oil to the camp.

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Blessings to you for your compassionate willingness to get involved and not look away from the suffering of these desperate people! My worry is less for you, and more for these young people who will indeed earn terrible karma of killing and wrong livelihood, enabled by your support.

You are a gem, a compassionate & generous Dhamma seeker, and you likely have plenty of bright karma to help overcome any serious effects of your dabbling in financing animal trafficking - but do these young men have the abundance of good karma needed to outweigh the karma of trafficking & physically slaughtering these animals? (There’s also likely to be significant environmental harm from pig waste and outflows of a fish farm.)

The Dark Path
Bright & Dark Deeds

It’s good to ponder carefully the long range impact of your plans not only for their current situation but for their future lives. As Bhante G says, “It is never good to feed the body at the expense of the mind.”

Perhaps you can use your strong influence to help these good people embrace a brighter (and more environmentally friendly) karmic path. I hope that good viable practical options quickly arise that will lift them up in every way.

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Ayya, if it helps, the pig housing will be humane, and open (there is a large parcel of land being donated, the size of a city park) and will be constructed such that the pig “poop” drops into a lower chamber that is mixed with vegetation, to produce a compost that will be sold to local farmers. The pigs themselves will not be killed at the farm, but sold into the market as live pigs.

I’m resourcing Maejo University, Chiang Mai, Thailand to provide counsel to the young people doing the project startup.

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Could you fund something else that they need?

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Can you not influence their decision holding authority over funds? I mean if they are given the choice of receiving either funding for soybeans or nothing, chances are high they choose for the beans, isn’t it? Perhaps with some amount of discussion many if not all will be satisfied and convinced also …

Good to hear that the environmental harm is checked. Really humane from a Buddhist perspective is a conduct which facilitates further human rebirth, i.e. one that accords with the five sikkhāpadā (precepts). Lesser standards are, in my eyes, just varying degrees of cruelty.

Mettā

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Ven. A.Bhikkhu expressed my thoughts well:

What you described, with distance from the killing, does seem better than the clumsy bloody operation that I had assumed - and yet that distance from the grossest results of animal trafficking removes any hope of right view arising among participants (due to no clear harm on site from which to recoil). They will be reaping benefits of past good karma with an appearance of everything being well and producing further goodness, while actually sowing downward karma accelerated by wrong view.

It’s like workers happily handling radioactive material, seeing only the immediate benefits, unaware or heedless of the unseen long-term dangers; if their employers understand the situation then they have a duty to not send workers into known invisible danger.

Again, at least you have right view of knowing what is/isn’t wholesome, but the recipients of your funding may not, and likely never will due being involved in this project (due to cognitive dissonance).

In fact I have read accusations that Heifer International deliberately targets Buddhists for animal trafficking as a means to convert them to Christianity. (In the past I easily found these criticisms online but can’t find even one now. I have seen promotional materials by them that included a photo of a smiling Asian girl holding a small pig directly in front of a Buddhist temple.) Most Shan people are traditionally Theravada Buddhist, if Wikipedia is correct.

There’s another long-term impact to ponder, of raising the expectation among the next generation of beef in their diet. According to a beef industry newsletter, in Japan for 1000 years the killing of four-legged animals for meat had been taboo, and the 1st slaughter of a cow for meat in the mid-1800’s caused a public outcry. Later,

“After bombing Japan in World War II, U.S. officials started giving beef to mal-
nourished Japanese children as part of their school lunches. … U.S. officials say it paved the way for the American beef industry. Japan, which didn’t begin importing beef in significant quantities until the late 1970s, now ranks as the top foreign market for U.S. cattle producers… with shipments worth $1.4 billion last year…”
The Virginia Cattleman (newsletter PDF) January 2015, pages 35-36.

If a thriving regional beef industry results for future decades thanks to your generosity, is that a good legacy in which to take pride?

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I do appreciate your comments, Ayya, and those of others that have commented. With Metta.

I raise money through my work, I purposely live simply, and set up long ago a nonprofit/NGO that helps fund projects related to the Shan refugees, particularly those from the Fang area and at Koung Jor Shan Camp. Yes the Shan are Buddhist, and devout, and Koung Jor refugee camp actually sits on land owned by a Thai-Burma wat.

This current project involves my small role in providing financing, so that some young adults from the camp can start a business that will earn them a better living than the paltry paid, dangerous work they are now doing, and I have their commitment that profits will accrue to further food security support at Koung Jor. Like many of the Thai-Burma border refugee camps, the food support from international NGOs has been cut off. As I mentioned before, kids at the camp always test for dangerously low levels of vitamins and iron in their blood due to their restricted, poor diet.

People living in poverty sometimes cannot make the same choices that the rest of us can make that have a stable diet and a roof over our heads, free from worry over being bombed or attacked by the Tatmadaw in their home villages. Koung Jor is in a desperate situation, and as the saying goes “desperate people do desparate things.”

I have to give these bright, young adults autonomy, and independence. The Shan are very proud, highly intelligent people. I won’t lord over them with the money and try to take away their own decision making in this venture. I guess by empowering people, you give them the license to make competent and sustainable decisions.

I hope you don’t see this as ethical “hand washing” on my part. I accept that I am the owner and heir of all of my actions, and my Shan friends are the owners and heirs of theirs. My intention is to empower these bright young people, and to provide what is hoped to be a 10 year project for assisting food security at the refugee camp.

As I mentioned before, I’m bringing the SPF 30 to my next life, hoping I won’t actually need it…

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Nice simile.

Wothwhile consideration. Thanks for sharing.

I aggree, yes, empowering people helps them to make these decisons. I just would like to emphasize again that it is questionable from the perspective of what our Buddha taught that this undertaking is truly empowering leading to competent and sustainable decisons. It is only sustainable for a few years and a potential rebirth in hell due to the deliberate taking of life is so far outweighing the short term benefits that someone beliefing in it would not pursue anything supporting it. If someone would truly belief in the horrific consequences taught that person would shrink back immediately.

What about the simile of the turtle diving in the ocean? Once down in those realms how long and almost impossible to re-enter into a human life form again! And what a miserable one if so. Where is the sustainability and empowerment then being born lame, blind, with little food and comfort etc.? It is not good, a real disaster for all involved. This conduct causes downfall, I really emphatize. Like giving a sweet cake with lots of nutritional values but heavily poisened and causing a wretched and slow death. Consider also the simile of the gambler who lost all his property and his freedom with one throw. Greater the loss for one entering hellish realms. Better for that one who is pierced daily three hundred times per day by speers for a hundred years than the one in hell. That suffering doesn’t count like a small stone in ones fist to the Himalayas. That’s briefly what the Buddha taught about hell.

Someone benefitting another in such ways then is truly an enemy to them, how else could we take it from a Buddhist perspective. Seeing him one should run as quickly as one can and never turning back. This is worthwhile considering. Someone possessing right view would be incapable of being such an enemy. Do you possess the conviction in the lower realms as you profess you do? Please have mercy! As you said you have to:

I am not so sure if the right view is actually rooted in a personal conviction in our case or just knowledge dissociated from belief in the laws of kamma. It is not possible for a person possessing right view, being convinced about the reality of sub-human rebirth and kammic retribution, to support death and a conduct in others conducive to such rebirth, directly or indirectly.

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My understanding of karma is that it has more to do with intention and attention (time spent focusing on the intention) than on the act itself. From what you describe, I don’t get the sense that you sit around focusing on how you can get your friends in the pig killing biz and would be quite happy if they came back to you with some other less bloody idea. It seems to me that your primary motivation is generosity.
I don’t think facilitating such a project in and of itself is a problem. Does a real estate agent suffer karmic consequences if they arrange for the sale of land to someone who is going to build a slaughter house? Or a building inspector who signs of on a newly constructed slaughterhouse? The intention isn’t there.
Your friends already have the intention, so this is their responsibility. But just having the intention doesn’t mean they can go through with it. Sometimes simply being up close to the animals may lead some to say ‘No, I don’t want any part of this’ and that can be a good thing. Having the support of the university could be of great help as the Kings Program focuses more on integrated organic agriculture. There is so much innovation going on now in Thai agg that I think there are many alternative ways available to them if exposed to the ideas and training. Most Thai people I have met (I live in Phuket) are very concerned about pesticides and quality of food.
It is hard to get people to change from there traditional diets or get people to adopt farming practices they are not familiar with - I think trying to force something on them would only lead to frustration - it is more helpful if they themselves come up with ideas themselves -so I think this may take some time. Best of luck to you on your project.

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