Reccomended suttas for death/1st precept/kamma/equanimity

Hi everyone,

I was wondering if someone could direct me towards suttas pertaining to death, specifically dealing with points from my scenario below. It deals with an injured bird with a broken back so if you’re an animal lover it might cause some unpleasant imagery (warning for my fellow animal lovers):

Today while i was outside i seen a severely injured bird on my lawn next to a tree. I love animals and it was rough to see, my immediate thought was to help it by putting it out of its “misery”. It was still alive, but twisted, clearly broken neck. It was a sobering and unpleasant sight for me to see it still alive, eyes blinking looking at me with its body/head twitching. But i found myself in a dilemma: to help it out and quickly end his physical pain which would require me breaking the first precept. Taking the life of another being prematurely is something which will have major weight (or at least that is my understanding). Yet knowing i couldn’t kill it i was at a stand still, and was forced to walk away.

Ironically i was in the process of emailing a photo to help raise money for another animal who is paralyzed from blunt force while he was a puppy. Coincidences are weird!

The entire scenario is still fresh in my head. Though i walked away, i still keep on thinking of the bird just laying there forced to exist with the physical pain until it starves or gets eaten.

So some subjects i was able to see were:

  • Being Forced to walk away knowing regardless the situation is out of
    my hands.

  • The law of Kamma: Is this the manifested fruit of this being’s past kamma? Would it be cold hearted just to think that and walk away?

  • The first Precept: How far does this extend? Is it just a rule for healthy societies to exist or is it a warning against bigger deeper things in play such as kamma and the weight our actions bring. Regardless of what our subjective emotions are on the scenario at hand.

  • Volitional Activities- Because the sight was unpleasant to me, i felt aversion towards it.
    This would have then led me to ending the animals’ life prematurely with the intention to “help” the bird out.
    Though logically i still think wanting to end the birds’ life makes
    sense, i try to keep my personal bias out of following the practice.

  • Death Contemplation- being in Samsara, i am fully capable of falling
    into the same situation as the bird. A car can hit me in 30 minutes,
    etc.

Thank you for your time. Feel free to insert your 2-cents in as well, not only links to suttas.

i’m not sure there’s a sutta where the Buddha or his disciples would advocate killing, since it would contradict the precept of non-killing unequivocally enjoined in numerous suttas

i just realized that explicit killing prohibition by the first precept is necessary to balance out the principle of non-harmfulness

it prevents followers from administering euthanasia out of adherence to the principle of non-harmfulness

how one solves this dilemma i don’t know, maybe take to a veterinary clinic and let the specialists help it or put down painlessly

Dear JuanG,
It would suffice to say that this is a very difficult and controversial topic in Buddhism - as there is no consensus as to whether ending a being’s suffering through killing is appropriate or not. There are some suttas that deal with suicide in order to end one’s own suffering, such as the Vakkali Sutta:

and the Channa Sutta:

However, in both of these cases the monks had attained (or were close to attaining) nibbana, so they accumulated very little, or no, bad kamma as a result. This topic is very often tied to [Euthanasia][1] because of the similarities in depriving life out of compassion. That is where I personally believe kamma fits into the deprivation of life, via intention. Thus, one’s mindset or intention while taking the life of another determines the resulting accrual of kamma. For me, it is much more important to ask: is killing this person or being beneficial? Is it compassionate? What is my intention? Why do I feel aversion towards the deformities of this being’s body?

Potentially, both. The Buddha states in MN 15 and its parallel in Up4.081:

Some who take the life of a living being—these are those who have not abstained from taking the life of a living being, are bloody-handed, have no shame in destroying and totally annihilating living beings, are ruthless, put all their minds on taking the life of any living beings, even as much as an ant.

We must, again, return to intention. It seems that what the Buddha is referring to is murder with the intention of depriving life for life’s sake. That is notably not what killing a living being in order to lessen its suffering is hoping to achieve.

I am not sure where the sutra is in the Chinese and Tibetan traditions, and thus cannot provide a translation; but in the Upayakausalya Sutra there is some mention of the Bodhisattva killing a living being in order to lessen his suffering - but as a result the Bodhisattva is reborn in Hell for aeons.

There is no clear answer to your question. It is very much what you personally believe to be true. Killing another living being will generate bad kamma (I believe) regardless of what one is intending - due to the fact is it is depriving life. But are you willing to accumulate such kamma if it ends another’s suffering? That is the question.
[1]: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=18909

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ultimately it doesn’t end its suffering, if only for a moment, since the cycle of births continues

i don’t see a point in risking your own future by breaking a precept for the sake of illusory and questionable good of another

if helping another results in darkening of your own kamma, what’s the achievement? turning kamma darker means the deed is not skillful and wholesome, even though it could appear brave, courageous, compassionate, selfless, bold, impressive and breath-taking

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This was my reasoning for walking away, though personally i didn’t like it. Knowing i left it to sit in pain is not a pleasant feeling for me.

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You’re completely right, I shouldn’t have used the word “end”. It will perhaps alleviate that being’s suffering, but not end it. Though it is equally as difficult to see a being suffering without being able to help them.

true, and that is also suffering, this is how cunningly it’s engrained in human experience

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Dear JuanG

In answer to the 1st question here, I’d say “maybe”…or it might just be a flying accident, or something else…

In answer to the second, I’d say, “only if you felt cold in your heart”. If you walked away with understanding and compassion, you’re going more in the direction of a healthy equanimity…I would think.

I once sat by a severely injured/dying/dead rabbit by the side of the road, in the dark. I chanted, and sent it my good feelings. I tried to push aside my feelings of horror or inadequacy and just deliberately brought up happiness and recollection of my own goodness and sent it towards the poor creature. I stayed there for about 15 minutes or so and then, feeling it was time to move on, I left it to experience it’s journey.

I’ve heard Ajahn Brahm say that if you live with animals, you get to know them and you can usually work out whether or not they wish to be euthanised. I think he recommends, going into a quiet space and then connecting with them to see what they want. I think this could work best only if you really have lived with the little thing for a long time and you know him/her and can communicate with him/her in your own way.

I’ve also heard Ajahn Brahm say that often, we are not wanting to put other beings out of their misery; we are wanting to put them out of our misery. Sometimes it is not “cold hearted” to walk away, sometimes it’s realising that this being needs the space to experience and learn from the process it’s in. Sometimes we rush in to fix things and deny other beings the chance to see and learn for themselves.

I’ve also heard Ajah Brahm describe the precepts as red traffic lights. He would say, if he was in the back of a car and he was having a heart attack and you came to a red traffic light, it would probably be okay if you looked both ways and then went through the red light.

However, I think, with regard to euthanasia of either animals or humans, one big thing to consider is, how do I honestly think I will feel afterwards. Will I feel at peace and clear. That is one thing to consider. The other big thing is; 'am I getting a clear, true message from the being in question that this is definitely, certainly, what he/she wants.

Difficult issues. But important to consider and wonderful that you are doing so. You’re obviously a very kind hearted person JuanG. The little bird has by now moved on to it’s next birth. It’s free of that painful death process now.

with metta

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And just a reminder: we have kamma that is both black and white, with black and white results. In cases like this, we have the intention to relieve pain, which is good, and intention to kill, which is bad. Whatever choice we make is imperfect, yet we have to make a choice. Ultimately we cannot say that it is either right or wrong, all we can say is that we will take responsibility for our choices.

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And I guess taking responsibility for whatever action we take, means, perhaps especially so in this situation, dealing skillfully with whatever mind state we are left with.

This reminds me that I recently heard Ajahn Brahm say that we shouldn’t be afraid to make decisions, to make mistakes. The choice we make is not as important as how we deal with the consequences of this choice… Sort of going back to his “good, bad, who knows” story; the one where, at the end of the day, we can’t say whether a choice we made in the past would’ve been better or worse if we’d made it differently. I tend to agonise over decisons and find this kind of teaching healing and helpful.

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I should qualify my last comments by saying that, minimising the importance of the choice is something I believe should occur within a container which values virtue and kindness. :slight_smile: They are the safety net.

Thank you everyone for taking the time to reply! I plan on replying and reading to all the points. I’ll just leave this thought in the mean-time.

If the sutta stories are to be taking literal and not just as metaphors, then the buddha and moggallana both have laughed/smiled when they have seen the negative results/rebirths of karma which result seeing a being in intense awful suffering. I suppose this shows the extent to which equanimity can go. Even they know they can’t do anything about it, only observe and learn, seeing the law of karma playing out. Again these are my thoughts, perhaps i am completely off the mark. Please feel free to correct my understand if it is off.

(I love this site by the way! so sleek, intuitive, sharp, user-friendly. :dog: )

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:pray:

Dear Kay and all,

Ajahn Brahm teaches that whatever decisions we have done in the past is “in-if-able”. We can’t “if” the past because we don’t really know how the results would turn out. Even the best laid plans can turn wrong. We face many situations and sometimes we have to make a choice/decision when it comes. And as Bhante Sujato has said, our decisions at that moment are neither wrong or right because we are only reacting to the conditions at that time. Rather than learning what we do will not always turn out in a good way, instead in a stupid way we punish our selves by adding guilt. With guilt, we lock the chain and balls into our own selves. We’re punishing ourselves for something we don’t really have control over.

As far as euthanasia goes, when a person (with a clear mind) says that s/he have had enough, who am I to say s/he should live longer? I am not the one suffering and I wouldn’t even know just how much it feels to be in their position. Heck, I would wish the same if it was me. What sucks is that often times we think we know better for the other person. We don’t listen enough. I had an experience with someone who had a stroke twice and was bed ridden for years, unable to speak, unable to do anything by himself. His family took care of him but he just didn’t have a comfortable life. I could plainly see that he hung on living because his family wouldn’t let him go. On his third stroke however, before the medics could come, although I wasn’t inside the room, somehow he communicated to his wife he wanted to go, and his wife finally gave him the blessing telling him to “go”. And taking his last breaths he expired right there. I was happy for him. Even now I can feel happiness for him. I wouldn’t want that kind of suffering on me nor I would wish that on anybody.

May all beings be free. :sunglasses:

with añjali and mettā,
russ

:pray:

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I would be interested to get references for these so as to check out the context.

with metta

I believe this is referring to the Lakkhaṇa Saṁyutta, (SN19 ; AKA “The Book of Mark”!) although there it is only Moggallana who smiles, I believe.

You are correct, he just backs up Moggallana’s story. https://suttacentral.net/sn19

SN19:

  1. Sitting on a side venerable Lakkhaṇa said to venerable
    Mahāmoggallāna: “Friend Moggallāna, when descending from the Gijjha peak
    you smiled at a certain spot, for what reason did you smile?”
  2. “Friend, when I was descending the Gijjha peak, I saw a skeleton
    moving in space and it was followed and attacked by vultures, crows, and
    hawks, and they pull a rib from it and divide it among them, and the
    skeleton gives a cry of distress.
  3. “Friend, then it occurred to me: ‘Indeed it is wonderful and
    surprising to see a being, a non-human, a gain of self like this.”’
  4. Then the Blessed One addressed the monks: “Monks, the disciple
    should live wisely with aroused knowledge, when he knows, sees or
    witnesses such a thing.
  5. “Monks, in the past I saw this being, yet I did not tell it to
    anyone. If I had told, others would not believe me and it would be for
    their ill being and unpleasantness for a long time.

Line 3 (should be line 10, quoting it changed the number for some reason) reminds me of Ajahn Chah. I’m paraphrasing: “If we gain something, who gains it. We do . And when its gone, who loses it? We lose it.”

I’ve just had a look at Ven Bodhi’s translation… And it seems to me, that Ven Moggallana’s smile is because he is amazed at the fact that he can now see such beings and that they exist.

Yes, they do seem to have a great equanimity about it. But then, if they’re seeing such things about the place quite a bit…they probably get more used to it. As well as having the bigger picture available to them and knowing there is little/nothing that can be done for those beings in their various states of suffering.

I do wonder about this sutta though…I noticed the “probationary nun” is mentioned. From what little I know, this stage of ordination was a later development. So is the whole sutta later, or just some sections?

Aside from equanimity, I actually feel that compassion is evident in this sutta in the statement about why these beings are suffering in this way; this to me is an encouragement to value sila and therefore is compassionate; also in the phrase (or something like it) “great pain” - which is an acknowledgement of their suffering. When I imagine the scene, I can imagine the Buddha and Ven Moggallana talking in gentle tones, in compassionate tones. Indeed, the fact that Ven Moggallana suggests they wait til they’re in the presence of the Buddha, suggests (other than the obvious issue of right time and place - they’re about to go on alms round) that it is something that is worth mentioning and deserves attention brought to it in the presence of their great teacher - to me, this is also an acknowledgement of the suffering of these beings, as well as adding weight (through discussing it in the presence of the Buddha) to the existence of such suffering states. I’m speaking personally - in a sense - for often, I can’t bear to see or hear about truly awful things…but occassionally I’ll deliberately watch a report about something as I feel that all I can do is to listen to this story…that someone is suffering…and at least I can acknowledge it.

On an ordinary level, I feel that the simple acknowledgement of suffering, with a kindly attitude…can be a very healing thing…for oneself, but also, if the being in even greater suffering is present, for them also.

with metta

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