The First Precept: Definition and Intention

Across the EBTs, is the first precept “killing” or “harming”? In the EBTs is it exclusively one or the other? Or both?

Obviously, intention is specified in the EBTs. A person who kills and/or harms with ill will or malice would be considered a murderer and bad kamma follows. It’s different if a person who inadvertently kills an insect, animal or human, there is no intention or ill will, correct? But what about if there is compassion behind the intention? For instance, what about a person who’s beloved pet is mortally injured and is imminently dying an excruciating death and, with intention of a wish for well-being and out of deep compassion, the person has the animal euthanized to end the drawing out of its suffering? Is there a difference between the intention of ill will and compassion?

And what about kamma? Angulimala became an arahant, yet was he still subject to the kamma of his past killing deeds? What about the person who euthanizes a pet out of compassion? Is there a difference in kamma?

Is the first precept exactly the same for monastics and laypeople?

Why killing is bad?.

So sorry, but I’m not sure what you’re saying here.

I may be wrong, but a person who thinks he’s removing the suffering of his pet by euthanizing it seems to forget that the pet, being a putthujana, has attachment to its life. It likes its life and humans should respect it.

Humans and animals that are not terminally ill are also dying. If we apply the principle that all that are dying can be helped by terminating their current lives, then newly born babies who seem healthy are also subject to this principle even though they may look happy. Probably they actually have cancer inside but are not diagnosed by a doctor yet.

1 Like

I think it’s both. The expression for killing in EBTs (eg. MN 41, AN 10.176, etc.) is:

Here someone kills living beings; he is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings.
Idha ekacco pāṇātipātī hoti, luddo lohitapāṇi hatappahate niviṭṭho adayāpanno pāṇabhūtesu.

The expression for abstinence of killing is:

Here someone, abandoning the killing of living beings, abstains from killing living beings; with rod and weapon laid aside, gentle and kindly, he abides compassionate to all living beings.
Idha ekacco pāṇātipātaṁ pahāya pāṇātipātā paṭivirato hoti, nihitadaṇḍo nihitasattho lajjī dayāpanno sabba­pāṇabhūta­hitā­nu­ka­mpī viharati.

The expression used for abstinence of killing for monks and laypeople is the same in suttas (DN 1, MN 27, etc.), but rules for monks are specified in the Vinaya (which I don’t know the details).

In my opinion, EBTs always regard killing is killing and it is always an unwholesome action. There is no distinction of compassionate killing and merciless killing. I think the ancient Indian society of the time viewed killing is bad regardless the motivation. The later development of Abhidharma also regard killing is always associated with ill will, never associated with compassion. Only after much later time when Mahayana rise, we found the concept of compassionate killing which is according to Upaya Kausalya Sutra done by Bodhisattva in his previous birth by killing one man to save five hundred men out of his compassion with skillful means.

1 Like

ill will and compassion are added factors which can accompany to the action of killing. However, killing is kammically bad in itself.
If no investigation to know why killing is wrong in itself, there is possibility of confusion taking those added factors like the final moral nature of the action.

It is a complicated issue involving wisdom because no direct explanation inside the sources to know why killing is wrong action.

Also, we cannot avoid killing until some degree while we are alive. Our existence is sustained with the killing of living beings that we don’t see. That’s kamma too. Probably the precept to avoid killing is quite centered in the intention to kill because the obsession to avoid any killing could become an absurdity even an obstacle for the Path in the human existence.


If the above is true, then it’s very easy job for the veganism cause I am championing.

Kamma is done only on intention. Motivation is another factor. Intention to kill is bad kamma, motivation is the added factor you mentioned. Motivation adds more good or bad into the act.

The killing you refer to for just being alive, is at most indirect killing. Which is the same thing as eating triple clean meat.

There’s no intention to kill, cause one didn’t wished for an animal to die to eat their meat. So no bad kamma. That’s the number one reason why it’s so hard to get Theravada Buddhists to become vegan.

Don’t confuse normal causation with kammic causation. Kammic laws are moral causation laws. Normal cause and effect does have the notion that it’s still the duty of all humans who can choose their diet, living in this age of global warming, to stop contributing to some temperature rise due to supporting meat industry.

1 Like

As Paññādhammika said. And this is so important. Kamma is volition action, not unintentional action. So we only create kamma through the actions that we specifically intend to manifest. Those actions can be thought-actions, speech-actions, or bodily-actions.

Intention is everything.

What motivates our intentions underscores the type and potential strength of the kamma that is created.


If while walking down the street, should we unintentionally trample on many ants, maiming and killing them, that is not killing from a Buddhist perspective.

If while speaking to others, should we say untruths that we believe to be truths, that is not lying from a Buddhist perspective.

:pray: I hope this was helpful.

With mettā

perhaps you don’t understand me. Our present human existence is kamma, and our body should be sustained with the killing of many beings. Just by breathing many beings are killed. That’s kamma. And this is not good. To be born is not good.

There is also the kammic retribution because the arising of intention to kill. The OP asked if the ill will or compassion makes a difference. There is difference in kamma according intentions although there is also a kamma because the action of killing in itself. Be with wholesome or unwholesome intention, there is arising of an idea with a delusion of a being who can be destroyed.

Not according to the EBTs. That’s the basis of how we use terms in this forum. If you can show that this is the Buddha’s definition of karma, please do. Otherwise this conversation is not going to work.


your human body is not kamma?. I don’t understand what you mean here.

  • Your human body is kamma
  • Many living beings are killed because that kamma

Where is the error?

I don’t know very much Pali, so my question is: when the first precept is mentioned in the Pali of the EBTs, is it specifically “killing” or “harming” or both? To me, killing is pretty straightforward, harming can take many forms.

Hi Puerh, it’s nice to meet you :slight_smile:

I’ve read your replies and I don’t see how this interpretation is reflected in the teachings that are followed here. If you’re understanding of kamma is based on the suttas, can you help me better understand your phrasing?

As it is in the teachings, our human rebirth is a result of past kamma. It isn’t kamma, per se. More specifically, kamma isn’t what happens to us—that’s called fruition—kamma is what we do, it’s what we create. After all, kamma is the Pāli word for action (not result).

As I mentioned in my reply above, “kamma is volition action, not unintentional action. So we only create kamma through the actions that we specifically intend to manifest. Intention is everything.”

So breathing isn’t creating kamma. Even if “many beings are being killed” by our act of breathing.

This I can completely get behind. This is true Dhamma. :pray:

1 Like

you talk about the conscious intention to avoid unwholesome actions, which helps in this Path to purify the mind. That’s very important although the whole issue is deeper. Things goes faster and mostly out of control; in real terms the kamma is not only related with past actions.

“Lord, this word, ‘becoming, becoming’ — to what extent is there becoming?”
“Ananda, if there were no kamma ripening in the sensuality-property, would sensuality-becoming be discerned?”
“No, lord.”
"Thus kamma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture. The consciousness of living beings hindered by ignorance & fettered by craving is established in/tuned to a lower property. Thus there is the production of renewed becoming in the future.
“If there were no kamma ripening in the form-property, would form-becoming be discerned?”
“No, lord.”

AN 3.76

that’s about the role of ignorance which we cannot control. Human rebirth happens because there is a becoming. This becoming was not only the vipaka of a new human who was born, then putting an end to that kamma trend. The kamma and the becoming is a constant process happening at each instant. While there is ignorance our delusion of ourselves and of the existence create more kamma without stop. The becoming at this very moment cause the arising of this human being, which is the result of the ignorance existing in the previous moment, and in that way without stop. So this is no just about the kamma of a previous live which was manifest at the physical birth and that’s all.

agree. I don’t say there is a kamma retribution because breathing. Just I say many beings are killed because this human kamma. :pray:

The one thing I’m unclear on, and I’m curious if anyone knows more, is the killing of pathogens in medical treatment, including macroscopic parasites. I know in the canon there is an account of Jivaka drawing out worms from a man’s head, but that story is very weird and doesn’t seem to have a clear take. I’m curious if there is a commentarial consensus?

In general that holds true, but the meaning of kamma is more broad in the suttas I think. E.g sn35.146

1 Like

Ah yes, I misunderstood your question before. The first precept is mentioning about killing, including harming act with intention to kill.

You can read for yourself here: A 8.39

Firstly, a noble disciple gives up killing living creatures.
Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako pāṇātipātaṁ pahāya pāṇātipātā paṭivirato hoti.

So it does appear to be killing that is specifically mentioned.

for monks (Vb 3):

‘If a monk intentionally kills a human being or seeks an instrument of death for him or praises death or incites someone to die, saying,
“Yo pana bhikkhu sañcicca manussaviggahaṁ jīvitā voropeyya satthahārakaṁ vāssa pariyeseyya maraṇavaṇṇaṁ vā saṁvaṇṇeyya maraṇāya vā samādapeyya

“My friend, what’s the point of this miserable and difficult life? Death is better for you than life!”
‘ambho purisa, kiṁ tuyhiminā pāpakena dujjīvitena, mataṁ te jīvitā seyyo’ti,

thinking and intending thus, if he praises death in many ways or incites someone to die
iti cittamano cittasaṅkappo anekapariyāyena maraṇavaṇṇaṁ vā saṁvaṇṇeyya, maraṇāya vā samādapeyya,

he too is expelled and excluded from the community.’”
ayampi pārājiko hoti asaṁvāso”ti.


Oh and finally, If your like me and think that Sekha Paṭipadā is earlier than the Anguttra or the Vinaya then you can see the earlier version in DN2:

And how, great king, is a mendicant accomplished in ethics?
Kathañca, mahārāja, bhikkhu sīlasampanno hoti?

It’s when a mendicant gives up killing living creatures, renouncing the rod and the sword. They’re scrupulous and kind, living full of compassion for all living beings.
Idha, mahārāja, bhikkhu pāṇātipātaṁ pahāya pāṇātipātā paṭivirato hoti. Nihitadaṇḍo nihitasattho lajjī dayāpanno sabba­pāṇabhūta­hitā­nu­ka­mpī viharati.

This pertains to their ethics.
Idampissa hoti sīlasmiṁ.


The precept itself seems quite explicit, ie don’t kill. No “ifs” or “buts”.

Obviously developing Right Intention as a path factor would make harming and killing other beings much less likely, since there is an emphasis on harmlesness.