SuttaCentral

The first precept?


#1

“In Pali, the first precept is Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami; “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.” According to Theravadin teacher Bikkhu Bodhi, the word pana refers to breathing or any living being that has breath and consciousness.” - ThoughtCo.

I remember a lovely teaching I heard many years ago about putting pets to sleep. The teacher said it might be a good idea to ask the pet - if it was in so-much difficulty - if it would like the dying/struggling process to end.

I was caring for a cat and watching its steady decline. It reached the point where the cat was in a really bad way and we spent some time just looking into each others eyes. As a consequence of this communion an intention arose to help the cat to die so it would not have to struggle any longer.

I took the cat to a vet and the cat was assisted to die by very caring people and I was there transmitting merit until the end. I did not feel as if the vet, the vets assistant or, myself had any unwholesome/akusala intention at any point in this situation.

I didn’t feel the cat was troubled in any way, resentful or, in any pain when it received a lethal injection. We were stroking the cat and it was peaceful and quiet and then it stopped living.

If the time comes, if I am in a similar situation, I would appreciate it if someone were to offer me the assistance required to end a pointless struggle to survive. I would understand, from personal experience, why they may feel inclined to help me - my dear ones - when faced with this situation. I would feel grateful as a consequence. I am not saying that this is applicable to everyone. I can only speak for myself when it comes to euthanasia.

What life experience tells me is, its not always an unwholesome negative intention to end the life of a sentient being.

Therefore, in some instances, the precept ‘not to intentionally take the life of a sentient being’ is not a wise, skilful, kind or, compassionate ‘intention’ (kamma), motivation, precept or, whatever else you wish to call it.

We may not be acting with clarity and kindness if there’s an inability to respond to suffering because a holy-book has threatened a punishment to those who don’t conform. We have to keep our thinking-caps on!

If we wish to gain Dhamma clarity when it comes to kamma, which I believe is the motivation that drives intentional behaviour, we have to be sensitive to the influence of the 3 roots.

I can imagine a scenario where some god-fearers - and Buddhists - may have let the cat suffer. Not as a consequence of compassion but, out of a fear of negative repercussions.

The Buddha-to-be saw through fear and terror on the way to final release. If our motivations are driven by fear then, when we get scared we may act irresponsibly.

We may become vulnerable to manipulation by others and be motivated to behave in an unwholesome way out of fear and loathing. However, if we are motivated by wholesome intentions we need not worry or be filled with misgivings.

We may be mistreated or killed - experience pain - and be filled with love and goodwill because our :heartbeat: is in the right place - come what may.

Some may hate the idea of their own suffering and, are less concerned when it comes to the suffering of other beings. Due to greed or aversion/hatred they are motivated to behave in a way that lacks compassion.

The suffering of every sentient being is as important as our own. I was not motivated to help the cat to die out of the hatred of pain or, a desire for a reward for doing a good deed. I understood why the cat had reached the end of the line and out of compassion I was motivated to help.

I believe we are ‘enabled’ to act in a wholesome way when we are aware of the forces driving our intentions and, not when we merely conform to a religious belief - that is driven by a desire for reward or fear of what ‘might’ happen. The question becomes: not what the sufferer may need - an end of their pointless suffering. Instead, we may be motivated by an aversion to pain - for any reason.

To act without checking-in on what is driving our motivations and intentions means we are not acting mindfully with clear comprehension.

I believe we should be willing to experience pain sometimes if it’s the result of a good intention. Pain can result from a wholesome motivation but it does not have to be something we suffer over - mentally.

Physical pain is unavoidable, even the Buddha had back pain and, painful feelings as a consequence of old age and, food poisoning. We can be kind and compassionate around pain and not succumb to hatred.

The Buddha taught the eternal law: that hatred never ceases by hatred. Its only through love that hatred ends.


#2

There is a lovely talk on this topic by Ayya Sujato that you might find helpful:


#3

Thankyou Ayya Vimala - a lovely Dhamma reflection by our dear Ajahn. Two things I am a bit fuzzy about is the insistence that there’s always fuzziness and uncertainty around these issues and the ‘speciesism’.

The idea that a human life is more precious than the life of an endangered species - or species - that play an important role in an ecosystem might be worth some consideration.

I understand our love of our own kind as they are so important in our lives - particularly when we are young and vulnerable.

It seems that many other species also cherish their own kind and may have their own perspective on the relative value of their existence.

Let’s imagine a large proportion of the ecosystem is destroyed by a malignant but highly conscious species. As a result of this global devistation the viability of all life on Earth - human and otherwise - is put in peril.

We may tend to feel human life is more precious because we are human beings. An animal parent may feel it’s offspring are more precious than a human hunter - logger or developer - that has come to kill members of their family or, destroy their fragile world.

A related group of animals - a herd or some other non-human community - might favour its own kind over other species.

The degree of consciousness is morally considerable but the amount of good or harm that is generated through volition may be something that is worth considering.

If a high level of consciousness is misused to do great harm then it would involve a lot of bad kamma and give rise to more suffering.

I understand the teaching about a precious human rebirth. The ability to fully appreciate the opportunity a human birth provides. However, a human existence can also be used to do a great deal of harm. A great gift can be misused and abused - or am I mistaken?

An Ajahn once said: we may have good ingredients to make a cake but, a cake made from simple ingredients may still taste better.

We may have the quality ingredients of a human life but if we are negligent and indifferent, self absorbed, careless and destructive then, we may do great harm. It might be better to sit in a tree and munch a few leaves - just a thought.


#4

I went through the same experience with my old dog, Sammy. I can’t say I had any feeling of communion about Sammy’s desires, because among his many other painful infirmities he was by then suffering from canine dementia.

Although my rational mind tells me I did the right thing, all things considered, it was probably the worst day of my life, and I still carry around a tremendous burden of guilt and horror.

I have often wondered whether the Buddha’s recommendation to avoid killing was based on a deeper level of spiritual insight that goes beyond standard forms of moral appraisal. We all “tremble before death” and experience some kind of primal horror at death and the cessation of lived experience and loving bonds that makes any act of killing, no matter how justified morally, or socially sanctioned, seem rank and impure. I know I can’t get over the feeling that despite the fact that Sammy’s death was “for the best”, I transgressed some primal boundary that separates the purity of blissful harmlessness from the sad and painful samsaric realm.


#5

I don’t see why this is necessarily so! I believe that it’s possible to have a good death and, that ‘more than a few’ die well - without primal horror and trembling. I plan to do it with class - why not?

There’s nothing that is easier to do than drop dead. Unlike worldly goals it takes no effort to achieve this inevitable outcome.

I don’t view this life - or any life - as something I possess. I see no evidence of ownership of this life or, genuine control of its course or outcome.

I see death as a good opportunity to let go completely and have a sense of profound gratitude for the privelage of a life lived-well.

I welcome my death, not as a thief in the night but, as a great mystery. The thought of nothingness is as scary as you choose to make it!

I choose to honour and respect my inevitable passing and see no dillema in not coming to any state of being.

Deep meditation provides us with glimpses of this insight. Awakening makes it as clear as a bell!

Who is this ‘I’ who is full of horror and trembling? Who is it who takes ownership of this process of becoming? The Buddha encouraged us - and helped us - to look carefully and, discover.

There’s much to be gained through an openness to surprise. We are not who we take ourselves to be and, we are not who we think we are - no need for fear. Death is not our enemy if we don’t turn our lives into a battlefield.


#6

I expect that if we are ever so fortunate as to achieve nibbana, self-view would be destroyed and the primal horror of death would finally be gone. But I suspect that until that time, they are always there at some level contributing to our suffering, and the various philosophical reflections we entertain ourselves with to dispel them are more acts of denial than progress toward nibbana.

But I have found certain meditation techniques useful. The meditation on the parts of the body, for one. Also, from time to time I practice visualization techniques in which I try to vividly imagine the faces of myself, and then my loved ones, withering and then decaying. I also try to imagine various scenarios of my own death, or being present at the deaths of loved one. I think it is important not to imagine only nice and peaceful deathbed scenarios, but to contemplate some of the more awful possible passings. The fear of these kinds of horrors is something we always have with us, but that we suppress and carry around as an “arrow in the heart”. The only way to pull the arrow out is to confront mortal existence as it really is directly.

Dammapada 129-130:

All tremble at the rod,
all are fearful of death.
Drawing the parallel to yourself,
neither kill nor get others to kill.

All tremble at the rod,
all hold their life dear.
Drawing the parallel to yourself,
neither kill nor get others to kill.


#7

There is no ‘I’ that achieves Nibbana - this is not Buddhism. If you are waiting to see-through primal horror and give up on trembling then you better not count on an ‘I’ or a ‘self’ to achieve - or experience that - it ain’t gonna happen!

How are you going to ‘acheive’ the destruction of self-view if you are still convinced that you are the ‘I’ that achieves it or, fails in the attempt?

You don’t need to ‘destroy’ anything and, we are not destroyed by waking up to the way it is. Buddhists are not annihilationists!

You don’t need to destroy anything just see clearly and letting go happens by itself - it’s as easy as death. We can try not to die and that would be a futile effort that is bound to fail - miserably.

If you find this a particularly helpful ‘view’ that enriches your life then I am happy for you. I don’t see much of a use for it but that’s Ok! :heart_eyes:


#8

It’s not a view that enhances my life in any direct way. It is a view that I think reflects the nature of human samsaric existence as it really is, and that has become even more evident to me through meditative experience. If I could somehow turn that view off and retreat into escapism or denial I would. But as far as I can see, once the you are on the path of uncovering and experiencing the full reality of the first and second noble truths, there is no retreating, and the only possible escape requires pressing forward.


#9

There’s no need to turn anything off, thoughts arises and cease and nobody is thinking them, controlling them, turning them on and off. They cease when there is no clinging to, or identification with thought. Thinking is always not-self and it’s not under control.

There is no (you), ‘I’ or ‘me’ uncovering and experiencing the full reality. Samsara is not the full reality because of the absence of awakened clear seeing. The full reality includes the 3rd noble truth. There is no ‘I’ that sees anything at all.

“In the seeing just the seeing … this is how you should train yourself.” - the Buddha

There is no retreat into escapism or denial in getting your facts straight and living in accord with the Dhamma.

By all means, we should maintain our horror and trembling if it’s responsible for our liberation. Alternatively, we might be inclined towards kindness, compassion and, wisdom in the context of adversity and suffering. Whatever makes your life worthwhile and something to be grateful for.

It’s a case of different strokes for different folks! :heart_eyes:


#10

The third noble truth is the truth of nibbana. There is a path leading to nibbana, but very few people reach the goal of that path. Until that goal is achieved, self-view, craving and attachment remain, along with the suffering that self-view, craving and attachment entail. There can be a gradual lessening of those phenomena through practice, but one cannot attain nibbana simply by becoming persuaded by nibbana-ish philosophical doctrines. Becoming convinced by insight and reasoning that the self is a constructed illusion doesn’t prevent the construction from occurring.


#11

Oh - is that an enlightened ‘view’ or just another view from an unenlightened perspective? Are you telling it like it is - dear Mitta? Best wishes for your practice! :slight_smile:


#12

It’s a view from an unenlightened perspective of what the Buddha’s teachings clearly say about enlightenment.


#13

Sorry, I don’t buy that - not for a moment. Some of what you believe you understand makes sense. Like the following:

Then, you take a detour into your own views on what the Buddha taught. I am not saying it’s impossible to ‘derive’ the views you hold about the teachings but, it’s clear to me that the teachings can be seen in a different light. To me, your personal interpretation of the teachings are missing something that is of vital importance IMO. :slight_smile:


#14

Why wouldn’t you buy that? Do you think the Buddha taught that nibbana was easy? Or that people can eradicate self-view after a few lessons in Buddhist doctrine?


#15

‘See’ above - take your time.

Becoming certain as a consequence of ‘insight’ can - and does result in seeing-through the notion of a self (personality belief) as a constructed illusion.

Deep natural stillness - when the senses become inactive and, then become active again, leads to the insight that what we take to be a ‘self’ is absent during these absorptions. The senses reactivate and then the idea: I am here, reappears.

You are correct when you say this kind of knowledge and vision cannot arise through reasoning.

Some of what you believe is true is close and, a lot of it is confused - mere conjecture. There are some beliefs ‘about’ the teachings that it’s possible to attach-to - correct? However, it’s difficult to see what purpose they serve - IMO.

We don’t want to cling to the teachings as a belief system. To avoid this, we need to pay close attention and have some degree of direct experience that is a consequence of unbroken and sustained practice.

This will become clearer if things go well for you in your practice. May you be well and happy and deepen in your realisation. Then, the suttas will be seen in a different light. :slight_smile:


#16

I’m not going to reply to your hostile contrarianism. Good night.


#17

Hope the bed bugs don’t bite!

I like the the teaching where the Buddha asks: if someone is massaging one arm and someone else is sawing off the other one, who should we have more loving kindness for?

He says, those who are not his disciples will love one and hate (and fear) the other. Forget the rod, this rascal has got a saw - as an opportunity for practice.

There’s the teaching where he asks his disciples: if someone piles you all up like a bunch of sticks and sets you on :fire: - should you be worried. They answered ‘no’ and thereby proving they had got the teaching.

Your quote above, from the Dhammapada, is the reality of the puttujhana - the worldling. Its obvious that this is a way life can be experienced. It’s commonplace, but it’s not compulsory.

Instead of believing this is the only possibility available to us, we begin to explore another kind of response to the world - as it is - without fear and trembling (this is called practice).

Deepening practice also gives rise to joy, bliss and, a sense of freedom. If this isn’t happening then the practice isn’t flowering.

As practice unfolds there is a movement away from fear and trembling to one of kindness, compassion and, wisdom.

If we remain stuck in the fear and trembling it means the practice is not producing any meaningful results - it’s same old, same old.

We can face reality head-on without getting lost in fear, trembling, greed, hatred and, delusion. We can find love and understanding in terrible circumstances.

People can rise to the challenge of suffering and respond beautifully. We don’t have to sit in the corner wringing hands and gnashing our teeth - do we?

This is what awakening is all about! My Ajahn said: if something scares you say boo and, die with class - why not?

"Life’s tough - dukkha -it will put you through a lot of changes - anicca - but, don’t take it personally - anatta. We can make a difference. :slight_smile:


#18

I don’t think we should try to assess an animal’s will to live based off of staring into its eyes. Animals, including humans, for the most part give every indication that they are willing to suffer just about anything in the struggle for continued existence. I think a compassionate Buddhist perspective would uphold the first precept even when pets are terminally ill and in pain, as opposed to mercy killing. Providing one’s pet with comfort, company, access to food and water, and painkillers, until death comes naturally, seems at least as compassionate as providing lethal injection, and I’d say more so.

A new study adds to earlier evidence that when terminally ill people want to die before they have to, their feelings may be related to depression or hopelessness, rather than pain or other factors…

The study echoes in part a larger one in the November JAMA, which focused on end-of-life issues. Research on 988 terminally ill patients found that 60 percent of them supported euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide in hypothetical situations, but only 11 percent seriously considered such action for themselves.
That study also found that for those who did consider suicide, the biggest factors were depression and feeling burdensome to their families and pain. - Study relates desire for death in the terminally ill to depression, hopelessness

:anjal:


#19

Fair enough, that was not the only communion that took place. We had been having an ongoing non-lingual conversation over an extended period of time. I was involved in caring for the dying cat as it went into decline.

I respect your different view on this but, I disagree. In some situations I think your right but I would not take your advice as a fixed formula or commandment.

Sorry pussy - I love you but, Mr. :bear: said you need to go that extra yard.


#20

We had been friends since kitten days!