Wrong to Kill or Natural Right?

In life, we as human beings must live amongst not only various kinds of people, but also various kinds of creatures, animals and beings. Nature has what is called the ‘food chain’ in which animals or beings of a higher species eat the lower ones in order to survive, who in turn eat the lower ones below that. It is therefore natural and a vital part of nature that beings kill other beings in order to survive. If this is not done, then not only will the balance of nature be upset, but many animals would not be able to survive on vegetation alone.

As expected, we humans are on the top of the food chain. We kill other animals for food, to make tools and necessary survival items, as well as kill them when they get in our way. I remember when I was young, my mother used to set mouse traps for catching mice, and then suffocate them because they were annoying pests. Other times our family has killed numerous cockroaches and bugs of various sizes without remorse. My parents were vegetarians, believing in Hinduism very strongly and old conservatives, but yet they still killed other beings.

My question to explore today is, is this wrong? If so, why is it wrong?

Unfortunately, it is a very difficult question to answer from the point of view of our own societal thinking. There are murderers out there who spend their lives in prison for killing an innocent individual, but yet the masses are not in jail for having murdered thousands of chickens, cows, and other living beings for the sake of food. Why is that? Why is it wrong to kill another human being but yet, not wrong to kill other animals for our food? However, I will admit there are laws against animal cruelty, and if you kill dogs or cats this will put you in the same boat. But why is it that we put dogs and cats before mice and chickens?

There was a story the other day on the news of a woman who was notoriously known for throwing puppies in the local river. The media created a huge backlash, and there was even more attention gained from animal rights activists. I wonder why no one realizes that people have been killing and eating fish, chicken and cows for centuries now and goes after those people. How come it is all of a sudden wrong to harm cats and dogs? I wonder if it is because these animals are more closer to us than the cows or chickens from an emotional point of view? In Japan as well, there has been a lot of recent debate about the dolphin killings in Taiji, as well as a movie (The Cove) which has been banned across many parts of Japan. Censorship or ignorance? I am not sure why this movie was made. Why didn’t they film chickens being slaughtered, or various other animals? Isn’t that the same thing?

So you see, it is very difficult to answer why it is wrong to kill from the point of view of our own morals and ethics. There are a lot of loopholes, and it seems the law is focused only on the human ego and what we deem as more valuable than another. We think that human life is more important than a cow or chicken’s life, for example. And, because we have our cats and dogs as pets, they hold emotional significance for us, and therefore it is wrong to harm them. Dolphins are considered by humans to be ‘beautiful creatures’ and so it was made illegal to kill them too.

In Buddhism, whether you kill one type of animal or another, all is considered a bad deed. Killing a human or a dog is on the same level as killing chickens or cows. There is no such scale in terms of the value of importance of certain kinds of life compared to another. That is why the way of thinking in Buddhism is a lot different from the way our general society thinks and a lot different from our own moral codes and ethics.

Killing is therefore wrong, however, it is also something that we all must do from time to time in order to live our life. Just as other animals may kill lower animals on the food chain, so must we in the same fashion. That only further proves the case that we are, at the core, defiled beings without any hope of salvation. We put ourselves at the forefront and place values on which lives are more important than others. This is merely an incarnation of the ego in our society. Yet, despite that, Amida Buddha has always known this and promises to carry us across the sea of suffering and bring us into his pure land by his primal vow. How fortunate we are to have somewhere to turn to despite all our shortcomings and egotistical belief systems. Turn to Amida Buddha and his vow, for that is all that is right and just in this world.


8 Responses

  1. “In Buddhism, whether you kill one type of animal or another, all is considered a bad deed.”

    It is unskillful to think that all killing is bad. As you already noted, every thing that lives kills in order to live. To completely refrain from killing is suicide by starvation. You cannot refrain from all killing; at the least, you must kill yourself!

    It is equally unskillful to differentiate animal life from other forms of life. Bacteria, babies, bananas, and you are all essential nourishment to some other living being(s). So vegetarianism is no way around the “thou shalt not kill” delusion.

    “I am not a vegetarian because I love animals, I am a vegetarian because I hate plants,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    One’s intent is what makes killing bad or morally neutral. To kill without essential need is bad. To kill for sport; for egotistical ornamentation; for greed; and worst of all, for ideology… all of these intentions make killing bad. To kill in order to live is morally neutral. In fact, it may be argued that killing can be Kindness to that which is killed.

    Samsara is the school of life. If one does not die one cannot advance to the next stage of learning. So-called “lower” life forms are liberated by being killed for food.

    To learn from killing, one should adopt an intention of gratitude and reverence for that which one kills. Read Kahlil Gibran’s poem, “On Eating and Drinking”:


    • I don’t agree with that. If you adopt that sort of thinking, it seems that you are trying to justify your actions with yourself and your own ego. Actually, Sakyamuni Buddha himself was known to have adopted self-mortification and did not consume very much except for nuts during his pre-enlightenment period. After that, he did occasionally take offerings of various flavors, but before having attained enlightenment he did not.

      There is no differentiation that happens between human and animal life. All lives are equal whether it be a fly on the wall or a horse or a human. Killing is considered a bad deed in Buddhism, but yet despite these deeds, we are able to be saved by the vow of Amida Buddha.

      I am not sure what you mean by being “unskillful”? Are you talking about survival of the fittest? In Buddhism, all killing is considered a bad deed, but then again, we must kill to survive. That is what makes all humans evil. The whole point of Buddhism is to realize your evil nature and take a look at yourself in the mirror of Amida’s light. This is the only way to arrive at the doorway to enlightenment. Coming up with excuses and justifying your actions is good in terms of self-gratification, but in terms of Buddhism, it is whatever it is, and that is – a bad deed.

      For example, there are lots of laws I do not agree with, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to break them. Just the same with Buddhism, there are laws of the universe, and just because you feel justification to break them doesn’t make it right. This is more like self-power that you are talking about.

  2. Is a bacterium bad when it eats a living cell? Is a tiger bad when it eats a lamb?

    To say yes or no is an act of egotistic judgment, an opinion unfounded upon anything permanent or true. It is simply one’s preference, the very source of all suffering.

    “To set up what you like against what you don’t like, this is the disease of the mind.” ~ Sheng-ts’an.

    Your Amida Buddhism sounds too much like dogmatic Christianity to me, lad.

    “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” said Gandhi.

    Buddhists who claim there is one set of universal laws that all must follow are so unlike the Buddha, whose last words to his monks were,

    “Every conditioned thing is impermanent (including the Buddha’s teachings). Seek YOUR OWN salvation diligently.”

    From those words have arisen many an ancient proverb:

    “If you should meet the Buddha upon your road, kill him” means that no words of ancient men – even the Buddha – should be allowed to stand between you and your personal progress along your own path.

    “There are as many paths to Enlightenment as there are sentient beings.” OK, so that one’s not so ancient. But it is accurate! You and I, and the Buddha, did not start from the same place. So if we follow the same path, only one of us will end up at Enlightenment.

    One kills to live; that is neither good nor bad, just the way things are.

    To kill as little as necessary, and to do it with gratitude, reverence, and humility is the best we can do. Eat less. Buy less, for every consumer product involves the death of other beings. Use less, leaving more to sustain the lives of other beings.

    But do not feel “bad” about the killing you must do.

    • Yea, but it seems that again you are trying to justify bad deeds and classify them as good “because you have no choice but to”. I don’t think this point has anything to do with Amida Buddha at all, in fact, if you take him out of the picture you still have the same argument. You are saying its OK to kill, but we must do it because we have no choice. And then you are saying because we have no choice, that makes it good. This really doesn’t make much sense in any context if you think about it. Everyone takes a different path to enlightenment, but all roads really lead to the same conclusion. In the end, it is just you and yourself. It actually has nothing to do with whether a tiger is bad for having committed an evil deed, and has nothing to do with whether you or I are bad because we killed or stole. In death, there is nothing. Everything that you have worked for has faded away, and all is impermanent. However, all life is connected and so this is one of the realizations that we have to come to in the end.

      Saying that something is OK because we have no choice doesn’t make it so. In the grand scheme of things it actually counts against you. It is just like this ethics puzzle: A train is out of control and only has two possible ways to go – straight, but kill 3 people standing on the track, or to the left and only kill one person. Both paths are bad, but yet the majority of people would say they would rather kill the one person because it is somehow less bad. Just because you have to go one way, doesn’t make it good. No matter how you think about it though, human beings are still evil. Its been argued in the past to death, and that is really the only conclusion anyone can come up with.

      I agree with you that we must strive to kill as little as necessary and do it with gratitude and humility. However, you can’t deny what you ultimately are.

  3. Lad, I SAID, “One kills to live; that is neither good nor bad…”

    I have no opinion to justify. You seem to have many. It must be very tiring.

    You introduced a new topic: “In death, there is nothing.” Does your Buddhism preclude reincarnation? What is reincarnated save that which persists beyond death?

    I am rather fond of telling people, “Nothing that can be taken from you by Death is yours.” To most people, including you it seems, that means EVERYTHING is “not yours.” Which leads to happiness.

    Anger, by whatever name you call it, is an emotional response to fear.

    All fear is fear of losing something, even the absence of something (cancer, tax audit, imprisonment).

    When you realize that you have nothing, then you have nothing to fear losing. All fear and its resultant negative emotions vanish.

    “The whole secret to existence is to have no fear,” said the Buddha.

    • “In death, there is nothing.” refers to material wealth and possessions, what one has accumulated and amassed over one’s life.

      I don’t know, but it seems that your opinion is that killing is neither good nor bad, and there really doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support this ‘neutral’ approach (unless you would somehow like to provide some). Again, it seems to me you are trying to justify bad acts (as already stated in various sutras and commentaries about Buddhism) and convince yourself that its OK by some logic. I understand that, and that is generally the way people act, that is what is called self power.

      My next question to you is: have you ever read any of the Buddha’s teachings (in detail, not just quotes)? If not, I recommend reading The Sutra of Infinite Life first, as this explains really the meat and bones of what we are discussing here, and what this discussion is about (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_Life_Sutra). Quotes are often taken out of context to their original text, and so that is why I ask.

      It seems you are taking bits and pieces from various religions and piecing them together to construct your own faith and beliefs. I don’t have a problem with that, and have the utmost respect for your beliefs (however much different they may be from my own) however this website only focuses on Pure Land Buddhism, and so that is the only study we focus on.

      Thanks much for your comment,

  4. Why would one need evidence to support no opinion?

    I used to read lots of sutras, Korans, Bibles, etc. The more I read the more fully I realized that they are all product differentiators: unnecessary complexities added to simple, honest truth in order to claim a stake in the market for believers.

    “To the beginner ten thousand books of scripture are not enough, but to the expert one word is too much.”

    The goal is Oneness, but every word is coined solely to divide one thing from all the rest. Words are merely labels pasted upon a jar, obscuring its true contents.

    As for what can be discussed here: “I know enough to know I don’t need to know any more” are a person’s dying words. If you only want to read the tenets of Pure Land Buddhism echoed back at you, then you are dead already.

    Every religion, including yours, takes bits and pieces from others. “God has no religion,” Gandhi noted quite wisely.

    • Well, this is a Pure Land Buddhism study website, and so it would be ideal that in order to further our understanding of Buddhism, we have some basis and grounding in the Buddha’s words. That is the very definition of Buddhism, so yes, it is necessary to quote sutras or other writings of the Buddha and/or his disciples.
      Just in the same way you study history, you need some sort of proof of events or accounts. We are studying Pure Land Buddhism here, not trying to mix and match different religions or create another religion or belief system.

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