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The First Precept (Harmlessness/Not Killing)

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  • #76
    What to do about insects biting ... Ajahn Brahmali has just said this in response to a great question by Martin about mosquito bites distracting from meditation. Ajahn Brahmali's idea hasn't been mentioned here yet and I thought it a relevant one to help us in our quest to refrain from killing. I want to meditate under the full moon tonight - the following sounds like the perfect solution - last night I gave in after the mosquitos started biting but am happy to say I didn't kill the mosquitos.

    "An insect repellent that simply keeps the insects away is fine, if it works. In Thailand, monks who walk "tudong" - e.g. stay by themselves in the forest - usually have an umbrella-like device with a mosquito net hanging down on all sides, called a "glot" in Thai. Perhaps you can make one of these contraptions by sowing a mosquito net onto a large umbrella. Or perhaps they can even be purchased over the web."


    • #77
      I am talking to a friend about this precept and she raises a wonderful example of the complexities of this precept. Is it simply only about the creatures you see or is it deeper than this? What if, for instance, you were mixing concrete and had some left over, if you threw the left overs onto soil afterwards, are you breaking the precept? Surely you would be killing many unseen creatures who live there in every cubic metre? Do we not also need to be mindful of issues such as this?

      It is a very difficult precept to keep, in my experience. It is not a black and white issue. It is impossible to keep it perfectly because we are living in samsara and we will always be faced with such dilemmas because we are part of nature. We can't remove ourselves from nature, so we are always going to have to compromise about how we keep this precept. It requires constant mindfulness of both the seen and the unseen. It requires constant adjustment.

      It isn't just about our intention as we can use that as an excuse for heedlessness, can't we? Do we not also need to develop mindfulness of all the living creatures who are living in close proximity to us.


      • #78
        Killing is actually remarkably hard to define and I'm not sure it's even that useful to do so. The best approach is to have a clear intention.

        Something I've had to do in monasteries in Thailand and Australia, is clear dead wood by burning. Sometimes logs which are crawling with ants would get chucked into the fire, and the ants definitely die. If all you're doing is chucking the log on the fire then it's actually no an offence of killing (at least according to vinaya).
        But there are two ways you can do a job, you can do the job indifferent to the lives of living beings, or you can do the job trying your best to preserve the lives of living beings - while still completing the job. I think the latter intention is more noble.

        I wouldn't play the "no blood on my hands" game. For example with burning, some monks and novices would pay no attention to what was on the sticks and just throw them onto the fire. You could put a stick near the fire and they would pick it up and throw it on. So refusing to throw a stick onto a fire because it had ants on it, didn't actually do anything for the ant's lives. So I would bash the end of the stick on the ground, causing the ants to fall off, and then throw it on. While I was still causing the death of insects - I was saving as many as I could.

        One time a monk gave me a job to move an unsightly mound of dirt. I discovered it had a colony of fierce red stinging ants in it. I reflected that I could refuse to continue the job because it had ants in it. But I reflected if someone else did the job, they almost certainly wouldn't be as careful in trying to preserve the ants lives, they would just try to do it as quickly and forcefully because of being stung. So I decided to continue the job. Being adverse to being stung a lot (wanting to keep a clear head), I placed a big tub of water next to the heap, and stood in the water while shovelling into the heap. I relocated the heap, one shovelful at a time, into the forest, placing each shovelful carefully with the rest.
        So while the ants had a really bad day, they at least ended up together.

        At numerous other times, I've decided to do a job that would result in the death of beings, with the thought that at least I'd do it more carefully and gently than whoever else ended up doing it would.

        It's not possible in this world to make no impact at all. If you pee in a forest then you flood out little insects and probably drown some. If you use a toilet, the construction of that toilet involved the destruction of beings and their habitat. This ultimately is why we get out of samsara, it's like leaving a warzone.
        But while we are in the world, we can at least always have concern for the lives of other beings and try to do things in a way which - as a group, not just as an individual, minimizes the disruption and death to other beings. If you can't avoid killing beings, at least try to save their lives, be careful, be gentle. Don't just leave the dirty work for uncaring people, but try to set a good example.



        • #79
          This has been a really interesting discussion, its interesting to hear so maany other peoples experiences have been similar to mine.

          I would add, however, that its one of my favourite precepts now. When I first undertook it, I remember being sceptical about it. I felt like it was a bit silly: they're just bugs, but I liked the rest of Buddhism, so I tookiy on.

          However the more I started doing it the more I found I got a lot out of it. It forces you to consider them as fellow sentient beings, to respect them and even to connect with them. The beautiful thing about it is that yo abdolutletly don't have too. We're physically and intellectually far superior to them, there is no repercussion to us killing them. S it makes it all the more meaningful to show them that love care and respect.

          I really enjoy it now, and while they can be frustrating, I feel a fondness for them, that they too are just beings doing their bet in a difficult world.


          • #80
            I keep thinking that we are limited and conditioned by what we have to kill and what we can choose not to kill, like a tiger that cannot live without killing.

            I've read some of the examples in these posts and I summed up that first of all we must not kill for pleasure, we must not give in to our instincts to kill out of fear and we must be compasionate and try not to kill if possible. But it is not always possible and it is sometimes very hard to determine wether it's right or wrong to kill something when it starts interfeering with your own or your loved ones well being, and we are sometimes being pressured by time.

            My first concern would be parasites that range from harmless to deadly. It is easy to blow of ants from our limbs instead of killing them and it is also an easy decision to take an antibiotic when we have intestinal parasites which might severely harm us or even kill us. But the example of the ticks is a lot harder to consider. Removing a tick might kill it in the process, leaving a tick feed on you might posses a serious health risk, even mosqito bites are a potential hazard of carrying a disease. Now that i think about it some of these creatures might even interfeer with otu work. Say perhaps our workplace depends on us doing something in a time limit, and trying to save every creature that interferes in the process might take us so much time that we might ge fired for our lack of efficiency on the job.

            All in all I believe it all lies in out intentions, if we take the time to save even a fly when we have the time and possibility to do so it makes us a good person even if we killed numerous beings that somehow threatened us.



            • #81
              I was thinking of this thread recently when I gave my children threadworm meditation. I certainly didn't feel any remorse about killing the threadworms!

              At first when I gave up meat, I was unsure about prawns, I just didn't feel so guilty about eating prawns as other, more intelligent beings. But then I ate prawns and afterwards I felt unhappy. I've decided that regardless of my opinion about prawn consciousness, eating them is unnecessary and indulgent. Whereas killing the threadworms, in my opinion, is necessary and nothing to do with pleasure.


              • #82
                I've been trying to go even deeper into investigating consciousness after reading this thread a bit. And then i thought about how far life ranges. From bacteria, viruses, germs to plants and trees to insects, invertebrates, reptiles, fish and finally birds and mammals. They all are alive. And we can't live without "killing" something, even if that is just a lettuce or the germs that we kill when we wash our hands/body or clothes with detergent or antibacteric soap.

                Then i thought about what could live without killing. And i thought about plants and trees. Trees live from sunlight, minerals and water from the soil. But even trees when growing near other trees might suck up too much water from the ground and leave the other tree to dry. And some plants, carnivorous plants kill insects for extra sutenance. And things like plants and trees have absolutely no nervous system so we can't possibly talk about consciousness here.

                I have no ideea where this line of thought is supposed to lead me. But I guess this is part of Samsara.

                PS:Wouldn't it be nice if we could live like trees only with sunlight, water and minerals?


                • #83
                  For the Bhikkhus, the Buddha basically drew the line at molds and beings too small to be seen. So monks are allowed to clean molds off walls and such, and use water which contains invisible beings, without committing any vinaya offence.

                  From this context, it seems reasonable to treat illness caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses or microscopic parasites. Larger parasites are a trickier issue. The way the vinaya rule against killing is formulated, if a monk perceives only an illness and doesn't perceive a being, and take measures to eliminate the illness, then he doesn't commit an offence even if the illness is caused by living beings which are killed by the cure. Interpretations vary on this point. Some use drugs which don't kill the parasites and only expel them from the body.... which doesn't seem to circumvent anything because handing something a death sentence is still killing if it dies as a result. But anyway, it's a gray area and people have to decide individually what to do.


                  • #84
                    Originally posted by Daniel Ionita View Post
                    PS:Wouldn't it be nice if we could live like trees only with sunlight, water and minerals?
                    We can, more or less. The energy that tress and plants take from sunlight is converted into energies the human body can use. Minerals and water are available everywhere. Of course other nutrients are drawn from the soil which may include other matter from animals and such...but the gist is we can live off of vegetables and water...we just don't want to, me included.



                    • #85
                      but the gist is we can live off of vegetables and water
                      Individually we can live on a vegetarian diet, which of course poses some risks as well. But we can also eat meat without killing as an individual ... eg. buy it from the supermarket ... and it hasn't been speciffically murdered for us (even if we are not monks).

                      If we look at the big picture being a vegetarian doesn't change the world that much. For this world to sustain the number of human lifes on it and the food that you find in the supermarket, it is impossible without a great ammount of killing. Be it animal meat or killing pests that may ruin agriculture or food deposits. I don't even want to think about all the food that gets wasted, I haven't done any research but theoretically from all the food in markets and restaurants i bet at least 10-20% is thrown out at some point because it isn't consumed to the expiration date, which is probably the price of the variety you find in a supermarket. This world is full of faults which are of course out of our reach. I tend to think in this manner that it's all up to what you kill, thus i don't think it's wrong to eat an animal that you didn't kill or wasn't killed through your intention.


                      • #86

                        I tend to agree with you on just about everything. I only read your above post once, but I agree. I say much the same thing. A vegetarian here and there doesn't change the least not the way we could hope. I live in an area where a lot of food for the entire world is grown. I also see literally tons and tons of waste, usually because it's not good for economies to be flooded with product. So there you go. Greed in full action. We could all be vegetarian. Most anthropologists agree that it is extremely likely that that is how we started out as a species. Yet after tens of thousands of years as omnivores, it is very unlikely that as a species we'll give up meat in yours and mine next few thousand lifetimes. And I agree that eating an animal bought at the market isn't inherently wrong because the animal is there whether you buy it or not. Though of course if enough people decided not to eat them anymore then they wouldn't be there anymore. There is an entirely vegetarian town somewhere here in the USA, I forget where. There's no meat there at all. I was just pointing out that it is possible, as improbable as it may seem.

                        With metta,



                        • #87
                          Thank you for sharing that Jerrod. This brings me to another related idea. I don't think our purpose in life is to try and change Samsara, I think we must be more carefull with our choices.

                          Anyway animals and insects are pretty easy to deal with in my oppinion. I feel no ill will coming from them. When I think about people on the other hand; and my greatest fear in this area is anger. I personally have a history of some violent behaviour, but even thoug i've broken some furniture and other lifeless stuff, i've managed to keep myself from harming another person. But that is because I intended to stop myself from harming another.

                          But what if, and fortunatelly enough this hasn't happened yet, I have to protect someone. I know for a fact that I'm very protective. What if something happens and someone else is endangering the life of someone I care about, on the streets lets say (not something elaborate, something that just happens). I don't think I'd be able to stop myself from harming that person, mainly because it won't be my intention to restrain myself against such a person and also because i might have a lot less chances of winning without that rage. The cost of that rage is huge both on my body and mind and on the person it's aimed at. My greatest fear is not being able to stop it. Even so i'd gladly sacrifice all that in order to protect someone I care about.

                          With Metta,



                          • #88
                            Originally posted by Daniel Ionita View Post
                            But what if, and fortunatelly enough this hasn't happened yet, I have to protect someone. I know for a fact that I'm very protective. What if something happens and someone else is endangering the life of someone I care about, on the streets lets say (not something elaborate, something that just happens). I don't think I'd be able to stop myself from harming that person, mainly because it won't be my intention to restrain myself against such a person and also because i might have a lot less chances of winning without that rage. The cost of that rage is huge both on my body and mind and on the person it's aimed at. My greatest fear is not being able to stop it. Even so i'd gladly sacrifice all that in order to protect someone I care about.
                            That's a great question. Brief answer, don't aim to kill them. Don't aim to hurt them. Just aim to stop them.

                            If you're worried, learn self-defense. There's some really nice techniques to take people down without causing significant injury and it's much more effective than entering a blind rage (which actually just makes you easier to beat).
                            For example, one easy technique is the ear slap, slap them really hard on the ear with the palm of your hand. The raw impact and air being rammed into their ear canal causes intense pain and disrupts their equilibrium (it can cause the ear drum to rupture, but injuries can't be more severe than that). Another extremely effective and easy technique is to bring your hand up under their chin and shove their head back as hard as you can (ie try to push their head off their neck), this results in their head going horizontal causing an immediate loss of balance and they'll fall over onto their back - the fall could obviously cause head injury on a hard surface like concrete, but it's a good alternative to directly causing injury. I recommended against going for the crotch or the eyes, people know those areas are vulnerable so might be prepared for that, furthermore they may not work against an enraged or drugged out attacker.

                            Rage will make you less effective. Even a rudimentary understanding of how to to exploit the strengths and weaknesses of the human body will make you MUCH more effective. So if this is a genuine concern for you, learn some basic self defense.

                            Of course since self-defense techniques are rather devastating (ie it's a case of "this is going to hurt you a lot more than it's going to hurt me"), they should only be used in desperation. A Buddhist really should try his or her best to be absolutely harmless. But if a person has to be forcefully stopped from doing harm, it's good to know how to do so without harming them much.


                            • #89
                              Thank you for sharing those tips. I think your short answer is the best option. I should keep that in mind just in case.

                              About the rage I am not sure if it makes me easier to beat or not, perhaps if my opponent is calm and trained in some way. But I loose the feeling of pain(hurt myself once or twice) and i think i am much stronger. Also this rage is not really blind, or at least i don't think so, I think it comes from some deep haterd and trauma acumulated through childhood, it actually makes me think of ways i could inflict pain or kill. Also from my so so experience in a street fight when there's 2 untrained people fighting usually the most violent wins unless he's seriously phisically inferior.

                              Luckly i've discarded most of that hate (all of it i hope) and i haven't been put in a situation where i got really angry for a very long time. I'm usually pretty calm and rarely even get into verbal arguments (i don't really see the point of fighting, doesn't help), i'm also terrified of physical violence, i think i'd freeze in fear if i tried to keep calm (of course that doesn't mean i know i would, to be truthful i never got into a serious fight). But it would be a good ideea to practice some self defense or even wear pepper spray sometimes, would save me the trouble of thinking about all that. I also keep hoping that meditation will help me keep rational in such situations.


                              • #90
                                Daniel, a regular practice of loving-kindness meditation may be very helpful in keeping calm (er) in these situations, maybe? It is said to be the antidote for anger.

                                On another topic I was doing the gardening today and found a worm in the weeds I was putting in the bin (as our hens could not manage any more weeds) ... I took the weeds back and left them complete with worm on the garden. I laughed! We Buddhists do some weird and wonderful things sometimes, don't we?!



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