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The First Precept (Harmlessness/Not Killing)

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  • Alex,

    There's a difference between having an open mind and wholly accepting something as true without sufficient proof.
    If I am not wrong, the Buddha never asked us to wholly accept something as true before we have a direct experience ourselves.
    In Buddhism we are encouraged to put things in to practice and see the results it brings. And those results then become the most sufficient proof, the proof which is based on our own experience.

    With metta.


    • Jerrod,

      I am not trying to convert anyone to a cause, "save" or liberate anyone, or accuse anyone of being a simpleton. Nor am I bothered by Buddhism, or any of the other belief systems to which I've subjected similar scrutiny. I do not assert that my experience is anyone else's experience, though perforce, my experience, including my reflections upon it, is all that I have upon which to base my questions and decide upon which issues to raise.

      I consider myself a perpetual student and serial researcher of belief systems, and when I ask questions or raise issues which probe the doubts which seem the obvious consequences of a system's dogmas, I am attempting to determine how adherents cope with, or resolve, those doubts as a means of cutting away the most superfluous and specious aspects and getting to the belief system's essence - it's core truth, should any exist. I give voice to doubt, cultivate it, and serve as its personification when necessary, not because of any enjoyment that I might gain from annoying people, but to clarify and define what it is that attracts people to a particular religion, beyond the fact that they might have inherited it from their parents, or converted to it because they found it exotic, or any of the other superficial reasons that often make people identify with particular religions.

      It's just research.



      • Dear Alex

        If it helps, I refrained from killing long before I became a Buddhist and had even heard the precepts.

        I realised that the meat I was consuming was once a creature that wanted life and met a brutal end. I began to translate that to insects - that cricket chirping was attracting a mate or just being a contented insect, that earwig that decided to crawl on me wasn't doing it to make me scream and run away ( I had a deathly fear of those!), those fruit flies in front of my monitor were just attracted by the light.

        Now, I don't run screaming from earwigs or swat mosquitos or flies. I treat them with kindness, that they're just going about their business in their own little lives and don't want to be killed. And what works is that I feel less fear and annoyance and disgust, if any at all!

        I guess it's just a perspective but I can see where the Buddha was coming from. It's true we aren't meant to blindly accept and follow, but to try and test these precepts. If we don't, then are we really researching and testing what the Buddha taught?




        • Alex,

          I am sorry that I apparently accused you of something you weren't doing after all. In light of the revelation that you are attempting to determine how adherents resolve or deal with doubt, it is left only that I was wrong, and I am sorry.

          Seeing your aim clearly now, for the first time, I can gladly tell you how I cope with doubt. I take the teaching, follow the instructions, then if it works, no more doubt. If it doesn't work, doubt. For instance, I have doubts about metta meditation because I didn't see any perceived results from it, so I've dropped it for now. Might try it again, might not. As far as the core of Buddhism; I don't like to sound haughty so I don't mention it often, but when I had an experience in that I realized the 4 Noble Truths well before I ever read a single sentence about Buddhism... then come to find this was the Buddha's first teaching, I was naturally very intrigued. I figured if I had the same thoughts as the Buddha that his teachings were worth looking at with an open mind. At first I found it a bit strange and thought maybe I was doing the wrong thing. But almost immediately I was discovering thought and philosophies I had in common with the Buddha since I was a teenager and didn't even know it. Having been a rebellious punk-rock kid, I was used to going against the grain anyway. Also having had an interest in the occult, cults, and having been a trained interrogator in a past profession I figured why not look into Buddhism.

          So far, no red flags for me... at least not in the Theravada tradition. I have many reservations about the other schools of Buddhism (whether I should or not is another thing), so I understand where you come from with skepticism, and then I go on to aversion for myself, unfortunately. So enough of my rambling. Again, I apologize. It's quite a relief after all this time to really understand what you're trying to get at.



          • As far as the core of Buddhism; I don't like to sound haughty so I don't mention it often, but when I had an experience in that I realized the 4 Noble Truths well before I ever read a single sentence about Buddhism... then come to find this was the Buddha's first teaching, I was naturally very intrigued. I figured if I had the same thoughts as the Buddha that his teachings were worth looking at with an open mind. At first I found it a bit strange and thought maybe I was doing the wrong thing. But almost immediately I was discovering thought and philosophies I had in common with the Buddha since I was a teenager and didn't even know it.
            This sounds intriguingly similar to my own experience. I didn't know what I believed in when i stumbled upon Buddhism. But when i started reading it felt as if I most of the "thought and philosophies" i already had within myself.

            As for Metta meditation, I want to share with you what I do, maybe it will help. I have this problem always when i meditate that I become impatient and I can't sit still. So I decided to try practicing Metta when I'm out and about. So as I walk outside I choose random people and assess how i feel about them, some make me angry, some make me uncomfortable, some I like. I try my best to figure out why I feel that way about them. I try to pick up their rights and wrongs and acknowledge that there probably is a reason for the way they have become, that they are the same as me doing what they think is right, a sentient being wandering through the perils of Samsara. After that I wish them good health, safety and good fortune. I get good results from doing this sometimes.



            • Daniel,

              Thanks so much for that. I hadn't ever thought of doing metta like that, while out and about. I always assumed it would be done sitting, etc. Awesome idea. Thanks! I'm going to try this one next time I'm driving and someone cuts me off or tail gates dangerously close at high speeds. Those usually get my metta meter to go in the wrong direction. Be well.

              Jerrod : )


              • Jerrod,
                Thank you for describing your conversion experience. There's really no need to apologize for making any incorrect assumptions about me, as the intents underlying my actions, whether misinterpreted or not, are largely selfish.

                From what you describe, it sounds like your decision to look into Buddhism was partly intuitive, but that you also take a practical, utilitarian approach to belief and doubt- something like "if it's not broken, don't fix it."

                I understand the idea that a belief system must serve a purpose, and that what people believe, try to believe, or claim to believe about the Unknown is often more about their deepest needs and desires than anything else.

                For instance, the three major monotheisms are all based upon the belief in an eternal relationship with an omnipotent creator-god. This belief reflects a desire for undying love, and fulfills a very deep emotional need for a perfect relationship with a perfect parent or friend who knows one completely, is always present, never lets one down, and never dies. All human relationships are imperfect in the sense that they are limited, fragile, temporary, and based upon relative (rather than Absolute) trust, communication, and commitment. Even those relationships that we value the most will be lost to us through death, so the agony of loss and that sense of total aloneness is inevitable and therefore immanent. Hence, from a purely utilitarian standpoint, the monotheisms make sense, solely because they address this powerful human need, regardless of the fact that there is no evidence to substantiate the belief, and regardless of whether one believes the primitive miracle stories that are part of the traditions. Without the belief, one faces the prospect that one is completely and unbearably alone, because all human relationships are ephemeral and lack completeness, and are therefore inadequate. Doubt of the belief is therefore seen as a temptation to despair wrought by the forces of evil, because deprived of the relationship upon which the believer has come to depend, his life becomes a meaningless hell.

                Buddhism has a somewhat less emotional, more intellectual perspective toward the problem of coping with human desires, by attempting to either transcend or eliminate them. Rather than accepting the idea of God, it proposes a universal law (Karma) governing the extent and nature of attachment, which it views as the cause of suffering. The belief in Rebirth is also a necessary corollary to the Karma hypothesis, because it substantiates the view that the "ripening" of Karma doesn't end with an individual's death. Compassion and non-harming intentions and actions are considered important parts of the path to this detachment, but the ultimate goal is an awakening of a transcendent non-dual consciousness free of the delusional distinctions of time and space. Humans are viewed as favored beings in terms of having more likelihood of attaining this Nirvana, compared to others. The belief system satisfies a desire for the existence of a beneficent universal law which creates an environment conducive to enlightenment, and the idea of rebirth sustains the hope, because it implies that spiritual progress continues after the death of the individual. The emphasis on compassion and non-harming represents an element of social control, and a means of addressing the individual's desire for a more compassionate universe and fear of becoming a victim of violence himself. The anthropocentric spiritual advantage given to humans is intended to make Buddhism seem more credible, because the grand and complex ethical and spiritual systems which humans create do not seem to apply to less evolved animals or factor into their thinking , and that, to most people, it is dispiriting to consider that humans may be just like other animals, that they may live and die like other animals, and that human ethics and religions may be utterly irrelevant and meaningless in the face of that definitive and immutable condition.

                In effect, no matter what speculative system that one chooses to make a guess about the Unknown, it may be that each person bargains with doubt, realizing that it will never go away and that he will have to dwell on it to some extent. It comes down to what Kierkegaard viewed as the necessary "leap of faith" : that it is better to have a false hope than to have no hope at all. To choose not to believe is to think it is better to fear being wrong than to hope for the possibility of an Absolute and eternal good.

                Nevertheless, it is best to choose wisely when trying to fashion your hopes into something sufficiently convincing, whether guided by an established tradition or not, because otherwise, you'll spend alot of time immersed in the misery which motivated the search to begin with.



                • Daniel and Jerrod, Fabulous ideas about metta, I think of metta as being a way of life. I often send it to anything animate or inanimate, even my computer, or a hard meeting I have to attend, or a room I have to present it. It keeps me in a more loving space in my life. I try to have it with me always and while practising on a cushion is also important, so is taking it into our daily lives. I find it easiest to practise in my meditation room and then I find it flows more naturally into my life.

                  If you have a restless impatient mind you could send metta to that too Daniel. Maybe then it will be easier to sit metta.

                  Metta is certainly a wonderful support in keeping the precept of harmlessness, so metta to ants in the garden, to mice in the kitchen, to cockroaches under the cupboard, and of course to the many varieties of spiders ... helps in refraining from killing them.


                  • You might have noticed that once you keep on sending metta outwards, after a time, it may happen that the process takes over. Then you become the observer and the "sending" goes on nevertheless. It has become automatic.

                    on another tangent: It is certainly queer when a person who sees merit in compassionate deeds apologizes for bearing such opinions. Funny indeed!

                    with metta


                    • Hi everyone. I have struggled a little with this precept. First, I live in a rural area, where most people rely on agricultural activities to survive, meaning that "pests" etc are killed routinely. Most people in my community think nothing of killing other beings - it is simply part of life. My husband has always shot animals to eat, to feed to other animals, or to put them down for various reasons, and he does this with little compunction. However, I do my best to live by this precept, and do not even kill ants, spiders etc. (I am generally seen as 'weird'). I do however, kill the fleas on my dingoes, as they cause considerable harm if left unchecked. I try to buy those treatments which break the reproductive cycle, in the vain hope that I will not have to kill the next generation!!

                      Secondly, I have tried on several occasions to become a vegetarian. Again - marital harmony has its place here. My husband does all the cooking, and objects quite strongly to me not eating meat. I am not 100% sure why he does so, but he cites inconvenience (to him) mainly, but also takes a serious poke at my beliefs. His efforts to sabotage my vegetarianism have been so concerted in the past that in the end I have gone back to eating meat. Once again I have now given up eating meat, about two weeks ago - and prior to this I thought carefully about it for several weeks. I decided to talk to him first and really asked for his help and support.

                      Two weeks later and he is still challenging me at every meal, and denouncing my decision as 'silly' and inconvenient to him. For example he says he can never cook a roast again unless I go back to eating meat, because it is a waste of time and effort, etc etc. I am determined to really try to do this, but I wonder how others manage to stand their ground in the face of considerable opposition??

                      It's funny - I used to get a lot of social opposition for being a non-drinker too, but that seems to have faded over the years.


                      • Sherylle,

                        It sounds like it always comes back to what's most convenient for your husband and his likes and beliefs. Maybe point that out to him? Tell him that was why it's a favor to you, because he's not the center of the activity, you are. If nothing else, make a salad or veggies for yourself, if you're able. Maybe just take him out of the equation altogether, insofar as preparing your meals. Of course i don't know what your home life is really like, but being on the outside, seems like pretty easy solutions are aplenty. Remember for yourself too....this is about you and your spiritual development, not his. Sounds selfish? It is and it's not. Maybe some will rub off on him if he's open to it and has the kamma for it. I went through something similar once. In the end, I decided to make a roast for myself and veggies for the other person. Had no problems eating the left over roast on sandwiches the next day either! )

                        Jerrod : )


                        • Thanks Jerrod, you're right there are solutions!! I offered to make dinner last night and to my surprise he relented and "allowed" me in the kitchen LOL. I made a wonderful zucchini lasagne and he ate every scrap I don't think I will ever convince him that veggies are better, and nor should I try to, but it was great to have agreement on a great tasting dish that didn't contain meat.

                          And indeed I can make my own food quite easily. I guess I was hoping to avoid doing things 'separately' and just hoping he would support me a bit, while not necessarily changing his own eating habits.

                          I will persevere


                          • Hi Sherylle, Making your own food sounds a great idea to me, otherwise you are forcing him to become vegetarian too, and that is not what being a vegetarian or a Buddhist is about.

                            Also roast vegies are one of my favourite dishes so he can still cook a great roast and you'll have everything but the meat. Yummy roasted onions, roasted carrots and roasted potatoes. Just microwave a few bits of tofu to go with it and you are right! Sounds good to me!

                            i work in rural areas quite a lot and know it is hard to be vegetarian. There is a lot of history of meat eating and meat producing for a livelihood in rural areas so you are challenging more than your husband but a whole culture, so go easy on everyone, yourself and your hubby. He has been brought up to believe that eating meat is correct, probably that it is manly, and in addition to everything else, for all you know if he does hard manual labour and is of a particular body type he may need to eat meat. He may also be totally embarrassed to let his mates know if he was a vegetarian too, by the way.

                            So don't focus on stopping him, just work out how you can be a vegetarian with the least fuss. Doing it quietly is fine.

                            Also many people have no idea how lovely vegetarian food is as they have never tried it and they think it is like being a rabbit and eating lettuce, so over time he may find out it is very nice indeed.

                            Much metta to both you and your hubby.


                            • This thread was brought to mind recently after we had a sudden bout of fleas, of all things. We don't have a dog or cat, we don't even know where they came from.

                              I really don't know a Buddhist solution to this, I've always tried to treat smaller beings as gently as possible, but they were chewing on my father so much he had to seek medical treatment and his bites were turning septic...

                              So I used a can of flea spray around the house. The worst part was knowing it would kill all the other insects, I tried removing the spiders but some were just too small. I feel bad for the fleas but every other day a new one pops up and I just want them gone, so not very kind I know and the 'wishing a better rebirth' must feels like a platitude to the poor things.

                              I think in a case like this, I'll just have to take the consequences and put it down to my karma and theirs.


                              • Again I am reading these much after the fact, but I love them, because I learn so much. I had NO idea of this fact about tea tree oils....and I work in the medical field, so thank you for sharing this information, I'm sure the gentlemen readers greatly appreciate it. It raises some other interesting questions.... while not a problem for a healthy woman, some not all breast cancers, for example, are estrogen sensitive (promoted by estrogen), so someone in that category would definately want to avoid it.
                                On the other hand, men are sometimes given estrogen as a therapy for prostate cancer, in which case tea tree oil would be "good".
                                Please understand I am not suggesting any strategies for anyone, just thanking you for the info, which I will pass along. It is a good reminder that some of these seemingly "benign" over the counter substances can have potent effects and it is good to do a little research, and certainly if you have health issue, to consult with your medical practioner about ANYTHING you are putting into or on your body!
                                thanks and metta,



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