A Clean Kill?
March 29, 2009
Venerable Wuling in Anger, Death, Karma and Causality, Precepts

A very good comment was made to the entry Where Can A Baby Get a Birth Certificate and Hunting License in the Same Year? that I would like to respond to here. The reader asked about killing:

"...I grew up in a food hunting family, was taught to always use the right gun for the game (the "clean kill" mentioned, so the animal does not suffer). I am myself a Buddhist, but one of the problems, and perhaps you can help me with this, that I have always had is with the no killing. What about the Native Americans or others who would have starved to death had they not hunted? Even in this modern day, there are people who must hunt and kill in order to survive. Can they then not follow the Buddha's teaching? And as for mercy and suffering, a well placed shot, with the right caliber from an experienced hunter can bring instant death to the animal... far more merciful than being torn apart while still alive by a mountain lion. I certainly mean no disrespect, but I do hope you can shed some light on this issue as it has been a problem for me. Thank you!

The question is about the first precept in Buddhism "Do not kill." While there are different precepts in Buddhism (fundamental precepts, eight precepts, bodhisattva precepts, monk precepts, and nun precepts), the first ones a Buddhist takes are the five fundamental precepts. The first of the five is "do not kill." The remaining four are no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, and no intoxicants.

The Buddhist precept of not killing means not to kill any living being, not just other humans. Why include all beings? Because every being has the potential to become a Buddha and the true nature of every being is Buddha-nature. So if we kill a living being, we are killing a future Buddha, cutting the lifeline of a future Buddha.

Thus, the Buddha told us to respect all life and not to kill any being. He didn't say to just respect and not kill those life forms that look like us. He said do not kill any being. Thus, very simply, I, as one living being, do not have the right to kill another living being just because I can and I am hungry. As the Buddha told us, all beings struggle to live, wish to live. Threaten an animal with harm and you'll see it take flight if possible or fight back if cornered.

It wants to live.

Also, the Buddha spoke of the law of cause and effect, which extends throughout all our lives from time without beginning. Every one of our thoughts, words, and deeds is a karma that will have a result. And the result from killing is to be killed.

But it's more complicated than a karmic tit-for-tat as it were. As an animal dies, it feels anger and pain and grief. Even if only for a second before it dies. (And I question how often in the real world, that death is actually clean and instantaneous.) What the hunter fails to see, due to the agitated state of the mind, is the pain caused as the Alaya consciousness that streams throughout all one’s lifetimes struggles to leave that now suddenly dead physical body.

Under ideal conditions of not being touched or disturbed even by a breeze this is a very difficult process. Imagine how much more difficult it must be when your body is being hauled onto a truck or dragged along the ground.

In humans, it takes hours for the consciousness to go through the complicated process of completely withdrawing from the physical body and to stop feeling pain due to the separation from that body. Even though the consciousness of animals is generally able to leave more quickly due to less attachment, the memory of that terrible pain—and thus anger—is stored in that being’s consciousness. And the wish for revenge grows.

The next time these two meet, the desire for revenge will bring retaliation more terrible than the preceding killing. Thus, individual killings eventually lead to revenge sought against a family to community feuds to regional conflicts to wars between countries. And then to world wars. Knowing the true consequences of the act of killing, we will do everything possible to not kill any living being.

Regarding Native Americans; there was a choice to eat meat. I may be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge, there was no physical reason they had to eat meat. Some evolved a lifestyle of hunters, while other people evolved a lifestyle of gathering and then farming. These are choices. Also, I don’t believe those who ate meat knew of cause and effect. So they made choices as best they could and as condiions allowed.

Others, like Eskimos, live under conditions where their options are extremely limited. They make the best choices they can. And they, like us, undergo the consequences of those choices. But those consequences are tempered by the options available to them.

Finally, from a very practical basis, it is simply not necessary to eat meat. Many cultures and religious practitioners are vegetarian. The oldest of the major religions is Hinduism, going back several thousand years. Hinduism shows us that humans can live very healthy lives as vegetarians. Chinese Buddhists are also vegetarian and have been so for over a thousand years. (That said, I understand there can be very real individual problems when people who have eaten meat for decades try to go purely vegetarian. But these are exceptions and I’m not speaking of them here.)

But the vast majority of us who live in a world where we have computers and the internet, grocery stores and gardens, access to knowledge about different cultures and teachings can make different choices based on what we now know.

And one of our major choices is to follow what others have done or to let go of attachments to our ideas of what is justifiable and choose instead to respect all beings.


Update on March 29, 2009 by Registered CommenterVenerable Wuling

A very interesting article has been posted by Linda in her comment below. http://www.ivu.org/history/native_americans.html It is written by a Choctaw and Cherokee women who explains how most Native American tribes were either largely or entirely vegetarian.

It's a very informative article by an articulate and knowledgeable writer, and should help to dispel some commonly held misunderstandings.

Article originally appeared on a buddhist perspective (http://www.abuddhistperspective.org/).
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