Thursday, March 4, 2010

More On Killing Bugs

My post of two days ago dealing with my bed bug problem has created some interest. Some readers have expressed gratitude that I have dealt with the very type of problem they have confronted and been unsure of how to respond to. One has mildly taken me to task for admitting to breaking a Precept, several have applauded my ‘practical’ approach. A good number suggested that killing a few bed bugs is too minor to lose much sleep over, while others have given their thoughts on what might be the kammic results of killing insects. In particular, I appreciated Ven. Jo Jo and Kurt’s comments. So tomorrow I will try to deal with the issue of killing and kamma and Dhamma.

In the meantime, here are a few real scenarios which have made me think more deeply about the first Precept.

(1) A species of goose native to Europe but very similar to a Canadian species was introduced into Canada. Being more aggressive, the European goose is interbreeding with the native one it so that it is now threatened with extinction. The wildlife authorities are considering culling the European geese in the hope that it might save the native bird. Catching the European geese and confining them has been ruled out as being prohibitively expensive. What should they do?
(2) Last time either you or one of your kids got worms what did you do? What were your motives in doing whatever you did? How did you feel while and after you did it?
(3) A few decades ago Thailand’s Malaria Eradication Authority embarked on a comprehensive spraying program in a district which had been plagued by malaria for as long as anyone could remember. The abbot of a temple in a village near a swamp known to the locals as the Buzzing Swamp, protested that killing the mosquitoes would be breaking the first Precept and urged the villagers not to co-operate with the program. Apparently no one took much notice of him. However, did he do the right thing?
(4) In Austria hunters buy a licence to hunt. In return they have to manage the wildlife in the area allocated to them, which includes culling (killing) a given number of deer, rabbits, etc. each year. As the deer’s’ natural predator, the wolf, is now extinct, the hunters have taken their place so that the existence of wildlife can be balanced with the needs of agriculture. What do you think about this arrangement?
(5) A man in Queensland Australia has just discovered that his house is infested with termites. If not dealt with they will completely destroy the house within about five years. He’s a regular at the nearby Buddhist group so he goes to ask the nun there for her advice. If you were the nun what would you say to him? Incidentally, the phrase ‘the horns of dilemma’ has a Pali equivalent in the phrase ubhatokotikam panham meaning ‘two-pointed issue’ (M.I,393).


Hilton said...

I'm not a vegetarian, but if I had to kill my own fish, fowl, and quadrupeds, I would be, because I know it would be too traumatic an experience to physically kill something like that (for them, of course, but also for me). That said, I believe we need to honor our own incarnation and we are unquestionably omnivores. Some of us who have metabolic syndrome, such as myself, and have high minimum animal protein requirements and extremely low carbohydrate limits that are time critical in order to avoid adverse blood sugar effects. As far as parasites, bacteria, rodents, and bothersome insects, I have no qualms about ridding my body and space of them, entirely. I don't expect any karmic effects from doing so as long as I follow practices that don't harm the environment. To me, karma is just the law of cause and effect; it doesn't mean I'm going to turn into a bug in some future existence. Harming the environment, however, *would* cause negative effects! I've found my peace with being an omnivore by following the Native American practice of giving honor to the creature that has (probably unwillingly) given its life that I may be properly nourished.

chela said...

speaking of death and killing, i just discovered that there are buddhist death metal bands. this music genre might not be attractive to most ears, but this is the music of my choice. the music is a "killer". :D here are the links:

True!!! As it is. said...

Using Dhamma - Make a decision that is not motivated by greed, hatred, ill-will, delusion and fear.

Using logic - Balance the pros and cons.

Using business logic - Do a cost-benefit analysis.

Using the Golden rule - Will I like it if others do the same to me.

In the end, I think there is some sort of justification / intention behind our action. All being want to avoid suffering and be happy, so can they be an action that can pleased everyone?

Well, good luck in making tough decision.

reasonable said...

Perhaps in practical situations many Buddhist would end up having to kill some sentient beings (e.g. tummy worms in one's children), now and then, despite having the sincere intention to try not to cause suffering to all sentient beings.

So perhaps one next best thing a Buddhist can do is to direct some sort of loving-kindness towards the sentient beings that she/he is about to kill, during the killing, and after the killing, minimising the suffering where possible (i.e. quickly get the killing done and not delay the pain and fear suffered by the one being killed), and sincerely wishing a better rebirth for the victim(s).

reasonable said...

Hi Bhante,

I suppose one of the Buddhists' goal is to relieve others of suffering. (so not killing others is because we do not want to cause others to suffer pain and fear)

So am I right that it is alright for a Buddhist to be involved in "mercy-killing", i.e. to help to fulfill a terminally ill patient's wish to end her/his suffering (e.g. unbearable pain due to very advance incurable cancer) by a quicker death?
(as a Christian I support making mercy-killing legal in Singapore and I know my position is opposed by many other fellow Christians)

I guess, in the Buddhist context, the overriding concept is to help others to reduce their suffering (physical, emotional, spiritual etc). In other words, am I right that in Buddhism (at least from your perspective), the overriding principle is not about "not killing no matter what" but rather it is to reduce suffering? If so, then d First Precept against killing basically is to deal with d suffering caused in an act of killing, which means, there could be situations of killing where even Gotama Buddha himself would not frown upon because, precisely in some situations, helping others to reduce suffering would precisely require killing (e.g. killing tummy worm in a child or mercy-killing of a terminally ill patient in accordance to patient's wish). And I suppose the ideal killing (in those situations where killing is needed to reduce suffering of someone or some group of sentient beings) should be done skilfully with sincere compassionate mind and heart, without ill-will.

Looking forward to your next post on killing :)

yuri said...

I believe, we should not be too dogmatic on the first precept, or we will be caught in the net of contradictions and possible hypocrisy. But after a certain meditative experience I cannot kill a mosquito with me own hand - simply cannot! And not because I am afraid of Kammic consequences. I have NO SUCH FEAR at all!!! Rather, it is something to do with kindness which has grown out of "normal" proportions. But I do not mind or protest if my wife picks up a flyswat. And I do not believe she will face "bad kamma" in the future for she is so kind and sensitive to other people, and always ready to sacrifice her time and efforts to help people in need.

reasonable said...

Apologies for my previous post that was so long and probably confusing. I basically wish to ask this:

Is it correct that the spirit behind the 1st Precept is not "no killing no matter what" but simply "do not cause suffering"?

If so, does it mean that in a deeper understanding of Buddhism, one may kill (and not break the spirit of the 1st Precept) if it is done sincerely and skilfully and compassionately to reduce or remove suffering (where the alternative of not killing would cause much more suffering)?

So when the spirit of the Precept is in conflict with the letter of the Precept, one should follow the spirit of the Precept.

Celestial Horizon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Celestial Horizon said...

I agree with yuri in that we should not take a dogmatic approach when faced with a dilema. Consider what are the material things or immaterial values that are of importance to you, and do what would serve best to uphold those of importance. What is deemed BEST may not be wholly RIGHT and vise-versa. Sometimes, it is impossible to find a favourable point where both meets. But the Buddha has pointed out to us what is RIGHT, the rest is up to us.

Jérôme said...

I think it is arguable that killing without dosa is impossible. As you humbly admitted, you hate bed bugs and therefore I suspect that hatred-rooted consciousness was present during the killing and it would then be bad kamma.

I look forward for your posts on this interesting subject. Maybe the best options in a bed bug case is either to go live elsewhere or to sleep on a protected bed for the time they survive.


Gui Do said...

I give you a zen story. Hengchuan (1222-1289), a Chinese master, said: "Once when master Dasui was clearing a field by burning it over, he saw a snake, so he took his staff and flipped the snake into the fire. He gave a grunt and said: 'This body I do not spare'."

Zen people also speak of "the killing of the self". If this sounds too martial, imagine that we are pretty clear with our expectations. Quoting Hengchuan again: "When you reach the evening of the last day of your life, you will be just a crab dropped into boiling water."

Actually, the thought of inflicting suffering on an animal when killing it is logically wrong. The animal can only die once, and it will anyway, therefore Hengchuan's analogy is quite convincing. This kind of suffering by the way, as often misunderstood, is one where the Buddha never had any solution: You can simply not avoid dying and therefore only change your attitude to it. A problem that an animal obviously doesn't have. Animals don't make such a fuzz about death. And when they have to take lifes, they just do it. It is one more reason to wonder why we are less equipped than them.

anotherqueerjubu said...

I go with Krishna's response to Arjuna on facing his cousins the night before battle.

David ( said...

Indirect or direct killing of insects is unavoidable. Even if you are a vegetarian, millions of insects are killed in the production of vegetables. If you eat meat, the meat animal is killed, plus all of the vegetables and insects that were killed in the vegetable production, which were fed to the meat animal. A vegetarian diet leads to less killing, but there is never "no killing" in any diet.
If you live in a home, the ground had to be dug, foundation poured, more killing of insects.
The killing of larger animals, mammals, fish, birds, etc. can pretty much be avoided, but not insects. Any arguments about "not intending" to kill insects with your home production, etc. are flimsy at best.

Chris said...

I'm afraid that taking Bill Maher seriously is the karmic burden of those who kill bed bugs.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Oy vey! Holy smoke! Anotherqueerjubu, what are you saying! Krishna told Ajuna that he must kill his relatives because it is his ‘dharma’, his duty. I seem to remember that at the end of WW II some very nasty people tried to justify some very nasty deeds by saying that it was their duty, that they were just following orders. Like I advised – the ‘queer’ is okay, the ‘ju’ is great, but you definitely needs to be more ‘bu’.

Tazzie said...

The different between Dhammika and other 'elite monks' is that Dhammika will kill the bed bugs personally and wrote it in his blog and allow others to criticise him or laugh about it. Whereas 'elite monks' would 'hint' to their lay people to do the killing and there would be a queue of lay people more than happy to take on the role and then, they will say, Sadhu! what a great merit I have done and also what a great monk he is for keeping his precept!

Some people of high morals stance are interesting because morals are conditional. Most of us that write to this blog are in an affluent situation whereby our morals are often remain relatively unchallenged. If our circumstances have changed and we find ourselves in more challenging circumstances, our morals may change also. Take for example many years ago, in the reality program 'Survivor', there was this vegetarian member who was more than willing to start eating her portion of barbequed rat after just 2 weeks eating plain rice and nothing else.

As much as I uphold the observation of 5 precepts, we have to remember that all things are conditional and under certain circumstances may lead us to examine our own hearts and minds.

Dharma said...

Re: That said, I believe we need to honor our own incarnation and we are unquestionably omnivores.

Reply: We are not unquestionably omnivores. The founder of Vegan Society Donald Watson proved this when he lived till 95. There are millions of vegetarians and vegans in the world too due to these indisputably good non-religious reasons:

Re: So perhaps one next best thing a Buddhist can do is to direct some sort of loving-kindness towards the sentient beings that she/he is about to kill, during the killing, and after the killing, minimising the suffering where possible (i.e. quickly get the killing done and not delay the pain and fear suffered by the one being killed), and sincerely wishing a better rebirth for the victim(s)

Reply: Any loving-kindness that still ends in killing isn’t really helpful to the killed. The best thing a Buddhist can do is to suffuse oneself with loving-kindness such that he or she will not kill the animal but be kind enough to ponder on the best skilful means to create a win-win situation.

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