Sunday, May 27, 2012

To Kill Or Not To Kill

I have a problem. Well, actually I have many problems but right now I have one particular problem on my mind. Rats! Every night they dig the earth out of my flower pots making a mess and sometimes killing the plants. I had put strong wire netting over some of the pots to prevent their burrowing and then the resourceful little devils chew through the hard plastic/resin pots and get in again. But their presence is not just seen in the garden. While  we are meditating in the hall  we sometimes hear the pitter patter  of little rats’ feet above the ceiling. Last month the hall started to smell and over a few days it got worse and worse. I removed one of the ceiling panels closest to where the smell seemed to be coming from only to have a shower of maggots fall all over me, an experience you would want to avoid if possible. These delightful creatures were feeding on a dead rat. Although it hasn’t happened yet (at least I hope not) rats’ feaces and urine   mixed with dust in the  ceiling can filter down and be breathed in causing several nasty diseases.
Anyway, something has to be done. Over the last week I have set traps, the type that catch the fellows without harming them. I have caught six so far, but all young ones, which I have subsequently released down on the bank of the Kelang River nearby.  But I can’t catch the adults. They are too wily to enter the trap and take the bait. Of course wherever you find people you will find rats.  But my problem is made worse than usual because of the open-air restaurant downstairs which means that there is plenty of food scraps for rats to eat. 
My rat problem has made me think, and not for the first time, about the universal viability of the First Precept. Is it really possible to uphold the  Precept in  all circumstances? Could there be situations where it is actually wrong to practice the Precept?  Here are a few actual, not hypothetical, scenarios. The Red Squirrel is threatened with extinction in the UK due to the introduction of the more aggressive and disease resistant Grey Squirrel. To save the former they are ‘culling’ (an environmentally friendly way of saying ‘killing’) the latter in certain areas in the  hope that the former can recover. There are quite a few other examples of where this sort of thing is  being done.  As a Buddhist what do you do? Let  a species become extinct or do the needful?
You notice that the kids are constantly scratching their bums or itching their heads – the symptoms of head lice and bowel worms. As a caring and responsible parent you shampoo the kids with Louse-Buster or give them a dose of worm medicine. But as a sincere Buddhist what do you do?  And now you have discovered that Fido is covered with fleas, so you’re going to have to do something about that too – quite apart from anything else he keeps bringing the fleas into the house.  The army of a belligerent power has just taken over the country and you have heard they are rounding up certain ethnics groups and rumor is they are ‘resettling’ them in large pits they have dug in the forests. You are a Buddhist. What do you do? Join or covertly support the resistance, or just keep your head down and hope you survive until others drive the enemy out? You run a Buddhist society in Singapore and…well, you know the situation.   Rats multiply  at an astonishing rate. What do you do?
The question does not seem to have worried traditional Buddhists too much. They have generally been quite kindly to animals although all  have had armies and engaged  in wars, some still do; e.g. the ethnic wars in north-east Burma, the insurgency in southern Thailand. I lived in Sri Lanka during much of the vicious civil war there and can never remember the contradiction between Buddhist ethics and the grim reality being discussed in any meaningful way.  They seemed to take what I call the Nike approach – Just Do It. But  these Burmese, Thai and Sri Lankan examples are the extreme outer edge of the issue. What does a sincere Buddhist who takes the Dhamma seriously do about a rat infestation?  


Linda said...

Lama Zopa, a Tibetan Lama, has some opinions on this. He suggests doing some practices to complete the karma you have that causes them to come. I had a huge nest of hornets inside the wall of my house one year. After being stung twice trying to dodge them, and after subsequent praying didn't cause them to go away, I sprayed them while saying mantras. I don't know if this helped, but I felt I had no choice. Just walking injures and kills beings. We can't avoid it entirely. I felt bad but it was nice to not get stung any more.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Linda, I’d have to tell you that I have a bit of a problem with the idea that the proximity of hornets’ nests or the presence of rats is a result of a persons’ kamma, an idea I will explore in a few weeks. I found the ‘praying didn’t work’ comment much more acceptable. Anyway, your solution to the problem was to kill the hornets, perhaps feeling a bit guilty while doing so (chanting mantras?). Thanks for the contribution. Let’s see what others come up with.

Ely.K. said...

Dear Bhante Dhammika, Bhante Thanissaro once shared this story and I've taken the liberty to reproduce the story here:

"Ajaan Fuang, my teacher, once discovered that a snake had moved into his room. Every time he entered the room, he saw it slip into a narrow space behind a storage cabinet. And even though he tried leaving the door to the room open during the daytime, the snake wasn't willing to leave. So for three days they lived together. He was very careful not to startle the snake or make it feel threatened by his presence. But finally on the evening of the third day, as he was sitting in meditation, he addressed the snake quietly in his mind. He said, 'Look, it's not that I don't like you. I don't have any bad feelings for you. But our minds work in different ways. It'd be very easy for there to be a misunderstanding between us. Now, there are lots of places out in the woods where you can live without the uneasiness of living with me.' And as he sat there spreading thoughts of metta to the snake, the snake left."

For a Buddhist, one way to deal with this situation is perhaps the Metta meditation and to spread the loving-kindess thoughts to those little rats requesting them to please stop coming to the Dhamma hall.

But the more "practical way" I found online is to use snake excretions (e.g. snake poo) to keep them away. The reasoning is that since rats are afraid of snakes, having snake excretions around create amongst the rats the false impression that a snake is indeed around. We can't really smell snake excretions, but the rats can. So yea, combining this method together with Metta meditation, it's the most harmless way to keep the rats away! We might not need to resort to killing the rats.

Hope this helps.

reasonable said...

Perhaps the first Precept given by Gotama Buddha was intended to get his followers to develop a certain type of attitude, intention and mindset rather than expecting them to literally and woodenly follow it no matter what.

In other words, the historical Buddha's intention might be for people to follow the spirit of the Precept while the letters of the Precept could be broken in appropriate situations.

If this is true, then if the Buddhist parents found lice on their children's hair or found white ants in their wooden house, they could just kill those animals but do it with compassion and without hatred or ill-will. Perhaps also do it with some sort of metta mindfulness towards those lice and white ants before, during and/or after killing them, wishing them a better rebirth and a faster enlightenment.

My own Christian tradition (especially in the local context) has many church people taking "biblical ethics" woodenly/literally - such an approach causes more harm/suffering than good, especially when they try to impose it on others.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ely.K, thanks for that practical advice about snake poo. I’m sure it would be effective. One problem though. Where do I get it from? They don’t sell it the supermarkets here.

Anandajoti said...

Personally I quite go along with the snake poo idea, most people when faced with this sort of problem just kill, and do not bother to look for real alternatives, of which there are usually some.
On the other hand what I have seen in Buddhist communities is they get others to do their dirty work for them, like in Sri Lanka, as you know, most of the butchers are Muslims.
Although a lot of Buddhist Lankans are in fact vegetarian, most of the meat must still be killed for and on behalf of the Buddhists who won't do it themselves.

Ely.K. said...

Dear Bhante Dhammika, one way to get snake poo is to go pulau ubin (an island off Singapore) and get it from the villagers there. But personally I think it's quite time-consuming. Another way is perhaps to get cats poo from nearby neighbours who have cats. But one should note that poos have a lot of bacteria, so one has to handle them with care.

A "less messy" and more convenient way of dealing with this issue is to use pure peppermint oil to drive the rats away. I found online that rats dislike the smell of pure peppermint oil so they stay away from wherever has that smell. Pure peppermint oil can be bought off-counter at markets.

Again, we won't have to resort to killing the rats. It's suddenly dawned on me that the Buddha's teachings also help us to be more creative in our dealing with the rat issue as we try not to kill.

Ken and Visakha said...

After catching rats and mice almost daily in live traps (once we had two in one go) and taking them by three-wheeler to a scenic spot above the Mahaweli, we decided to get a cat. She did the trick -- her mere presence as a kitten discouraged the more timid pests but she is a good hunter. We've belled her so birds have a chance but she still brings in some gorgeous lizards (who usually just go stiff until we can rescue them). She's a welcome in all the houses in the compound and we have no mouse/rat problem to speak of now and the bonus of a very affectionate pet.

brahmavihara said...

To me the urgency of your situation requires swift action and rather than reinventing the wheel by experimenting with some rather questionable methods would it not be prudent to call an expert pest exterminator? You/ your committee have a sizeable number of people whose health and safety would seem to be uppermost and you also run the risk of closure of your premises if there is some potential breach of the local authorities' regulations etc. as a result of not taking what would be considered the most appropriate decision. I do not believe that this decision in any way invalidates or compromises any one of your members or yourself in being able to continue following The Buddhas Noble Eightfold Path. As for the other hypotheticals one can onlt deal with those on a case by case basis as the need arises. I hope that BDMS can continue its good work for another 20+years.

brahmavihara said...

Sorry Bhante, I had forgotten to address at least one of the actual situations to which you referred to and of which has been of concern to me lately, namely the Islamic insurgency in Southern Thailand. There have been to all reasonable accounts approximately 5000 fatalities attributed to the insurgents since 2004 and It seems that no action by Thai authorities, local or Governmental have made any difference to the insurgents. In at least some respects Thailand has helped foster the growth of Therevada Buddhism in the Western world and despite many westerners that I know or know of that seem to enjoy going to Thailand for meditation retreats, pilgrimage and tourism etc no one seems to know of or care too much about this. The clear majority of deaths, injuries and refugees, yes,refugees from these provinces are Buddhists and I feel that I can do at least a little to help by publicing this situation on any of the social networks that I am a member of such as this. Bhante, Because of the sensitive nature of this topic I will ask permission to post the link to the information about this situation. If it is OK then I will post it here on my next visit here.

Sam Vega said...

I agree with Ken and Visakha. Get yourself a cat. A neutered female would be best, as you don't want the problem of a plague of kittens, and neutering can slow down a tomcat.

Cats have little time for precepts.

Ian Tan said...

Hi Bhante, I recall seeing an ultra-sonic mouse repelling device at Mustaffa shopping centre. It supposedly rids rodents and other pests by emitting some really high frequency sound. The sound is inaudible to human ears. I don't know if it really works. I googled this and i think the verdict is still out on this one.

Michael92138 said...

I can give you an example of something several of the people in my San Diego neighborhood had to deal with not long ago. I live by a lovely urban canyon. For some reason people thought it looked like a nice place to drop off their unwanted cats. Unfortunately, with the tight economy this is becoming more common. This quickly developed into a population of feral cats. Feral cats are an invasive species because the indigenous wildlife, such as songbirds, are completely at a disadvantage to deal with them. I've read stories where feral cats have decimated entire populations of birds on islands where they were let loose.

Some in my city advocate TNR (trap, neuter, and release). This works in that the cats (if you can get them all ... big if) do not reproduce. However, they still predate on the native animals when they are returned/released. Not to mention the cats carry disease and get into fights. They don't live a very good life. It's rough being a feral cat.

What some of us decided to do is to trap the cats. Some of the babies were able to be adopted, but most of the adults, upon bringing them to the Humane Society, were euthanized. They were just too wild and in bad shape. Over several months the population disappeared.

There were, as you might imagine, some very heated discussions in my neighborhood about the feral cats. In the end, however, I think it turned out well. I did not take any pleasure in bringing any of the cats to be euthanized but I am very happy many have found a loving forever home. Also, the birds in the canyon are singing more as well.

In the end, we do our best. If it is done mindfully, what more can you do?

Ken and Visakha said...

The job title pest exterminator tells us it's killing, pure and simple, via wrong livelihood, dealing in poisons. And those poisons are much of what's wrong with our environment today. Monsanto, Dow Chemical and their ilk are poisoning our world for profit.

Get a cat or two. Keep all food in sealed containers. Patch holes, get a snake (or snake dung). Keep up the live trapping. Get a ferret.

If people aren't getting sick with plague, if there aren't cases of rat bite with fears of rabies, or such like, then it's not a truly serious health problem but more an issue of aesthetics.

Rats, without metta, are disgusting. With metta, they are remarkable and interesting and, dare I say it, loveable.

If things are unbearable, you might want to find another location. The restaurant supplies food for the rats. Of course they live there. If reborn as rats, we probably would like it there too. Does a memory stir? No, that's not happening. But I've spent a lot of years coexisting with many sorts of animals, some cuddly, some not. All of them preferred life as they had it to a chemical death.

Anonymous said...

A real quandary, Bhante.
How about this: Although a Buddhist should not kill, they might eat meat. Someone else slaughtered the animal. The Buddhist ate the meat.
So, instead of killing the rats yourself, why not engage a pest controller to do it? Or, better still, suggest to others (people that might take the hint and act on your behalf) that a pest controller be used. I understand this might seem like a dualistic solution, but it is practical, and you would then be adhering to the precept.

You might also consider the dilemma of not taking action and having a rat breeding ground above your head. Disease might then break out and there would be all sorts of suffering, and the rats too would suffer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bhante,
Just read a few of the other comments and figured my comment might lead to me being “blown out of the water” (perhaps gently) for seemingly lacking compassion. So, at the risk of getting into further hot water, I thought I’d add this: What would you do if your building had termites? Would you let them eat the place down? You would have to act. You cannot relocate each termite, right? And, as you mentioned, you’ve got to deal with head-lice too. If you get down to a micro-level, we’re killing millions of microbes every time we wipe down the kitchen bench. There are all sorts of similar ethical dramas.

Maybe you don’t even need to deal with the rat problem directly. Maybe you just need to inform those in charge of building maintenance that they need to get on top of the building health and safety issues.

brahmavihara said...

After giving it some thought I believe the best way to enquire about The southern Thailand Islamic insurgency is to do a google search. I did one just prior to posting today and all the links i was familiar with showed up straight away, including one that posed the question " are Buddhists useless inthe fight against Islamic fundamentalism?"Much of the speculation on that particular thread cited the rather sad history of the Buddhist communities of ancient Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nalanda and their Holocaust like eradication. Others point to a kind of a global media whitewash of this issue in Thailand. So if anyone is interested in this issue , I suggest you google it. As for the rat problem at BDMS? I can say that according to our posts it seems as if the rats have a lot of friends, but despite one's disposition to these sentient beings, near or far, BDMS still has a problem. Sorry that I cannot be of any further help.

Yashas said...

You could try a shamanistic approach and try to communicate with them. What do they want? Etc..
My own experience is that there are the ecological laws governing this planet, i.e. that your house and your plot of land can actually support lot more of species than just you. And what is the purpose of rats in the greater picture of life on Earth?

Anonymous said...

"[4] And what are the fermentations to be abandoned by tolerating? There is the case where a monk, reflecting appropriately, endures. He tolerates cold, heat, hunger, & thirst; the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; ill-spoken, unwelcome words & bodily feelings that, when they arise, are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, displeasing, & menacing to life. The fermentations, vexation, or fever that would arise if he were not to tolerate these things do not arise for him when he tolerates them. These are called the fermentations to be abandoned by tolerating.

"[5] And what are the fermentations to be abandoned by avoiding? There is the case where a monk, reflecting appropriately, avoids a wild elephant, a wild horse, a wild bull, a wild dog, a snake, a stump, a bramble patch, a chasm, a cliff, a cesspool, an open sewer. Reflecting appropriately, he avoids sitting in the sorts of unsuitable seats, wandering to the sorts of unsuitable habitats, and associating with the sorts of bad friends that would make his knowledgeable friends in the holy life suspect him of evil conduct. The fermentations, vexation, or fever that would arise if he were not to avoid these things do not arise for him when he avoids them. These are called the fermentations to be abandoned by avoiding.

Blogger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken and Visakha said...

Southern Thailand used to be composed of a number of independent kingdoms, with ethnic Malay rulers and speaking dialects of Malay (Tawi). There's a lot of history in that neighborhood, just like everywhere, but people tend to want to take sides and damn one side as insurgents and the other as legitimate. The Sakyans and the Koliyans must have had all sorts of reasons they deserved that Rohini water too.

Calling something an insurgency, religious, ethnic or whatever, is not really helpful in understanding causes. The effects are obvious -- poor people suffer on every side.

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world.
By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.
This is a law eternal.

Ken and Visakha said...

Southern Thailand used to be composed of a number of independent kingdoms, with ethnic Malay rulers and speaking dialects of Malay (Tawi). There's a lot of history in that neighborhood, just like everywhere, but people tend to want to take sides and damn one side as insurgents and the other as legitimate. The Sakyans and the Koliyans must have had all sorts of reasons they deserved that Rohini water too.

Calling something an insurgency, religious, ethnic or whatever, is not really helpful in understanding causes. The effects are obvious -- poor people suffer on every side.

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world.
By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.
This is a law eternal.

Blogger said...

Dear Venerable,

It is indeed a troublesome problem.I know that the first precept applies to all living beings but did The Bhagava define any hierarchy or rate human life as more valuable than others?I think the intention of first precept is that all living beings are sentient things,so if we do need to cull rats we must do it in a method that causes them zero or least pain.Ven.,since the Jains have rigid rules regarding avihimsa and must have encountered this situation in the past[all Indian homes have rats]you could ask any Jain scholar his opinion.


brahmavihara said...

I must apologize for my ignorance
I am glad to learn that there is no insurgency in Thailand and as a Buddhist I understand now that the people that died there , well it was their Kamma wasnt it? Yes I learned to remove hate from my vocabulary but I can still be disturbed by anger from time to time, but like pretty much everything else its conditional and it too will pass. But hate? no I don't hate anyone or anything in fact I try to spread Metta to all(including rats)and I try to wish all my friends in southern Thailand ( Muslim and Buddhist) all my loving kindness. Who knows, it could make a difference I suppose.

Ken and Visakha said...

No idea why that was posted twice -- this program is odd but "I am not a robot!" Why would a robot be responding here anyway?

Bragi said...

Any poison that would make the rats infertile or sterile??? so they don't breed and at the same time you don't have to kill, except the trouble of catching the remaining ones and throwing it away or waiting for them to die themself. The risk is that the poison could also affect humans as you know humans and rats have similar anatomy or DNA match is 90%.

Anonymous said...

The precepts do not allow for exceptions because that would defeat their purpose, namely to bring us right face to face with the greed, hatred and delusion in our own hearts. That's where the real problem lies. The Lord Buddha called this 'yoniso manasikara', attention directed to the root. That's the problem we have to solve - greed, hatred and delusion, right here in our own hearts. Once the root problem is solved, maintaining the precepts no matter what the circumstances becomes quite simple and "to kill or not to kill" is not a viable question any more.

gg said...

Whoopi Goldberg was talking about using predator's urine to keep deers away from gardens in Washington, with Mrs Obama in the View.
I accidentally killed a mosquito last night while cleaning the kitchen. On that same night, I unsuccessfully tried to trap a fly with a glass, something I do with pests.
I then began to think about the Black Plague and if killing something so that my life will be easier can be justified. For the moment, I use the glass whenever I can but have no qualms spraying my dog's dish for ants every night when I take it in to wash. I do tell myself that I could not find a better way to resolve the situation and not because I am selfish.

reasonable said...

I seek the wisdom of various commentators here:

What should Buddhist parents do when they discovered their wooden house is infected with termites and their children's rooms and their own room are infected with bed-bugs?

Forlorn Hope said...

I live in the North of England. When the guest quarters of our local Therevadin monastery became infected with bedbugs the Ajahn called in Rent-a-kill straight away. I don't think there was any debate about it.

Anonymous said...

With all this discussion about the rat dilemma, Bhante, I think you're all but obliged to let us know the outcome! What will you do?

Branko said...

Dear Bhante, maybe you should think what to do with the source of the rats and this is the restaurant below you. They should take care of the food leftovers. As soon as there is no food all around, those rats will disappear. The other option is for the center to move some other place.

yuri said...

Dear SD, it is not the first time you bring the subject of the first precept to your readers attention. Lively discussions are guaranteed. :) I think we should distinguish here between two modes of life view - laymen's and truth seekers'. From the latter point of view your story is very worldly - "my plants", "my comfort", "our meditation hall". Attachment, isn't it? Till the time we become fully awakened, "I" will persist. In Buddha's times bhikkhus were homeless and without family ties thus avoiding many such problems. Even vihara were not permanent monasteries but originally "temporary stations" for wandering monks. To a truth-seeker, I think, the guiding idea should be that the Teaching of Buddha does not aim at making us feel more comfortable in this world but gradually to sever all bonds of this world and become free form it. This world is based on conflicts - and through them only it can exist and develop. Precepts are a great challenge, and till we become fully liberated we will not be able to follow at least some of them very strictly - but we must try - for "my plants", "my comfort" and even "my children" are among the bonds we are tied with to this world. Surely wash your children's hair and drive away lice! But do not forget that "As a great flood carries away a sleeping village, so death seizes and carries away the man with a clinging mind, doting on his children and cattle."

reasonable said...

Hi Yuri,

I guess even though you have used expressions in your comments such as "I think", "we will", "we should", "we become", and "your children" you are not really thinking there is an unchanging "I" or unchanging "we". So I guess when you mentioned "I think", you are just using it as a conventional use of language. Though in absolute or accurate language, there is the thinking, but the thinker ("I") is not to be found, but in order to communicate, we unavoidably need to use expressions such as "I think", "my plants", "our hall" etc. These are conventional language, and they may not reflect the user of such expressions taking seriously the existence of an absolute/intrinsic/inherent "I", "me" or "mine". Even Gotama Buddha used such conventional language when he communicated to others and this resulted in a minority of contemporary scholars thinking (mistakenly?) that Gotama Buddha believed in some sort of real inherent self beyond the usual misconception of self.

suhendrasulistyo said...

Hmm I wonder if I am the one who engage the pest controller for you bhante, will my wish to provide a suitable environment (free from rat smells and possible bacteria/virus) for monks who currently and in the future stay in BDMS to practice meditation and propagate dhamma outweight breaking of the first precept...... Will This decision burden my mind later on.... Hmmm... Let me think if there is a better alternative solution.

yuri said...

Hi reasonable! You are right. There is one sutta, though I do not remember now its title, where Buddha deals with this subject of using worldly terms in his teaching. But going back to the original post, I can only say that the dilemma worrying our host - to kill or not to kill - becomes less perplexing with the progress on the Path. And that is connected with gradual diminishing of that "I - Me - My". Silly enough, but I cannot kill a mosquito or a fly now. Not because of following precepts ardently but - simply I can no longer do it. I feel the insects as living beings with fears and ways of living different from my own, but that is their way of living. I do not feel any animosity towards mice, rats or, say, roaches. But certainly I will not invite them to infest my home, and I do not protest when municipal sanitary service uses poisons to clear our block of flats from their presence. I understand the conflict between human way of life and that of those creatures. One of the innumerable conflicts characteristic for samsara. But individually I cannot kill them and I cannot imagine Buddha with an insecticide sprayer or poisonous anti-rat stuff in his hands.

reasonable said...

Hi Yuri, I like your sharing about how you would act regarding those examples you mentioned. Such sharing gives a sense to us readers here on how to live out the idea of not killing other sentient beings in real life situations.

I have two questions, asked here with sincere curiously and good intention.

Question 1. How should a Buddhist parents act if their young little child's body is infested with some sort of meat eating worms inside their body when the standard treatment is to use chemicals to kill such worms in the body? (i.e. should they go ahead to kill these worms to relieve their little child's suffering?)

Question 2. What should a poor Buddhist family do when they discover their one of the four pillars of their wooden house is infected with termites? Should they proceed to make arrangements to kill those termites before they spread to the rest of the house? (assuming they cannot afford to relocated their residence and if assuming that if they cut off that pillar, their house will collapse)

cyber-hug with metta (:

yuri said...

Hi, reasonable! Оf course, any parent will protect his or her children - whatever the cause of danger to children is! The same thing will be done by any doctor treating worm-infected patients. If we look at human bodies we will find various mechanisms of self-defence - like specialised cells, or raising body's temperature to kill dangerous bacteria and viruses. Can or should we stop these mechanisms out of metta to bacteria and viruses? :) That is the way this world exists - always through various conflicts and contradictions. I feel we should not tease our minds with such brain-twisters but practise more and try to minimise killings, limiting them only to dangerous and serious threats to human life like the danger of serious infections spread by rats. About termites and ants. They cause us problems not because they want to harm us. But this is their way of living. During summertime we live in our country house and ants are sometimes too active seeking food everywhere in the house while some bugs make tunnels in pine-logs our house is built of. I wouldn't stop my son-in-law from using chemicals against them. The only thing is that I cannot do it myself and not out of any fear of ignoring this or that precept, but it is a kind of inner taboo which now after a certain event in my practice I cannot overcome. Many years ago I killed with a broom a mouse running in our kitchen. And I still feel pangs of remorse when I recall that killing.

reasonable said...

Thanks Yuri (-:

beforewisdom said...

My personal opinion is that the first precept ends where self defense begins.

Rats do things that could cause health problems for me. If I can remove them effectively and humanely I will. If not, my health is my health.


wrrsound said...

Dear Bhante,
Your A-Z Buddhist encyclopedia is simply awesome and so thoroughly written. Do you have a document file that compiles ALL the entries? I would love to download it for personal reference. THANK YOU BHANTE!!!!!!

yuri said...

Hi, Steve. Quite logical and sound for mundane ways of life. Until we find out that self is an illusion and self-defence is also an illusion. Then our attitudes change. But this is such a formidable task to become free of self, that very few, alas, reach this goal in this life and in many lives to come even if they sincerely follow Buddha's directions. Unfortunately there is no other way to freedom but through discovering unreality of selfhood. The only helper on this path is friendliness (loving kindness) and compassion especially concerning highly organaised life (rats included :). Unlike other precepts the first one - not to kill or harm any living being - cannot be followed strictly from this moment on - but we should try to practise it - gradually expanding the ring of our metta and karuna. This is my experience - and it seems to work. Though I still have to expand this ring to bed-bugs though.. :)

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Wrrsound,
If you contact me on I will send the whole to you.

Blogger said...

What should one do if some animal is about to attack?Offer oneself or shoot it?Putting aside the dynamic interpretations of the first precept ,could someone quote from the Nikāyas where The Bhagava speaks about self defense.Are we even entitled to fight?(active life?/passive life?)And what about a country defending itself(Its known that no war can be justified but that hasn't deterred Buddhist kings/nations from waging wars in the name of protecting The Sasana)

Even if thieves carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, if you make your mind hostile you are not following my teaching.

Kamcupamasutta, Majjhima-Nikkaya I ~ 28-29

Is that applicable to the laity?

P.S.:Could anyone provide me a link for the translated version of the kamcupamasutta?

Blogger said...

'Kakacupama Sutta' not kamcupamasutta

reasonable said...

I like Blogger's question. To modify it slightly:

Say you and your daughter were doing some outdoor camping in the woods. You rented a hut which came supplied with all the necessities including cooking utensils, TV etc, and even an
ammunition-loaded rifle! And you heard a scream, and when you went out of the door of that hut, you saw a tiger was chasing your daughter about 100m away. Should a Buddhist (without supernatural power) take the rifle to shoot that tiger (let us assume that shooting the tiger virtually means killing the tiger)? Or attempt to outrun the tiger which is already about 100m away to offer himself up to substitute his daughter (unlikely for him to reach the tiger before the tiger give a few fatal bites to his daughter)? Direct some mental message to the tiger hoping to influence the tiger to stop chasing his daughter? Or? If the answer is to virtually kill that tiger by shooting it, it may mean that Gotama Buddha intended the 1st Precept to be universally applicable in terms of its spirit while not necessarily meant by him to be applicable in terms of its letters.

In another case, if you are able to save only one but not both, who would you save: A boy or a cat? If the answer is the boy, then it may mean that for some reason the boy has a higher value than a cat even though both of them has Buddha-nature or Buddha-potential.

yuri said...

Oh, reasonable! :) You seem to enjoy flights of fantasy! :) "What if..." All these are mental constructions and nothing else. And rather silly ones. Only a fool would take his family to enjoy rest in a forest where man-eating tigers are roaming, and a greater fool he will be to let his child go on a walk alone in such a forest... And why not just to fire the riffle or shout loudly to distract and scare the tiger away? Tigers usually avoid humans and hunt them only if they have some defects and health problems and are not able to hunt their normal pray. Moreover man-eaters will attack humans from a hiding place, and not chase them but kill in one leap. So the man will not be able to use his rifle to save the child but only to take revenge. Those invented situations will not lead us to better understanding of what Buddha taught. Anyway if you analyse both versions you can see that they are based on the same foundation - "I - me - my". If only we could see how many times in our chain of karmic existences we were killed by tigers, woolves, criminals, tzunamies... And if we do not change our worldly ways we sentence ourselves to no less tragic future lives. It is our choice to cling to "I" and "my" or to seek liberation from the traps and fetters of this world. The more we practise the better we will understand how to act in real-life situations.

Blogger said...

Dear Yuri,I'm not differing from your view but your opinions are applicable elsewhere.The objective of the question(fantasy!?) is simple, 'what a follower of Dhamma should do if he/she is confronted by a wild animal/murderer?'Certainly contemplating on Anatta isn't the solution,The Bhagavas' disciples include worldlings(Upasakas),Vinaya is different for Bhikkus and laymen and so often contradicting.The Bhagava laid some guidelines for householders & Suttas like Adiya Sutta,Dighajanu Vyagghapajja Sutta,Sigolavada Sutta etc. are not about becoming an Arahant.Just for a few moments assume you are in that real-life situation and tell what should one do?Is self-defense allowed?

reasonable said...

Hi Yuri,

Perhaps one can look at the SPIRIT of the scenario I set up and not be distracted by the imperfect LETTERS (words) describing that scene?

Just as sometimes we are told that we need to adhere to the spirit of the law more than the letters of the law. Often people can find loopholes in the letters of the law (words are imperfect tools/signs to represent reality itself) - and it can become a case of not breaking the letters of the law but actually breaking the spirit of the law.

As to your question would a father wanna bring his daughter to do camping in the woods - readers can imagine reasonable reasons why they do it. For example general people have not come across tigers in that area before (even in highly urbanised Singapore, sometimes residents were shocked to find unexpected animals around - not many years ago the Singapore newspapers reported pythons being found in toilet bowl). Similarly some reasonable reasons could easily be imagined as to why the tiger ended up having to chase the girl and why the tiger failed to pounced on her in the first.

Readers could easily change the scenario to any other more reasonable or more realistic scenario - such as a child falling into the river near the hut and was attacked by a crocodile and so on.

So hopefully readers do not miss the spirit of the question in the constructed scenario just because the letters of the scene might have been imperfectly constructed.

reasonable said...

In short, two key questions:

1. If the only way to protect another human person (be it your child or neighbour or a stranger) is to kill the life-threatening sentient being who has started the attack, then is such killing to protect another person ok for a Dhamma-follower?

2. If the only way to do self-defense in a particular situation is to kill a life-threatening sentient being who has starting the attack, then is such killing for self-defense ok for a Dhamma-follower?

Anonymous said...

The suspense of it all is too much! All our nerves are beginning to fray waiting for the outcome of this one. What are all those rats up to? Have you discovered the magic pipe? Have you marched downstairs and had stern words with those wayward restaurateurs? Is there a covert operation underway by pragmatic Buddhist sympathizers to rid the centre of these rats? What is happening??

brahmavihara said...

Hi Bhante, I'm with Paul Malone, please put us out of our misery, cos the suspense is killing us, metaphorically of course! Also I think you may have broken your previous record for the number of responses to this blog. This is a compelling subject and of course it is something that impacts on us all to some degree or another. I had a further nuance to add to the mix and it is as follows. Some of your contributors suggested that getting a cat would be a "Kamma free" way out of the situation and I agree, however if one had introduced the cat with the intention of letting nature take its course so to speak, ie the cat will kill the rats ( thats what cats do)then actually this would be virtually no different than introducing a pest exterminator, sorry "pest controller" to the situation.
I am certain there is no rat alive that wishes to die in the claws and teeth of a cat notwithstanding death from poison or traps or whatever. I think it was a little unkind for some to suggest that you and your organisation relocate, although I suggest that if the proposed road widening scheduled for Balestier road is immenant, then both BDMS and the rats will be homeless..problem solved!? As with many situations in life the complexities are often
difficult to navigate. Think carefully about the situation(if there is time) and act as appropriately as one can. This is after all equnimity (upekkha) is it not?

Unknown said...

I believed there is always a win-win situation where we dont kill the rats, and a solution to keep the rats away. Right?

wrrsound said...

Dear Bhante,

I sent an e-mail to you 10 days ago, June 5th, requesting the A-Z compilation. Did you receive my email?

Serville said...

You know, I've been in the same dilemma of "to kill or not to kill" situation, and I finally realize one thing (at least for me): Buddhism is never about extremities, it is all about making the wisest choice for ourselves & all sentient beings. By that, when one face a series of "unfortunate events", we are still expected to carefully select one decisison which causes the least damage from all available actions.

I remember an analogy about a monk who has only 2 choices: to drink till drunk, or to sleep on the same bed with girls (without sex involved). In the rigidity for maintaining his "holiness", the monk choose to drink in belief it is the least unholy from the 2 choices. So, he drank, and found he lost his ground, and he slept with the girls after being drunk.
Now, isn't it a foolish that he causes more harms than good at the end ? All these ..because he wasn't careful enough to make the wisest choice presented to him. A seemingly least damaging choice has actually caused more damages than intended.

I think Buddha never teaches anyone to be perfect in any circumstances. All possible efforts that benefits both (the rat & ourselves) should be made first, but when everything fails, and we are presented with the option to kill the rat or to kill ourselves to preserve the rat's life (for its dangers of virus, etc), we can easily fall into the trap of wisdom that the later is the best according to metta.

What happens if the rats bring viruses that kills not only us, but also other people in the same area ? To let yourself live & brings peace & help to this world is certainly more skillful than to let us die & let the rats least for me.

A boy with lice on his hair.
To kill the boy , or to kill the lice ? The boy can potentially grow up a Buddha & he bring peace & love to millions of people in the whole world. Can the lice potentially do the same ?

Haven't we taken a bath everday?
Do we realize we kill millions of bacteria in the process ? Should we also stop bathing/clean ourself to preserve their life on the basis of metta ?

A simple saying has some truth in it: Too much love will kill you....and not only you, perhaps the whole world.

Blogger said...

@Serville :)

snowman1825 said...

I asked a monk during a Q&A, many people laughed at this silly question, including the monk. What should i do if my house is infested with white ants. His answer is , the white ants will damage your building structure, fall on your family and kill them. Therefore, get professional help. Very logical.

I faced with mouse problem too, including the running on the ceiling boards. They even damaged the electrical till my breakers were blacken from the frequent resetting.

I put up all sort of trap, some cruel , some humane.

The last (most important) i did was to keep all food stuff in well secured location. I also studied them well, and use the cage traps set it sensitively to trigger (sometime lizards trigger them)and then relocate them far far away. Say a little prayer for them before releasing them into the woods.

The problem soon stopped completely.

Suggest to notify the restaurant below of the problem. Keep your food well secured. And call NEA
for help if it still happened. The restaurant guy may not like you later.

Cage + cat for deterent is a good idea for long term control.

If it all failed, a professional should be consulted. we leave in a non-perfect world, in a "Cannot say No" situation, we do it with kindness with awareness+acceptance of consequences(Karma).

Kaolin Cash said...

With regard to choosing between a human and a tiger (assuming one must die), I suppose I would argue that the human should be saved.

The reason being, the human is currently living in the human realm; animals do not have the luxury of choice in the same way that humans do so to spare the human is to give that human the chance to realise nirvana in their current life, an act the tiger is unable to perform. If the human has the chance of ceasing their suffering later in their life (which every human does) then it's important to ensure the environment the human is experiencing doesn't end prematurely.

I suppose the intent to choose the path of least suffering and most potential to alleviate future suffering mitigates the negative karma produced by the killing act itself.

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