THOU SHALT NOT KILL OR MURDER IS A MORAL IMPERATIVE INCLUDED AS ONE OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN THE TORAH SIMILARLY THE BUDDHISTS UNDERTAKE THE DISCIPLINE TO REFRAIN FROM KILLING – taking a life is easy, but giving it back, very difficult
By Sanjoo Thangjam
The Buddha’s love and compassion were universal, extending to all living beings, not just one group, nation or even one species. The sanctity of life is expressed in the first of the five training guidelines undertaken by Buddhists: “I undertake the discipline to refrain from killing.”
The following four stories illustrate the Buddha’s compassion toward animal life.
In India during the time of the Buddha some misguided people thought that the sacrificial killing of animals could influence their gods. This act was supposed to make the gods happy and in return the people would be rewarded with whatever they had prayed for: wealth, fame, or rain for their crops.
Wherever he went, the Buddha told people that it was not right to sacrifice animals. Some people became angry, saying that their holy books said that it was what they should do: kill animals and offer them to their gods. They questioned why he should teach a way different from their holy books.
The Buddha replied, “It is not right to make another unhappy just so you can be happy. Every living being wants to remain alive just as you do. Therefore, if you sacrifice an animal, you are acting selfishly. I have observed that a selfish person finds nothing but unhappiness in life.”
“Any god who demands the blood of an animal before he will help you is not a kind god. He is not worthy of being worshipped by anyone. But if you act with love and kindness toward all – animals and people alike – then the gods themselves should worship you!”
Many people who heard these words thought that it was wise to follow the Buddha’s suggestion and immediately gave up the custom of sacrificing animals. In this way a great deal of unhappiness was ended. (24)
At one time a great sacrifice was arranged for the benefit of King Pasenadi of Kosala. They were going to sacrifice five hundred bulls, five hundred bullocks, and as many heifers, goats, and rams in one day.
The animals were fearful. Also the slaves, menials and craftsmen making these preparations were fearful of being beaten if everything was not perfectly arranged.
A number of monks rose early, dressed and entered the city of Savatthi for alms that day. Upon their return to the monastery, they sought the Buddha and told him of the preparations for the great sacrifice.
The Exalted One, understanding the matter, uttered these verses:
These sacrifices: the Horse, the Man, the Peg-thrown site, the Drink of victory, the Bolts
These are fraught with violence,
They do not bring great fruit.
The great seers of right conduct
Do not attend that sacrifice
Where goats, sheep, and cattle
Of various kinds are slain.
But when sacrifices free from violence
Are always offered by family customs,
Where no goats, sheep, or cattle
Of various kinds are slain;
The great seers of right conduct
Attend a sacrifice like this.
The wise person should offer
A sacrifice that brings great fruit.
For one who makes such a sacrifice
It is indeed better, never worse,
Such a sacrifice is truly vast
And the gods too are pleased.”
The Snake Beating
Once in Savatthi, the Buddha came across some youths searching for snakes to beat with sticks. When questioned, the youths answered that they thought it was great fun to beat snakes.
The Buddha admonished them saying, “If you do not want to be harmed, you should not harm others. If you harm others, you will not find happiness even in your future existence.”
Realizing the harm they would cause, and reflecting mindfully on what the Buddha said, all the youths became sotapannas.
Releasing a Deer
One day while walking in the woods, the Buddha came upon a deer struggling in a trap. The Buddha released the deer at once and let it run away. Then he sat under a nearby tree to rest.
After a while the hunter came to check his trap. He could see that a deer had been caught, but that someone had released it. Looking around, he saw an ascetic dressed in saffron robes sitting under a nearby tree. The hunter thought that the ascetic was responsible for his empty trap. Angrily he thought, “There are getting to be too many of these holy men. They are always sneaking about interfering with an honest man’s livelihood with their pious ways.”
In his anger he aimed an arrow at the Buddha who was sitting perfectly still. “Now I am going to rid the world of one of them,” he thought. But his hand began trembling so much as he aimed at this strangely serene ascetic that his arrow missed its mark.
Never in his life had the hunter missed hitting a target so close; enraged now, both at himself and the ascetic, he fired once more. Again he missed. After a third attempt, he became afraid. Dropping his bow and arrows he slowly approached the Buddha and humbly asked who he was.
The Buddha answered the hunter. Mildly and gently he told him that taking a life was easy, but giving it back, very difficult. And he explained the harm that comes from killing. The hunter listened to the Buddha’s words. He could feel how concerned the Buddha was for him and he promised never again to kill a living being.
(The writer is a Sub-Editor of The Morning Bell)