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Is it ever right to kill?

edited February 2010 in Buddhism for Beginners
I have reached a wall with this one. It seemed so straight forward at first but I do not know anymore. Is it ever right to kill a person?

What if destroying or taking a life benefits the preservation and cultivation of the world? Is it then right? or is it never right to destroy life even if it is destroying other life? Is there always another way?

I'm troubled by this one, what do you think?
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Comments

  • ravkesravkes Veteran
    edited February 2010
    When we grow in spiritual consciousness, we identify with all that is in the world -- there is no exploitation. It is ourselves we're helping, ourselves we're healing. --Dr. V (Dr. Govindappa) Venkataswamy

    What "i" think? Who thinks?
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited February 2010
    masuyo;86137 said:
    I have reached a wall with this one. It seemed so straight forward at first but I do not know anymore.

    What if destroying or taking a life benefits the preservation and cultivation of the world? Is it then right? or is it never right to destroy life even if it is destroying other life? Is there always another way?

    I'm troubled by this one, what do you think?
    Even if killing one person were to save the lives of many, it doesn't necessarily make it "right." It can certainly be justified, but that's another matter entirely. Just for reference, here's something I wrote a while ago about moral absolutism:

    I don't like killing. I don't even like the thought of it. But that doesn't mean there's some cosmic dictate that states it's evil and wrong under any circumstance. And even if there was, what about people like Hitler? If you say that things like murder and genocide are always wrong, but people like Hitler are evil and must be stopped at any cost, does that mean it's OK to murder and entire group of people if they're all like Hitler? If the answer's yes, then it'd appear that such moral "absolutes" aren't very absolute, and if the answer's no, then evil has a natural advantage over good in that it's protected by these absolutes even as it transgresses them with wild abandon.

    Objectively speaking, I can't say that anything is right or wrong, but I have no trouble doing so subjectively. I don't like the thought of killing or being killed. And it's easy for me to see how other people tend to feel the same way, therefore I can at least see how such actions are relatively right or wrong based upon this point of reference. But I don't believe the universe is designed in such a way as to make any specific action done by human beings absolutely right or wrong (remember, we're not the only animals who kill, etc.).

    The way I see it, we simply experience the results of our actions in ways that are interpreted to be right or wrong based upon a myriad of factors, some of which may be unique to our species. The main reason I take this relativistic position is the fact that I've yet to discover an immutable source or basis for such absolutes besides the fact that I find them repugnant. If I knew without a doubt that there was such a basis, then my position would certainly change, but I'm currently unconvinced of its existence. I can see how these actions are morally right and wrong from a human-centric point of view, but I fail to see an objective seat from which they can be judged one or the other in any absolute sense.


    If, however, you were to ask me whether it's ever skillful to kill, I'd have to say probably not, especially from a Buddhist perspective. Buddhism posits that the intention to kill itself is inherently unskillful (i.e., rooted in hate or delusion) and ultimately leads to unpleasant results.

    Personally, I've come to the conclusion that killing rarely benefits anyone, if ever. I think it's better to look for an alternative whenever possible, but nobody is perfect and sometimes bad things happen.
  • edited February 2010
    masuyo;86137 said:
    I have reached a wall with this one. It seemed so straight forward at first but I do not know anymore.

    What if destroying or taking a life benefits the preservation and cultivation of the world? Is it then right? or is it never right to destroy life even if it is destroying other life? Is there always another way?

    I'm troubled by this one, what do you think?
    There are too many variables to be able to give a clear (or correct) answer.

    For example, in a hostage situation, police DO NOT just rush in and kill the perpetrators. They try to negotiate and are often successful without bloodshed. Assuming that killing them would be the "right" thing to do would have closed your non-lethal options off.

    There are countless examples where talking was more effective than violence or murder in a dangerous situation.

    The Dalai Lama himself said that killing terrorists isn't the way to stop them - he suggests simply opening up a dialogue with them to see what their troubles are, and then negotiate a reasonable offer that satisfies both parties.

    It's definitely a tough call if you have only seconds to make a decision. Throughout history, we can see that there has never really been a positive outcome to killing anyone, no matter how "right" it seemed at first.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited February 2010
    I've read somewhere that a bodhisatva might kill knowing that he or she would go to hell. But they can endure hell and their motivation is a good one.

    But you shouldn't kill for bad motivations. Like rivalries in the world or community and so forth.
  • ValtielValtiel Veteran
    edited February 2010
    Right and wrong are subjective. People can only offer their opinions, and there will always be conflicting ones.

    What do you think? Is it ever right to kill? Or maybe justified is a better word?
  • edited February 2010
    Jason;86143 said:
    If, however, you were to ask whether it's ever skillful to kill, I'd have to answer probably not, especially from a Buddhist perspective. Buddhism posits that the intention to kill is inherently unskillful (i.e., rooted in hate or delusion) and ultimately leads to unpleasant results.
    What about the railroad switch dilemma? There's variants, but lets say a train is headed for a bridge that has collapsed. If the train reaches the bridge, the train will fall and everyone on the train will die. You have the ability to switch the track so the train will use a different railway, but there is a person tied to the tracks of the alternate railway. Do you flip the switch, saving everyone on the train and killing the one person, or leave the train on its current path, killing everyone on the train?

    This is a hypothetical situation, but it's one where the choice to kill would be a skillful action. Thus, I think it's possible that killing can be skillful if it is done with the intention of reducing suffering when there are no alternatives.
  • edited February 2010
    epicurio;86150 said:
    What about the railroad switch dilemma? There's variants, but lets say a train is headed for a bridge that has collapsed. If the train reaches the bridge, the train will fall and everyone on the train will die. You have the ability to switch the track so the train will use a different railway, but there is a person tied to the tracks of the alternate railway. Do you flip the switch, saving everyone on the train and killing the one person, or leave the train on its current path, killing everyone on the train?

    This is a hypothetical situation, but it's one where the choice to kill would be a skillful action. Thus, I think it's possible that killing can be skillful if it is done with the intention of reducing suffering when there are no alternatives.
    This is a very good example, but once we change some variables, the question of killing still becomes very difficult. For example:

    What if the train was full of child-murderers and the person on the track was the local sheriff?

    or

    What if the train was full of terminally ill seniors, while the person on the track was a healthy child?

    or

    What if the train was full of of animals that are traditionally used for meat (chickens, cows, pigs, etc.) and the one on the track was your own pet dog?

    I think that no matter what decision we take, it would involve making some kind of judgment or comparison between the one who we must kill vs. the ones we will be saving. Once we attach these views onto each variable (or person in this scenario), we are adding our own personal views, thus adding more complexity to the situation. If it was simple mathematics (end one life to save five), then things are "easy", but this is not the case when we are faced with a life that we judge in a matter of seconds.

    Personally, I would have no idea on the decision that I would make in the train scenario.
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited February 2010
    epicurio;86150 said:
    What about the railroad switch dilemma? There's variants, but lets say a train is headed for a bridge that has collapsed. If the train reaches the bridge, the train will fall and everyone on the train will die. You have the ability to switch the track so the train will use a different railway, but there is a person tied to the tracks of the alternate railway. Do you flip the switch, saving everyone on the train and killing the one person, or leave the train on its current path, killing everyone on the train?

    This is a hypothetical situation, but it's one where the choice to kill would be a skillful action. Thus, I think it's possible that killing can be skillful if it is done with the intention of reducing suffering when there are no alternatives.
    I'm not a very big fan of hypothetical questions, but I'll take a stab at this one. It's a no win situation to begin with, so people are going to die regardless, it's just a matter of how many. It's a mathematical judgment call that our brains tend to make in favour of the many, unless, of course, the person on the track is someone close to us. Then another part of our brain may take over.

    Whether or not an action is skillful, however, is determined by the intention behind it. In addition, if a train is heading towards a bridge that has collapsed, letting it reach the bridge doesn't require us to actively kill someone as switching the tracks would. Inaction would lead to more deaths, but our action would lead to killing, so it's hard for me to say whether such an action would actually be skillful. I suppose it could be, but such a scenario is highly unlikely.

    Just for reference, here's an interesting talk I watched recently dealing with the biological basis for morality: http://bit.ly/XsXYY
  • edited February 2010
    I struggle with this. I believe strongly in preserving life in all of its forms as I am able...but what if my family is endangered? If I kill an intruder so that my daughter will NOT be killed, I will accept that I have violated the Precept...but will I have made the wrong decision for the situation? Yikes.
  • Quiet_witnessQuiet_witness Veteran
    edited February 2010
    There isn't a right or wrong answer. I avoid killing at all costs but if the time comes where I decide it would be best to take a life, I will make that decision and accept the consequences (whatever they are).
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Somewhere in the UK, Central-Southern.... Moderator
    edited February 2010
    Volitional action is what creates negative kamma.
    Intention Is All.

    If your aim is self-defence, and stopping someone from doing harm, then if their dying is a result of your actions - but you never INTENDED to kill them, the kamma accrued is not as severe as intentionally depriving a sentient being's Life.

    It's rare, in every-day situations, that you would find yourself in the circumstance where you HAD absolutely, without doubt to kill someone.
    until you do - I would think this is a pointless quandary to ponder.
  • edited February 2010
    Here is a talk be Ajahn Brahm on the ethics of killing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlvYJK0NXOM

    Nios.
  • edited February 2010
    It's ok to kill people.
  • edited February 2010
    appleorange;86171 said:
    It's ok to kill people.
    You're acting as if you've just had your first breakthrough. There's a reason that people study as much as thirty years after satori.

    I know a combat veteran who drinks to numb the guilt from killing a teenage boy. Without alcohol, he's a really nice guy, but he's a mean drunk. It's alienating his wife and his kids are afraid of him. So killing means
    1) One dead teenage boy.
    2) One life ruined by out-of-control alcoholism
    3) One family in the process of breaking up.

    When he was asked if an enlightened person is free from karma, Baijhang answered that an enlightened person doesn't overlook karma.
  • edited February 2010
    to kill oneself is actually killing a potential buddha, and harming a buddha ( whether it is a potential , an intention etc ) belongs to the five cardinal sins ( killing one's father , killing one's mother , killing an arhat, injuring a Buddha and causing disunity in the Buddhist Order ) as explains in Buddhist canon & treatises , are the most serious offenses of slandering lifes and Dharma, they are invariably fall into incessant suffering.
  • edited February 2010
    I really appreciate the responses :)
    Many were very helpful to me.
    I suppose I should have narrowed the variables and described my situation.

    What happened was someone tried to break in, while I was home.
    Someone who risks the resident being home while they try to break in rather than casing my place before hand is what made me come back to the question of taking a life. The man tried to come through the window and I dont know if some odd instinct took over but I instead of reverting to my martial arts teachings, I just began excessively yelling "Who the **** are you?!" over and over and even started yelling out the window as he ran away.

    After the police had come and gone I found myself pacing with excessive hate and adrenaline, that I have not felt for a long long time. It was very overwhelming to enter that state of mind again. I really lost a lot of trust and compassion for human beings during this time. My wife was not around for any of this and I did not tell her how I had lost my composure. But I have been reflecting on this situation for some time, many "what if's" have played in my mind over and over.

    Things like "I could have taught that guy a lesson" or "I could have subdued the intruder and tried to explain the wrong of his ways and offer to help him" or what if he drew a gun on me, no martial arts are going to save me from a bullet. (at least not my training :tonguec:)

    But for my specific situation I feel I did the right thing.

    I too thought about a Hitler situation as well. (politically it doesnt hold up for me though because no one stopped Stalin, no one stopped Mao, Burma, Sudan, Libia and on and on) But you know how many of us, if given knowledge of Hitler's intentions, would have actually tried to act? and would it really have prevented anything if you succeeded? He wasn't the one doing all of the grunt work and was very popular with the German populace when he first came to power. I think I would at least try to act, and accept that I would have to take a life in order to preserve the innocent.

    I like the Dalai Lama's approach to an extent. In a calculated situation where you have time to think, I agree. In a animalistic situation, I feel I would do what I must have to do. But after having my own experience I have no idea what I would do because obviously my martial arts training was not put into play.
  • edited February 2010
    epicurio;86150 said:
    What about the railroad switch dilemma? There's variants, but lets say a train is headed for a bridge that has collapsed. If the train reaches the bridge, the train will fall and everyone on the train will die. You have the ability to switch the track so the train will use a different railway, but there is a person tied to the tracks of the alternate railway. Do you flip the switch, saving everyone on the train and killing the one person, or leave the train on its current path, killing everyone on the train?

    This is a hypothetical situation, but it's one where the choice to kill would be a skillful action. Thus, I think it's possible that killing can be skillful if it is done with the intention of reducing suffering when there are no alternatives.


    Heh... but it is still hard... naturally people would want to go for the smaller numbers... the one person tied to the track. But what if one of the people on the train that you just saved ends up being an serial killer and kills hundreds more and causes a lot of suffering? The problem with this is that we can never know. So even in thinking that killing the one man over the several others on the train will appear better...what IF it's not? We cannot know.

    I think therefore, that we must base our actions off of intentions. Is killing inherently wrong? No... I think it would be hard to argue it is unless we follow a god, with ideas of sin, that anything is wrong or right from the start. I think it is more so the intentions that makes something either "right" or "wrong". If the person is in great pain, is killing them justified? I think so... we should not let others suffer... what if they were in great great pain and they wanted to die? What mercy killing be wrong? Similarly is it right then to stand by while another suffers in great pain and undeniable agony? :o

    Intentions, I think, are what determine the quality of our actions.
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited February 2010
    Nios;86168 said:
    Here is a talk be Ajahn Brahm on the ethics of killing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlvYJK0NXOM

    Nios.

    Thanks Nios. You just gave me something to after work ;)
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited February 2010
    Isn't the train dilemma an easy one? All you need to do is put yourself in the train or on the track or one of your loved ones in the train or on the track and you will know what you will do without a doubt. ;)

    It's all about self interests me thinks. The "me" and "mine" which we try hard to eliminate. Killing isn't fine because 99% of the time killing involves self interests. So instead of worrying about this let's get back to the practice ;)
  • edited February 2010
    o0Mundus-Vult-Decipi0o;86149 said:
    Right and wrong are subjective. People can only offer their opinions, and there will always be conflicting ones.

    What do you think? Is it ever right to kill? Or maybe justified is a better word?
    I agree. Right and wrong are only words. I don't believe in a universal code of morality. I know it sounds callous, but a weird belief of mine is that whether it's right or wrong, it's still truth. If that makes any sense at all.

    For some reason the Gandhi quote "Everything we do in our lives is meaningless, but it's very important that we do it" seems relavent to me.
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited February 2010
    Marmalade;86327 said:
    "Everything we do in our lives is meaningless, but it's very important that we do it" seems relavent to me.

    Is meditation meaningless? :confused:
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Somewhere in the UK, Central-Southern.... Moderator
    edited February 2010
    Yes.

    and -

    No.

    YOUR meditation is meaningless to everybody but you.
    MY meditation is meaningless to everyone else, but me.
    so I guess it depends on context.....
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited February 2010
    I was talking of the context of myself. I mean why should anyone else care about my meditation :p
  • ValtielValtiel Veteran
    edited February 2010
    Deshy;86329 said:
    Is meditation meaningless? :confused:
    There's more to that quote. :p
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited February 2010
    o0Mundus-Vult-Decipi0o;86423 said:
    There's more to that quote. :p
    Which is?
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited February 2010
    Btw Mundus, what's the meaning of this quote in your user name? "ॐ due April 10th"
  • ValtielValtiel Veteran
    edited February 2010
    Which is?
    "Everything we do in our lives is meaningless, but it's very important that we do it"

    I think you might have taken "meaningless" the wrong way. :o
    Btw Mundus, what's the meaning of this quote in your user name? "ॐ due April 10th"
    It's just an om symbol and my baby boy's expected birth date. :lol:
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited February 2010
    o0Mundus-Vult-Decipi0o;86440 said:
    "Everything we do in our lives is meaningless, but it's very important that we do it"

    I think you might have taken "meaningless" the wrong way. :o

    Why don't you enlighten me then? I'm all ears. Btw why are you embarrassed? heheheh :p
    o0Mundus-Vult-Decipi0o;86440 said:

    It's just an om symbol and my baby boy's expected birth date. :lol:
    Are you expecting? That's cute
  • DeshyDeshy Veteran
    edited February 2010
    Nios;86168 said:
    Here is a talk be Ajahn Brahm on the ethics of killing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlvYJK0NXOM

    Nios.
    I listened to this. It's really good. Main idea is "it is bad to kill out of self interests, ill-will, delusion and fear"
  • edited February 2010
    In general terms (not specific to this case) it is pertinent to ask oneself: who do you want to kill? Why kill them when they will die anyway? Sometimes it seems that a person deserves to be killed, but when the price is too high in terms of personal evolution and progress, i.e. when being locked in samsara is the cost of revenge, we reconsider. If it is necessary to kill someone, then it becomes a mechanical action. If it's just an illusion of mind and not really 'necessary', then it's more difficult. My take on this is: sometimes what's good for the corporeal existence in the manifest illusory world is not good for our progress towards enlightenment, and vice versa. In fact, what seems to be contemptible in the eyes of the world is often the only way forward to make progress.

    As for killing a failed house-burglar, there is clearly no excuse for this no matter how angry we might be. It's a different matter if someone was actually inside the house and perceived as a threat to oneself or one's family. However, killing them in such pressing circumstances may be considered 'right' from the perspective of dharma but as I understand it would still likely have negative karmic consequences, according to the Buddhist doctrine. However, is the doctrine correct? The attraction of Buddhism is that enlightenment is a matter that should become self-evident, and there is very little 'faith' in irrational conceptions. However, there is no basis to evaluate the rationality of the concept of karma, as it simply cannot be proved. Therefore in an emergency situation your subconscious would evaluate this and dictate your response vis a vis 'killing'.
  • edited February 2010
    masuyo;86137 said:
    ... Is it ever right to kill a person?...
    Only Trolls on this forum!!!! :lol::lol::lol:
  • MountainsMountains Moderator
    edited February 2010
    Jason;86143 said:
    If, however, you were to ask me whether it's ever skillful to kill, I'd have to say probably not, especially from a Buddhist perspective. Buddhism posits that the intention to kill itself is inherently unskillful (i.e., rooted in hate or delusion) and ultimately leads to unpleasant results.

    Personally, I've come to the conclusion that killing rarely benefits anyone, if ever. I think it's better to look for an alternative whenever possible, but nobody is perfect and sometimes bad things happen.
    Even the extremely irritating housefly that constantly buzzes around the lamp in my bedroom when I'm trying to meditate? I have to admit to straying from the path a good bit when it comes to irritating insects :)

    Mtns
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