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Fishing Ethics

edited April 2012 in Buddhism Basics
I used to go fishing for fun. I'd catch fish and release them. What would Buddhist philosophy have to say about that? I understand that a precept is to not harm any living being - but to my knowledge, fish to not have a fully developed nervous system and can't really feel pain.

Comments

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    yes, they can.
    My brother proved that when he would catch fish then poke them with a stick.
    trust me - they feel pain.
    and the hook rips their mouths....

  • I used to fish too. Growing up in Indiana, its just a part of life. Once I grew up and started thinking about wether or not animals felt pain, I never felt right about putting a hook into another creatures mouth. I dont know what Buddhist Philosophy says, but I try not to harm any creatures, whether thats through pain or using them for my own pleasures.
    I agree with @federica too, there is always a chance of swallowing the hook too, that cant be good for them.
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    ^^ Fed's and tbunton"s comments right on target. Why harm in any way an animal just for sport?
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited April 2012
    Who knew the hook tears their mouth? I thought the idea of catching 'em, then releasing 'em was humane. Live and learn. This was a good question the OP asked.
  • Well, if you like fishing so much. Why not do it on the computer??

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    Who knew the hook tears their mouth? I thought the idea of catching 'em, then releasing 'em was humane. Live and learn. This was a good question the OP asked.
    Well, it's more humane than killing them!

    ;)
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited April 2012
    Fishing for sport is unethical according to Buddhism.

    Dhammapada Verse 270
    Balisika Vatthu

    Na tena ariyo hoti
    yena panani himsati
    ahimsa sabbapapnam
    "ariyo" ti pavuccati.

    Verse 270: He who harms living beings is, for that reason, not an ariya (a Noble One); he who does not harm any living being is called an ariya.

    1. ariya: one who has realized one of the four maggas.

    The Story of a Fisherman Named Ariya

    While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (270) of this book, with reference to a fisherman named Ariya.

    Once, there was a fisherman who lived near the north gate of Savatthi. One day through his supernormal power, the Buddha found that time was ripe for the fisherman to attain Sotapatti Fruition. So on his return from the alms-round, the Buddha, followed by the bhikkhus, stopped near the place where Ariya was fishing. When the fisherman saw the Buddha, he threw away his fishing gear and came and stood near the Buddha. The Buddha then proceeded to ask the names of his bhikkhus in the presence of the fisherman, and finally, he asked the name of the fisherman. When the fisher man replied that his name was Ariya, the Buddha said that the Noble Ones (ariyas) do not harm any living being, but since the fisherman was taking the lives of fish he was not worthy of his name.

    Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:
    Verse 270: He who harms living beings is, for that reason, not an ariya (a Noble One); he who does not harm any living being is called an ariya.

    At the end of the discourse the fisherman attained Sotapatti Fruition.

    Although he mentions the fish being killed, I don't think one needs to kill the fish in order to cause it harm.
  • Cast a net. Keep them in water until you are ready to kill. Make sure it is a clean kill and all parts are used and not wasted.

    ?...
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    Cast a net. Keep them in water until you are ready to kill. Make sure it is a clean kill and all parts are used and not wasted.

    ?...
    According to Buddhism, it's better to not kill anything. :)

  • Invincible_summerInvincible_summer Heavy Metal Dhamma We(s)t coast, Canada Veteran
    I used to go fishing for fun. I'd catch fish and release them. What would Buddhist philosophy have to say about that? I understand that a precept is to not harm any living being - but to my knowledge, fish to not have a fully developed nervous system and can't really feel pain.
    http://news.discovery.com/animals/fish-feel-pain-too.html

    Although if you're saying they don't cognitively experience pain the same way we humans do... I think you'll have to ask the fish.
    Who knew the hook tears their mouth?
    Because that's what hooks do?

  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited April 2012
    That verse quoted above is nonsense. Buddhists back then struggled with the prohibition against killing and should people eat meat, same as now. Some monks have a tradition now of not eating meat, and some monks eat meat. This story has all the signs of a morality tale invented to make a point. It happens. Through his "supernatural powers" Buddha tracked down a poor fisherman and told him that made him unworthy of joining the ranks of his followers? The Buddha all his life let people come to him. He didn't seek out and convert disciples. That's not the same Buddha who patiently asked questions of even the worst human beings who came to him, until the visitor answered his own question.

    The Buddha ate meat, including fish, and knew very well someone has to kill the animal before it landed in his bowl. Also, if people living hand to mouth were not allowed to gather what protein is available, people will starve. There is no moral difference at all between eating a fish sandwitch someone else caught and catching the fish yourself. I recognize the moral rightness of the vegetarian argument, even if I continue to eat meat.

    My grandson loves to fish. The fish he wants to eat, he kills quickly and takes home and eats. The ones he doesn't want to eat, he releases. I go with him and enjoy watching him fish, the way my grandfather spent time with me. I've talked him into using nonbarbed hooks if he's not interested in cleaning fish that day, so he doesn't tear up the fish's mouth too much. The real professionals do it that way, he knows.

    I don't fish anymore, but that's a personal decision on my part. My grandson knows why and thinks it's just one of GrandPa's funny ways. So my best advice is, if it bothers you to the point you don't enjoy it anymore, then don't do it. Nothing huge or mystical about it.
    Mack
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited April 2012
    Most people do not consider the Dhammapada to be nonsense. :) Killing or harming other living beings, especially "because it's fun", is against Buddhist practices and philosophy, no matter what anyone thinks about it. The Buddha did not go fishing nor did any of his followers. Doing that was expressly prohibited. :)


  • Yet... I killed a badly mutilated Squirrel...

    ...and if my child was starving and there was a fish to hook. I would fish for it....

    ....and be a "bad" Buddhist.



    There are precepts that we strive to keep.. yet we can never say never.... Moral absolutism isn't practice.


  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited April 2012


    ...and if my child was starving and there was a fish to hook. I would fish for it....

    Yes, but a wholly and completely different situation compared to "fishing because it's fun". A "good Buddhist" does not harm other beings, because it's fun to do. :)



  • RichardHRichardH Veteran
    edited April 2012
    That is probably why sport fishing enthusiasts like to finesse the issue of fish pain. I read somewhere that Rene Descartes told students who were performing vivisections that animals did not feel pain, and that their cries meant no more than the squeaking of wheels. Once you acknowledge that you are causing pain... you feel like a sadist.. and no one in their right mind wants to feel like a sadist.
  • Most people do not consider the Dhammapada to be nonsense. :) Killing or harming other living beings, especially "because it's fun", is against Buddhist practices and philosophy, no matter what anyone thinks about it. The Buddha did not go fishing nor did any of his followers. Doing that was expressly prohibited. :)
    I love the Dhammapada. It's one of the greatest compilations of Buddhist wisdom that has survived the ages. That does not mean every story in it is of equal value today or that it is inerrant.

    It is a compilation and there are three or four versions that differ in some important ways, although the Pali version has become most popular. Literary analysis suggests there is an earlier, common version now lost that the existing versions all draw from. In other words, just like the Bible, people sometimes put words in their founder's mouth for a greater good and to make a point. If you read in the Bible that Jesus performed a miracle, do you have a problem thinking someone stretched the truth to make a point, or that rumor and stories grew over time and came to be written down as fact? The sutras are no different.

    But I'm not saying Buddhist monks are allowed to go fishing, then or now. If being a Noble One means not fishing, fine. Did the man have a family that depended on his fishing? It doesn't say and the person who wrote the story didn't care. People didn't fish for sport back then, you know. It was how they put food on the table. When I read the story, I see the eternal conflict of what it means to be a Buddha, that's all.

    Buddhists should learn not to delight in another being's suffering. That's true. Sport fishing isn't taking delight in another being's suffering. If you tell a fisherman that, you're insulting them and they won't listen to another word you say, because you don't understand. It's the thrill of the stalk and chase and catch. The fisherman respects and admires the fish. It's an instinctive drive for people that's been played out for a hundred thousand years. So is it Buddhist? It's not for me. If you're a Buddhist that fishes, that's for you to deal with.



  • robotrobot Veteran
    I would like to bring up the same point that I raised last time seeker posted that passage.
    It is of particular interest to me as a fisherman.
    It seems that the Buddha must have walked past many people to find this fisherman who stood out as an individual whose realization and karma had prepared him for stream entry.
    This mans path to his encounter with the Buddha had been through killing fish for a living.
    Nothing in his lifestyle had prevented him from purifying himself to the point that he attracted the attention of the Buddha.
    Does this seem like a tale about the negative karma suffered by someone who takes life to provide for his family?
    It take this this as a tale about hope for the multitudes of people like me whose karma has been to kill creatures for others to eat.

    Also, in any catch and release fishery there are mortalities. A tired fish has a much higher chance of dying from stress and exhaustion or being picked off by a predator.
    That's why most modern commercial fisheries are managed to avoid discards. Unfortunately, sport fishing is not generally held to the same standard.
  • So your walking along, when out of the blue, a nice snack lands out in front of you. Your hungery, maybe you missed breakfast, so you go ahead and start nibbleing on it. All of a sudden BAM! you have a big ass hook in your mouth and being drug along out of your enviroment, and into some huge creatures hands. Hmm. That doesnt seem fun at all. Seems actully the opposite. Maybe like suffering.
    My point being, it maybe fun for us, with the thrill of the hunt and all. But no matter what way its spun, it still sucks for the fish. Wether its catch and release or not. The OP never talked of starving children. It talked of sport fishing. Our goal as Buddhist is to cause as little harm as possible. Putting hooks into other living beings is causing harm. Just my .02
  • RichardHRichardH Veteran
    edited April 2012
    In the spiritual economy of old, the lay people absorbed the karmic consequences for obtaining the meat, which the Bhikkhus could eat without karmic consequence.. This was because the Bhikkhu's were on a fast track to Nibbana.. and the laity generally were not... they were privileged to assist the Bhikkus. It was a two-tier system.

    I know Bhikkhus today who eat meat that is offered. They are not vegetarians.. but they can't even engage in gardening, lest they kill a worm.
  • SabreSabre Veteran
    edited April 2012
    The Buddha ate meat, including fish, and knew very well someone has to kill the animal before it landed in his bowl. Also, if people living hand to mouth were not allowed to gather what protein is available, people will starve. There is no moral difference at all between eating a fish sandwitch someone else caught and catching the fish yourself.
    Actually, there is a big difference between killing animals and eating animals. The first has an action and intention (karma) of killing, while the second does not. According to your reasoning, I could also say enjoying the wealth some nations have gathered through suppression and killing of other races (Africans/Native americans/etc.) is the same as being someone who actually suppressed those people back then. Or getting something out of someone else lying (for example a fraud) is the same as having the intention of lying yourself. Of course, those are not the same actions.

    Monks just ate what were the leftovers, whatever they could get out of begging. At least, that's how it started. But nowadays monks still aren't allowed to eat meat that was especially killed for them, to not support any killing of animals by anyone.

    As a response to the first post: I've personally see the precepts not as rules, but as guidelines. They can be blurry at times, depend on the person, and they will develop with the practice.

    But to me, fishing is seen as unskillful. I don't know about the nervous system of a fish, but even if the hook itself doesn't hurt, you still harm the fish by getting it out of the water and all. Also you can damage the fish so it can't properly eat or swim anymore. So as a result they are still hurt. Sometimes fish even swallow the entire hook.

    With metta,
    Sabre
  • RichardHRichardH Veteran
    edited April 2012
    A Dana can be pretty sumptuous, especially with folks from the old country hosting.. there is often a mix of vegetarian and meat based foods... it is not likely someone buying fish or chicken from the market has killed it.
  • I know Bhikkhus today who eat meat that is offered. They are not vegetarians.. but they can't even engage in gardening, lest they kill a worm.
    I thought Buddhism was all about intention?
  • RichardHRichardH Veteran
    edited April 2012
    ... They are not troubled by accidentally stepping on an ant.. but gardening entails a likelihood of ending some little critters life.. that is how it has been described to me..

    But... you should ask someone with a good knowledge of Vinaya in Theravadin Buddhism.
  • ZaylZayl Veteran
    Ethics this, ethics that. All this worrying about the ethics of everything is going to make people stop living life to the fullest. What about the ethics of ethics? who decided that?
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    Ethics this, ethics that. All this worrying about the ethics of everything is going to make people stop living life to the fullest. What about the ethics of ethics? who decided that?
    Ethics are a valuable ingredient to life. But I do think people on this forum sometimes get bogged down in minutiae.

  • ZaylZayl Veteran
    @Vinlyn yes I never doubted that ethics are crucial to life. But as you said, people become engrossed with the ethics of every tiny thing, and they begin to miss the big picture.
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    Sport fishing isn't taking delight in another being's suffering. If you tell a fisherman that, you're insulting them and they won't listen to another word you say, because you don't understand. It's the thrill of the stalk and chase and catch. The fisherman respects and admires the fish. It's an instinctive drive for people that's been played out for a hundred thousand years. So is it Buddhist? It's not for me. If you're a Buddhist that fishes, that's for you to deal with.



    The fisherman like the thrill of the stalk and the chase yet being completely obvious to the harm being being caused to the individual fish they chase. He respects the fish but is completely obvious to the harm that is being caused to that individual fish. Simply being oblivious to the harm you cause does not absolve you of the negative karma of your action. Being a noble one does mean not fishing, even if it is to feed yourself. That is why monks are and have always been forbidden to kill food to eat. A noble one does not harm anything, no exceptions. If it causes unnecessary harm to any living being, it's most definitely contrary to what Buddhism teaches. Buddhism teaches Ahimsa and killing another living being is the opposite of that. Fishing, especially for sport, is not in line with Buddhism by any stretch of the imagination. Fishing, for food or for sport, is anti-ahimsa. This is why monks are and have have always been forbidden from hunting, fishing, etc., even for food. Someone asked what does Buddhism think, this is what Buddhism thinks. Of course not everyone follows that, but these are the facts of what Buddhism teaches. People can take that information and do whatever they wish with it, but that is what Buddhism teaches, regardless if anyone likes it or not.
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    @Vinlyn yes I never doubted that ethics are crucial to life. But as you said, people become engrossed with the ethics of every tiny thing, and they begin to miss the big picture.
    Talking of tiny things, I think the role of the bait is entirely overlooked in this debate; the worm!
    It is pierced on a hook and drowned and eaten by a fish for nothing but our entertainment in torturing the fish. We torture and kill the worm, but no, that’s not the fun part. It’s just what we do to get to the joy of torturing the fish.

    But seriously. As a kid I went fishing with my uncle. I secretly took the bait (which was bread) from my hook and just enjoyed sitting there.
  • but to my knowledge, fish to not have a fully developed nervous system and can't really feel pain.
    Where on *earth* did that ridiculous notion come from? You're certainly not the first one I've heard say that. Fish are higher vertebrates with a completely developed nervous system just like yours or mine, and completely capable of perceiving and reacting to pain. Why else would a fish try to get away from your hook through its mouth?

    I used to fish as well, and I even ate my catch. But I don't do either any longer. Harm is harm, even if it's not killing. You're causing suffering to the fish by enticing it to bite a very sharp hook, thrashing it around in the water, and (probably most of all) taking it out of the water. Imagine if the fish did the same to you, pulling you under water with a big hook in your mouth, then leisurely prying the hook out while holding you under water, then suddenly tossing you back up onto the beach, gasping for air.
  • It's great that Buddhists chew on and debate and ponder the question! Maybe the people are right who say it's impossible to be a Buddha while living a normal lay life. They have a point. But, I can't believe Buddha meant that a normal, everyday life is living wrong. We each have to struggle with our way of defining the 8-fold path. Like it or not, Buddhism at least in the West is no longer a two-tier religion of holy monks and unfortunate lay people racking up merit for a future life. Either Buddha-hood is going to fit into normal life of a lay family, or it will never be more than an exotic fringe belief system. The days of monks hiding behind temple walls dispensing blessings and accepting our labor are not going to happen here, for better or worse.

    Something to think about. Been thinking about it for many years. If I ever achieve the impossible and find the answer, I'll let you know.
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited April 2012
    The skins, sw
    Something to think about. Been thinking about it for many years. If I ever achieve the impossible and find the answer, I'll let you know.
    By all means, let us know. :) But also bear in mind that, as you've undoubtedly read here umpteen times, the Buddha did have lay followers, some of whom actually reached Enlightenment. So there is a precedent.

    Tashi Tsering, who wrote an autobiography of his life in the old Tibet, his education in the US, and his return to Tibet, said that as a boy he and his friends would catch fish with their bare hands. They didn't put them back in the water. They played with them. He said they didn't have much of anything else to play with.

  • Invincible_summerInvincible_summer Heavy Metal Dhamma We(s)t coast, Canada Veteran
    Another reading recommendation: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Goes into the ethics, business, and environmental issues surrounding the meat industry.
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