Not Killing

All beings fear death and they all fear the pain of a club.

Think: how do they make you feel?

Then do not kill and do not club; live peacefully with all beings and do not add to the violence of this world.

Harm no one here and you will pass your next life in peace.

— Dharmapada

Why We Should Not Kill

Life is more precious than anything else in the world. Even insects want to live. Whenever we break any of the Five Precepts of Buddhism, we have violated some other sentient being. Whenever we kill anything, we violate that being at the deepest level possible. Killing, thus, is an action that must be avoided by all Buddhists.

Some killing is undertaken senselessly. Children sometimes kill small creatures without giving any thought to their deeds. This kind of killing is based on ignorance of the oneness of all of life. Children should be taught that their actions are depriving an essential part of themselves from having vital freedom. When this kind of killing persists into adulthood, it is a sign that the person in question is lacking in higher wisdom. The actions of an adult are far more intentional than those of a child, and thus adults ultimately will reap far more karmic retribution for their deeds than a child.

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra says:

If one should decide to kill a sentient being while knowing full well that that being is a sentient being, then one will create karma of the body and defile one’s inner moral nature. Karma of the body and defilement of one’s inner moral nature comprise the two aspects of what is called the transgression of killing. Beyond this, shackling people or confining them to small spaces, whipping them or beating them are forms of torture that are almost as bad as killing. When one kills another outright, one has committed the transgression of killing. When one appoints someone else to kill in one’s stead, if one knows full well that the being to be killed is a sentient being, then one also has committed the transgression of killing.

One cannot pretend that one does not know what one is doing if one does. Excuses are useless. If one sees a person at night and says that he is just a tree stump and then kills him, one still has killed no matter what the excuse; and one still has committed the transgression of killing.

If one kills out of passion, one cannot use the excuse of insanity or stupidity; one has still committed the transgression of killing.

If one destroys the life of another, one cannot say that one has simply removed a boil; one has still committed the transgression of killing.

Killing results in karmic retribution. If one orders someone else to kill someone, one still has committed the transgression of killing. The karmic retribution for having given the order to kill will not be confined to retribution for bad speech alone.

All of these kinds of killing are killing plain and simple.

If you do not do any of these kinds of killing then you are keeping the precept of not killing.

Anyone who takes this precept to heart and vows, “From this day on I will never kill again” — that person is keeping the precept of not killing.

And if this person keeps this vow in body and speech, if he promises, “I will never kill again,” then he is keeping the precept of not killing.

The Rewards of Not Killing

Vowing not to kill, and upholding that vow, brings many rewards. As with all the precepts of Buddhism, one gains far more than one loses by choosing to live a morally proper life.

Consciously and consistently refraining from killing increases one’s sensitivity to the needs and feelings of all sentient beings as it helps one to understand that all appearances of separation between sentient beings are illusions. Compassion, sensitivity and the vow not to kill are very deep aspects of the understanding that all of life is one.

When one kills, one’s mind is always full of poisons. When one does not kill, the mind is free and light.

When one kills, one increases negativity and anger in oneself and in the world. When one does not kill, one increases positive and joyful emotions in oneself and the world.

When one kills, one is always anxious and cannot sleep. When one does not kill, one begins to learn that truly there is nothing anywhere to fear and that all is joy.

When one kills, one will be terrified at the time of one’s own death and one will not obtain a good rebirth. When one does not kill, one will obtain a good rebirth in circumstances that will lead quickly toward enlightenment.

Because there is transgression, there is birth. Because there is birth, there is death. Birth and death arise from transgression. When all transgressions have completely ceased, then there is wisdom.

— Surangama Sutra