“Don’t kill” or “Don’t cause suffering”. MAKE UP YOUR MIND!

January 30, 2010

These are fundamental ideas in Buddhism:  Don’t kill.  Don’t cause suffering. 

Some Buddhists take this to mean we should not eat meat, because it involves both killing and suffering of the animal.  Most Buddhists eat meat, and even the Buddha did.  His advice was to eat what is offered to you and don’t complain, but don’t kill or have killed any animal just so you can eat.  If you stop by Uncle Joe’s, he wasn’t expecting you, and he’s just barbecued a brisket and offers you a plate, take it and eat it graciously.  It seems like good advice but I haven’t succeeded there yet.

Some Buddhists take this to mean we should not kill animals. I work in an animal shelter where euthanasia is practiced for certain animals. I am uncomfortable with the euthanasia of animals that have a minor, treatable ailment.  I’m also uncomfortable with the long term warehousing of animals with conditions that make them unadoptable and cause prolonged suffering.   And I’m also uncomfortable with the fact that for every animal upon whom we spend our resources, other adoptable animals are not able to enter our program.  I am not sure there is a solution to this conundrum. 

An aggressive dog is suffering.  A terrified dog is suffering.  If we cannot resolve fear with reasonable means, we can eliminate suffering by euthanasia.  This is a dichotomy. An aggressive dog can cause a great deal of suffering.  If we adopted out a dog that then injured someone, we could be sued and an end could, conceivably, be placed on our efforts to relieve the suffering of animals. The dog, the injured party, the organization’s reputation and employees, and countless animals that cannot then be adopted through our shelters could conceivably suffer.  So, do we end the suffering for the aggressive dog, or create the potential to cause suffering for many people and animals? 

I know how to treat aggression.  But I don’t know how we would be able to ensure that there was never an aggressive response from that animal again.  My crystal ball is murky… no, well… it’s nonexistant.  At the same time, we can’t guarantee that ANY dog will never behave aggressively under some set of circumstances in the future.  Every time we adopt out an animal we are taking a risk.  We perform assessments to minimize the risk, but there are no guarantees. 

Life is often like this.  No clear-cut answers.  No way to make a perfect decision. 

For me, for now, I will work to reduce suffering.


Shiwa Nyi-Tso

3 Responses to ““Don’t kill” or “Don’t cause suffering”. MAKE UP YOUR MIND!”

  1. Here’s my take on this whole subject. You must survive. In the Arctic you won’t be finding many vegetables. So, you must kill to eat. But, you need not cause suffering to kill for food. I am remembering the scene from Cold Mountain where the woman goat farmer loves on the goat as she slices it’s throat and thanks the animal for giving her life.

    One can raise an animal or take a wild animal for food with deep appreciation and care. Or, one can thoughtlessly buy from the factory farms where suffering of the animals is the norm. We don’t always in this day and age have a choice. But, we can try. Death is not a bad thing. Death is the beginning of something else – always. The flower dies so that next years can bloom. The vegetable dies to give you food. Thank it as you would the animal who dies to give you food. The energy of love lives on. I wish all humans would eat what they kill including those who choose war.

  2. Patricia Tiernan Says:

    I studied Buddhism for a period of time. My understanding was that any act should be designed to minimize suffering. In general killing is wrong. Yet if killing one person saves two lives then it is justified. A lot of people choose not to acknowledge limited resources. Sure, if we lived in a society that was willing to sacrifice more then we might be able to save every being. We don’t live in that world so we do the best with what we can


  3. Laurel Says:

    Hey Dolores,
    I always think of that Cold Mountain lady too, that was a scene of such love and appreciation. I also think of a documentary film I saw of a Bushman trailing an eland for many days, he ‘thought’ himself into the animal to find where it was sheltering, and when he killed it he stroked it lovingly as it died and wept as if it was a beloved pet as he thanked it for giving its life to feed his family.

    I guess it is the appreciation of the sacrifice, and the using of every part of the animal to show respect, which sets acts of thoughtful and necessary killing so far away from our culture. On the whole we pay our conscience money to the butcher and eat without thought of what we are eating and how the animal spent its life.

    Yet another great blog Kellie, thanks! I can’t always think of any comments to post, but they sure make me think to myself and I appreciate you sharing your experiences very much.

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