The 1st precept

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).

The 1st precept

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun May 05, 2013 1:40 pm

Hello.

When I follow the 1st precept, I try to follow it with all its sides included in the vinaya. That means that I try not to speak of the advantages of death. My interpretation of this part of the rule is deficient because I don't know the vinaya. So I see three interpretations, of increasing restriction over ones actions, of this rule and it's exemplified in the following three questions. Now is it only breaking the precept if the person whom you talk to about the advantages of death commits suicide? If I were to praise the advantages of abortion to a woman facing this choice, and she did made an abortion, would that be a breach of the precept? Is it breaking the precept just to speak of the advantages of death without it having the consequence of someone dying?

Be well :)
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sun May 05, 2013 2:22 pm

To me it isn't, but that's me. I don't believe in precepts as a rulebook or think in terms of violation as a yes-no matter. Sometimes we have clear and simple choices, sometimes lifes pushes us down dark paths where we are faced with dilemmas. The way I see it, the point of the precepts is not to be individual flavours of rules and regulations that you risk "violating", but they all are different aspects of the one and same thing: Letting go.
In my opinion, the advice not to kill is letting go of 2 things: Letting go of taking control over your environment, shape it the way you want it (whether killing a bug in your room or commiting genocide for your regime), and letting go of feelings of hatred or revenge that may cause someone to passionately try to kill, harm or get rid of something or someone, or a desire to judge others, which is also taking control. Every moment we let something live, is a moment we let go.

So, if you'd do the things you describe I wouldn't take them as bad kamma because there is no clinging to particular desires. If you would be saying them because you hate the person, or you hate the unborn baby, and that is sort of your hidden agenda to insincerely promote death, then obviously that is an act of controlling which is bad kamma.
Personally I'd go as far as to say abortion is a virtuous if you do it out of considerations of the wellbeing for all (for example if there is no food and the baby would die slowly), and a non virtuous act if it is done because we have a sense of the ideal live we crave to have ("I want a baby in a year from now, not yet"). I would call the latter 'taking control', which would lead to suffering as it brings us away from the realisation that samsara cannot be controlled or bring happiness.

Just my view. Would be interesting to see others as well. Metta :hello:
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Indrajala » Sun May 05, 2013 3:49 pm

To violate the precept requires the intent to harm or kill someone either directly or indirectly.

So, encouraging a woman to get an abortion and them going through with it as a result would constitute a violation of the precept, even though you personally did not carry out the deed yourself.

It all comes down to your intent.

Talking about death in a general sense and this inadvertently resulting in a suicide or abortion wouldn't be a transgression.
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby daverupa » Sun May 05, 2013 4:09 pm

Equating abortion with death, depending on how long it's been since the two gametes became a zygote, may be unwarranted.

Of course, shooting a dead person with the intent to kill them (thinking they were asleep) would break the precept, even though no death occurred due to the action.

It's a little more complex than it might seem at first.

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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun May 05, 2013 5:32 pm

Please, let's not discuss abortion. It has been discussed to death (pun intended) in our society, and it's off topic. I just want to know what people who know the vinaya think.

Thank you Bhante Indrajala for your reply. :anjali:
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sun May 05, 2013 6:03 pm

Indrajala wrote:So, encouraging a woman to get an abortion and them going through with it as a result would constitute a violation of the precept, even though you personally did not carry out the deed yourself.

It all comes down to your intent.


So then, what if you encourage this with good intentions?
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Coyote » Sun May 05, 2013 6:06 pm

Dennenappelmoes wrote:
Indrajala wrote:So, encouraging a woman to get an abortion and them going through with it as a result would constitute a violation of the precept, even though you personally did not carry out the deed yourself.

It all comes down to your intent.


So then, what if you encourage this with good intentions?


The idea is that killing or praise of killing i.e abortion and good intent are contradictory. Intentional killing only arises when there is unwholesome intent.
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sun May 05, 2013 6:11 pm

Coyote wrote:
Dennenappelmoes wrote:
Indrajala wrote:So, encouraging a woman to get an abortion and them going through with it as a result would constitute a violation of the precept, even though you personally did not carry out the deed yourself.

It all comes down to your intent.


So then, what if you encourage this with good intentions?


The idea is that killing or praise of killing i.e abortion and good intent are contradictory. Intentional killing only arises when there is unwholesome intent.


But why would it necessarily be unwholesome? (see my post above)

By the way, Indrajala's interpretation is quite different from Yuttadhammo's explanation in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zisXgVnv-cI
Yuttadhammo argues that the notion of something being intentionally killed because of you is irrelevant, what matters is the psychological effect of performing the act of taking a life by yourself.
Last edited by Dennenappelmoes on Sun May 05, 2013 6:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Coyote » Sun May 05, 2013 6:20 pm

Dennenappelmoes wrote:But why would it necessarily be unwholesome? (see my post above)


Killing is an inherently unwholesome act, if done with knowledge and intent. That is all there is to it. From my POV there can be no if, ands or buts about this as I think it is quite clear from the Theravada teachings. Some actions can only be supported by certain mindstates - for example killing, but also stealing, lying, drinking and so on. These mind states are akusala.
From my POV sila is not about doing things without clinging, then we can do what we want (sorry for the oversimplification of what you were saying in your post). It is about purifying mind body and speech from certain acts that necessarily come with negative intent no matter the motivation (which is different from intent).
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sun May 05, 2013 6:33 pm

Coyote wrote:
Dennenappelmoes wrote:But why would it necessarily be unwholesome? (see my post above)


Killing is an inherently unwholesome act, if done with knowledge and intent. That is all there is to it. From my POV there can be no if, ands or buts about this as I think it is quite clear from the Theravada teachings. Some actions can only be supported by certain mindstates - for example killing, but also stealing, lying, drinking and so on. These mind states are akusala.
From my POV sila is not about doing things without clinging, then we can do what we want (sorry for the oversimplification of what you were saying in your post). It is about purifying mind body and speech from certain acts that necessarily come with negative intent no matter the motivation (which is different from intent).


If it is not about letting go, but about the rules for their own sake, then to me, in my understanding at this moment, it seems that that turns the system from what I considered to be grounded in logic and open to analysis into a dogmatic list of axiomatic rules. It is contrary to my intuition to follow rules just because they were mentioned clearly and have authority grounded in something outside myself. It would also produce strange side effects, for example, if you would break the precept by killing something to prevent massive amounts of suffering, you would have done something unwholesome and you would have to suffer the consequences from your transgression, but that in intself would be wholesome as it is a sacrifice of your own happiness for the sake of others. So here you end up in a contradition, which would not have been there had we already assumed that this act was in fact wholesome from the beginning.
Oh well. Your point is clear, thanks for describing your position. :anjali: I won't go on and on about it :roll:

EDIT: I found a Wikipedia article with interesting references and quotes that illustrate both Coyote's view and my view within Buddhism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_euthanasia. Guess there's room for all of us after all :group:
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Coyote » Sun May 05, 2013 7:12 pm

Dennenappelmoes wrote:If it is not about letting go, but about the rules for their own sake, then to me, in my understanding at this moment, it seems that that turns the system from what I considered to be grounded in logic and open to analysis into a dogmatic list of axiomatic rules. It is contrary to my intuition to follow rules just because they were mentioned clearly and have authority grounded in something outside myself. It would also produce strange side effects, for example, if you would break the precept by killing something to prevent massive amounts of suffering, you would have done something unwholesome and you would have to suffer the consequences from your transgression, but that in intself would be wholesome as it is a sacrifice of your own happiness for the sake of others. So here you end up in a contradition, which would not have been there had we already assumed that this act was in fact wholesome from the beginning.
Oh well. Your point is clear, thanks for describing your position. :anjali: I won't go on and on about it :roll:

EDIT: I found a Wikipedia article with interesting references and quotes that illustrate both Coyote's view and my view within Buddhism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_euthanasia. Guess there's room for all of us after all :group:


I disagree that Theravada teaching is not grounded in logic or that it is dogmatic. One of they key teachings however is the clear distinction between wholesome and unwholesome based on intent (not motivation) in the mind. I guess we are going to have to disagree on this one.

I don't think there is any contradiction either. Committing immoral deeds to help others is not a sacrifice of your own happiness for that of others. Motivation may be a mitigating factor, but if the unwholesome intent is there I don't think any wholesome can come of it. It is just delusion.
Of course in real life rather than in theory there are always going to be multiple layers and factors going on in the mind. It is difficult to separate one intent from another which is why it is best not to even go there.

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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sun May 05, 2013 7:51 pm

Well, I guess it hinges on whether you believe any good can come out of it. This is difficult to prove so it'll probably remain open for debate. Apart from this aspect I am with you completely.

Coyote wrote:Of course in real life rather than in theory there are always going to be multiple layers and factors going on in the mind. It is difficult to separate one intent from another which is why it is best not to even go there.


Good point, I think everyone can relate to that. This is why I tend to focus on the positive side of things, viewing the teachings as a series of opportunities to improve ourselves. Rather than asking "would X be a violation?" I prefer to take the teachings to heart and let them inspire me to do positive things for people. We're always a work in progress, we try :juggling:
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun May 05, 2013 8:57 pm

Modus.Ponens wrote:Please, let's not discuss abortion. It has been discussed to death (pun intended) in our society, and it's off topic. I just want to know what people who know the vinaya think.

I don't think its off-topic to discuss abortion, but it is best avoided, as it is an emotive topic. The Vinaya rule is clear — speaking in praise of death or recommending an abortion is an offence of defeat if someone, acting on that advice, kills someone, has an abortion, or carries out an abortion. The details can be found in Pārājika 3
Should any bhikkhu intentionally deprive a human being of life, or search for an assassin for him, or praise the advantages of death, or incite him to die (saying): "My good man, what use is this evil, miserable life to you? Death would be better for you than life," or with such an idea in mind, such a purpose in mind, should in various ways praise the advantages of death or incite him to die, he also is defeated and no longer in affiliation.

Summary: Intentionally bringing about the death of a human being, even if it is still an embryo — whether by killing the person, arranging for an assassin to kill the person, inciting the person to die, or describing the advantages of death — is a pārājika offense.

The offence is only complete if one's advice is acted upon.

In four ways one breaks the precept of killing living-beings:
  1. One kills with one's own hand
  2. One urges another to kill
  3. One condones it, i.e. permits another to kill when one has the power not to allow it.
  4. One speaks in praise of it.
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sun May 05, 2013 10:23 pm

To anyone interested in the point of view that I described, here is Ajahn Brahm defending it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlvYJK0NXOM
Ajahn Brahm argues that in some cases, intentional killing can be the most wholesome thing to do whereas hiding from the situation, playing safe and not intervening, could be considered negligence and thus bad kamma. The motivation / intended goal is key.

I'm not sharing this to complicate matters, only to add some nuance and room for different people's interpretations. Just so that nobody ends up feeling a bad Buddhist over this :hug:

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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun May 05, 2013 11:06 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
Modus.Ponens wrote:Please, let's not discuss abortion. It has been discussed to death (pun intended) in our society, and it's off topic. I just want to know what people who know the vinaya think.

I don't think its off-topic to discuss abortion, but it is best avoided, as it is an emotive topic. The Vinaya rule is clear — speaking in praise of death or recommending an abortion is an offence of defeat if someone, acting on that advice, kills someone, has an abortion, or carries out an abortion. The details can be found in Pārājika 3
Should any bhikkhu intentionally deprive a human being of life, or search for an assassin for him, or praise the advantages of death, or incite him to die (saying): "My good man, what use is this evil, miserable life to you? Death would be better for you than life," or with such an idea in mind, such a purpose in mind, should in various ways praise the advantages of death or incite him to die, he also is defeated and no longer in affiliation.

Summary: Intentionally bringing about the death of a human being, even if it is still an embryo — whether by killing the person, arranging for an assassin to kill the person, inciting the person to die, or describing the advantages of death — is a pārājika offense.

The offence is only complete if one's advice is acted upon.

In four ways one breaks the precept of killing living-beings:
  1. One kills with one's own hand
  2. One urges another to kill
  3. One condones it, i.e. permits another to kill when one has the power not to allow it.
  4. One speaks in praise of it.


Thank you Bhante. :anjali:
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 06, 2013 2:08 am

Dennenappelmoes wrote:
Indrajala wrote:So, encouraging a woman to get an abortion and them going through with it as a result would constitute a violation of the precept, even though you personally did not carry out the deed yourself.

It all comes down to your intent.


So then, what if you encourage this with good intentions?


You can sacrifice a chicken to Kali with good intentions, but it is still unwholesome because it is conditioned by ignorance. You are directly causing harm to another being, thinking it is a good act. This is action motivated by wrong view.
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Re: The 1st precept

Postby Cittasanto » Mon May 06, 2013 11:04 am

Hi Modus.Ponens
Now is it only breaking the precept if the person whom you talk to about the advantages of death commits suicide?

no. there are different levels of breaking the precepts. fulfilling one or more of the fulfilling factors but not all is still tarnishing the precept.

If I were to praise the advantages of abortion to a woman facing this choice, and she did made an abortion, would that be a breach of the precept?

Yes. life starts at conception in Buddhism.
but also hiring an assasin or talking another into committing the act is full offence for you. similare to how an executioner is not guilty of a crime and the King inherits the kammic fruit (simplified).

Is it breaking the precept just to speak of the advantages of death without it having the consequence of someone dying?

Yes. this would fulfill one or more of the factors so would tarnish the precept.
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