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Kammic effect of breaching a precept

Scholar monk Bhikku Bodi when questioned by Amanthi Peiris,
as noted in a publication entitled RESPONSES, had this to say, to her three questions.

Courtesy : Vesak Lipi

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I would be grateful to you if you would make clear the kammic effect of breaching a precept (in the three cases below, the first precept which is abstinence from taking life) in order to protect the lives and interests of others.

For instance,
i. Take the case of a man-eating jaguar. This animal is on the loose in a village terrorising the whole region and posing a great menace to the whole community. Is it wrong to kill the jaguar with the intention of saving people from falling prey to it and losing their lives?
ii. A poor farmer has through laborious work reaped a good harvest. A wild boar finds its way into the area and destroys the crops. Is it wrong for this farmer who supports his entire family on the meagre income he gets from his crops to ensnare and kill this destructive animal?
iii. In the case of diseases spread by insects (eg;- Malaria and Dengu fever spread by the mosquito) is it kammically unwholesome to destroy and eradicate the carrier insect?

Responses :
All three questions are really variants on a single principle, and
thus rather than answer your questions individually I will discuss the principle on which they hinge. The underlying question is whether unwholesome kamma is involved in performing an action which violates the moral precepts when the motivation for the action is concern to protect others rather than a wish to cause harm for others or to gratify one's own desires. The problem is a difficult one, and I myself have given it a lot of thought over the years. Unfortunately, too, these moral dilemmas do not seem to be discussed in the Suttas or in their traditional commentaries. I have always wondered why we do not find a Sutta wherein a farmer comes to the Buddha and presents him with a problem similar to the ones you describe. How much easier our task would then be. As it is, without a fixed canonical precedent for dealing with these problems, we each have to do our own thinking about them and work out our own solution, I can only offer you the solution that seems most -satisfactory to my own mind.

First of all we have to take account of the fact that in the Suttas the Buddha teaches that taking life is an unwholesome kamma and a morally blameable action. It is prohibited by the first moral precept for both monks and lay people, and no cases are mentioned in the texts where the Buddha recognizes circumstances which could excuse the killing of living beings which could after the kammic quality of the action so that it would become wholesome rather than unwholesome or morally commendable rather than blameable. Thus we would have to conclude that though there may be circumstances which might affect the moral gravity of the action, the degree to which it is unwholesome and morally wrong, there are no circumstances which could alter its basic karnmic quality, transforming the act of killing into a morally good and kammically wholesome deed.

Thus an individual who is fully intent on perfecting his Moral purity and seeks to avoid all unwholesome actions would have to abstain from the taking of life under all circumstances (that is, from deliberate taking of life, unintentional taking of life being unavoidable as long as one is alive). If his way or living involved him in situations where the wellbeing of his family and fellow Citizens required that he engage in conduct contrary to the precepts then he would have to reconsider his basic way of life. If he felt himself to be so fully committed to pure moral observance that he could not indulge in any morally questionable deed, or so intent on progressing towards liberation (nibbana) that he does not want to be delayed by moral lapses, then he would have to change his way of life so that be could avoid situations which present him with those morally challenging dilemmas, such as that between breaking a precept or allowing harm to befall his family and neighbours. In the last resort, if all other attempts to change his
circumstances failed and yet he could not allow himself to break the precepts, he would have the opportunity to enter upon the life of a monk (or nun), where he would receive all protective support to enable him to avoid violation of the precepts.

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