A question of not harming any sentient being

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A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby dyanaprajna2011 » Fri Apr 12, 2013 12:19 am

Before I ask my question, let me set it up for you guys. I work third shift in a factory, and don't get much sleep during the day, due to things like having two Autistic kids, every day life, etc. So, at nights on the assembly line, I get tired, and my mind can go to weird places. Now, with that being said, here's my question, and be forewarned, it's somewhat weird.

So, we all know the first precept is to do no harm to any sentient being. But, would this include things like microbes and bacteria? If we're sick, and take medicine to kill off the bacteria, virus, etc., does this constitute a breaking of the first precept?

I realize this is kind of a dumb question, but every since having it last night, I've been actually interested in an answer. Thanks in advance for your patience and kindness. :p
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Re: A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Apr 12, 2013 1:01 am

Good question, not a dumb one.

The Buddha allowed monastic and lay people to take medicine as needed. The Buddha also stated that it does not constitute 'intent' to harm or kill if you can't see the being, for example very small organisms or micro-organisms such as nematodes on plant-based foods that you might eat. Or if you accidentally walk on an insect, not seeing it or intending to do so.
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Re: A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby Konchog1 » Fri Apr 12, 2013 1:16 am

Also, viruses are not alive. They're organic machines.
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Re: A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby KeithBC » Fri Apr 12, 2013 1:41 am

This is a recurring theme. It always boils down to "Well, does that mean I have to think about this creature? What about that one, and that one?"

For all practical purposes, you can consider the set of "sentient beings" to be identical to the set of "animals" (using the zoological definition). That will take care of 99% of hypothetical cases. For the fringe cases, such as bacteria and viruses, use common sense, don't be fanatical, but use compassion. Buddhism is not a fanatical religion of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots". It is a discipline to think about the consequences of your actions.

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Re: A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby Nosta » Fri Apr 12, 2013 1:19 pm

This is similar to ask about not harming plants or even artificial inteligence with self consciousness. In the end, I think that the best we can do is try to avoid harm beings and when we need to choose between 2 beings, the best is to "sacrifice" the ones suffering less. For example, between saving a dog or an ant, I would choose the dog, since it suffers more (I suppose) than an ant.

If a lion attacks a child and you need to kill the lion to save the kid, I suppose it would be better to kill the lion.
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Re: A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Apr 12, 2013 6:44 pm

My teacher has been asked this many times. Actually, he was asked if it was okay to take medicine with alcohol in it if drinking alcohol violated a precept. His indication was yes, because really, otherwise you would not do so. There are people who are much stricter about this, of course. let nature take its course, and if I die, the so be it, at least I didn't violate any precept or intentionally kill any living being.

But this can also be a type of ego clinging, a kind of Buddhist martyrdom, thinking that one is maintaining some notion of perfect purity at any cost. But if you die from an easily treatable infection, how will you help other beings? And troubling the mind about it may just dig you in deeper.

If a person is really worried about it, they can do things such as releasing lives (worms from a bait store, for example) and thus free other beings who are intentionally intended for killing.
Even up the score, so to speak.

It's like a car in an accident, unless you really get a lot of pleasure from killing, hope to do it again, etc., the precept isn't really broken, maybe just "dented and scratched up" a little, and it can be "repaired".

That's why The Mahayana is called the great vehicle. :tongue:
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Re: A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby undefineable » Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:05 pm

There's always the obvious argument -from neuroscience- that a conscious mind has been found to be closely correlated with a fully-functioning central nervous system - If a CNS is in 'sleep mode' (literally or thereabouts) or just not there in sufficient quality (i.e. sophistication) or quantity, we can't expect many signs or reports of sentience as we know it.

But of course nothing is proven either way and the issue seems unlikely to be simple; take the simple 'brains' of spiders or box jellyfish for example. Either way, our remaining alive in itself is more than likely to inadvertently harm other sentient beings (bugs living in cultivated soil and so on) even if an active CNS is assumed. While Jains and 'fruitarians' (many of whom eat only fallen fruit, I understand) attempt to purify their lives of all harm via ascetic observance, Buddhists are urged to 'renounce' the whole set-up samsara gives rise to, whereby sentient minds will at some point appear to themselves -as a direct or indirect result of our action or inaction as well as everyone else's- to have been harmed.
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Re: A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby mandala » Sat Apr 20, 2013 4:00 pm

dyanaprajna2011 wrote: So, we all know the first precept is to do no harm to any sentient being. But, would this include things like microbes and bacteria? If we're sick, and take medicine to kill off the bacteria, virus, etc., does this constitute a breaking of the first precept?


It's an excellent question and good that you're thinking deeply about the implications of not harming. I think the answer is 'just do what you can'.
No matter how careful we are, we're all going to be killing thousands of tiny beings everyday. An important point to consider is INTENTION - a major factor in the severity of karma accrued. So all those unseen beings we accidentally and unintentionally kill, it could be argued that you don't accrue the karma of killing because you don't have the 4 factors for a 'complete action' (ie: intention, object, the action, rejoicing the completion).

Similarly, when you take medicine your intention is to be healthy, not to cause harm.

But it's great to be mindful of protecting life when it's possible,, maybe not automatically squashing the mozzies or bugs or as another poster mentioned, liberating animals too. I know some dharma groups that buy live fish (that were restaurant bound) and do prayers and mantras before releasing them.
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Re: A question of not harming any sentient being

Postby dude » Sat Apr 20, 2013 5:56 pm

Before his enlightenment, Siddhartha Gotama observed the practice of praying for the living beings in each drop of water that he drank, wishing that they not be harmed. He later abandoned this and other practices as extreme.
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