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Right Livelihood and being a biologist - Dhamma Wheel

Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
jeff144
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Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby jeff144 » Sat Jun 30, 2012 6:30 pm

Hi Everyone,

Over the past two years I have been adopting more and more of the Buddhist philosophy and precepts into my life. I would not yet say that I am a full convert, but I am 80% of the way there and acknowledge that I still have much to learn.

One issue that I have been contemplating often recently is how the concept of Right Livelihood applies to my own career as a biologist. While my work may lessen the suffering of other humans in the long run, I have had to kill (literally not figuratively) millions of sentient beings (mostly invertebrates such as insects but also a few thousand vertebrates such as mice and fish).

I can share my own thoughts on the issue, but I think what would be most useful to me is to have others' thoughts on the issue of killing sentient beings while (hopefully) helping humans. I would also appreciate any teachings that you could direct me to on this issue. I will say that working so intimately with the natural world has been a powerful driver in starting me on my path toward Buddhism.

:thanks:

-Jeff

SamKR
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby SamKR » Sat Jun 30, 2012 8:36 pm

Hello Jeff,

I have also been pondering about similar issue (though not related to killing but to entertainment).

Killing sentient beings even for helping humans cannot be justified in the Buddha's teachings. I have never come across any sutta or Buddha's words where he says the breaking of sila (the precepts) is okay if it helps many people.

I think it is quite possible to remain a biologist and not kill any sentient beings knowingly.

:namaste:
SamKR

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manas
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby manas » Sat Jun 30, 2012 9:24 pm

Hi jeff,

maybe your employer could change your duties so that you can do the analysis of the research, but where you are not the one actually experimenting on the creatures?

I also can relate, in a way. As a musician I am happy to play songs that are about romance, although it can be a tiresome business... :| ) But I won't play songs that glorify things such as improper sexual activity, or drug-taking. So I've had to 'tweak' my occupation a little, to remain in line with Dhammic principles.

with metta,

manas.
Last edited by manas on Sat Jun 30, 2012 9:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Then the Blessed One, picking up a tiny bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monk, "There isn't even this much form...feeling...
perception...fabrications...consciousness that is constant, lasting, eternal, not subject to change, that will stay just as it is as long as eternity."

jeff144
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby jeff144 » Sat Jun 30, 2012 9:30 pm

Hi Sam and Manas,

To be truly honest, there are probably alternate jobs I could find and still make a similar income. Perhaps even a higher income. However, giving up the years of training/education would be quite difficult for me (perhaps an attachment I need to overcome). The type of research I do necessitates the taking of animal lives and I wouldn't easily be able to become another type of biologist that could avoid killing. PhD-level biologists (and most any other scientists) are so specialized that they can't easily change focus.

One thought that keeps me from changing careers is that I would likely choose to benefit from medical research regardless of whether I was participating. Every new drug goes through animal testing and animals are always euthanized after testing. There is also much suffering that is imposed outside of merely killing animals. For example, inducing tumors in mice for cancer research.

In some ways, I suppose it parallels the concept of eating meat versus being a butcher. Why is it acceptable (in the eyes of some) to mindfully consume meat but not mindfully take an animal's life? I don't want to get sidetracked though since I know that there has been much discussion on meat eating.

Perhaps the taking of lives for human benefit outside of food/clothing is an issue more Buddhists should contemplate. It is easy to look at a leather shoe and associate it with a dead cow, but have you ever thought of how many animals suffered to develop chemotherapy? Outside of medicine, chemical compounds in numerous products are tested for lethality against a range of different organisms before being approved for use.

It is a predicament and I don't know the "right" answer. I would be very interested in any more thoughts that the board has or if you have seen any teachings from lamas that address these issues.

:thanks:

-Jeff

ringo
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby ringo » Sat Jun 30, 2012 9:32 pm


jeff144
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby jeff144 » Sat Jun 30, 2012 9:38 pm

Hi Ringo,

Do Buddhists generally consider bacteria/fungi/etc. that are killed when we brush our teeth or use antibacterial soap to be of karmic consequence? Plants are much more specialized and "intelligent" than these organisms. My impression was that there had to be some minimum of a neurological system for a being to be considered sentient in the Buddhist view (nevermind the scientific view).

-Jeff

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manas
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby manas » Sat Jun 30, 2012 9:54 pm

Last edited by manas on Sat Jun 30, 2012 10:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Then the Blessed One, picking up a tiny bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monk, "There isn't even this much form...feeling...
perception...fabrications...consciousness that is constant, lasting, eternal, not subject to change, that will stay just as it is as long as eternity."

ringo
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Jul 03, 2011 7:13 pm

Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby ringo » Sat Jun 30, 2012 10:11 pm


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Kim OHara
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Jun 30, 2012 11:08 pm

Hi, Jeff,
The discussion over what are "sentient" beings is as long-running as the one over vegetarianism and the one over the kammic consequences of incidentally/accidentally causing suffering in daily life.
You won't find many references to research biology in the suttas :tongue: but if being a soldier can be Right Livelihood then so can many other occupations which cause death or suffering. I tend to take a pragmatic approach (maybe it comes from having grown up on a farm!) and simply try to minimise the harm I cause, and maximise the good I do, but without tying myself in knots over it. That, for me, covers 90% or more of the situations with 10% or less of the effort.
In those terms, the question about your livelihood reduces to, "Does it do more good than harm?" If the answer is yes, a supplementary question could be, "Can I reduce the harm it does, while still achieving the good?"
In those terms, research which necessitates the death of insects but saves human lives is Right Livelihood; research which which necessitates the death of rabbits and only produces new cosmetics is not.

:namaste:
Kim

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LonesomeYogurt
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sat Jun 30, 2012 11:24 pm

Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta


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Alobha
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Location: Germany

Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby Alobha » Sat Jun 30, 2012 11:44 pm


jeff144
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Joined: Fri Jun 29, 2012 9:20 pm

Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby jeff144 » Sun Jul 01, 2012 12:18 am


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LonesomeYogurt
Posts: 900
Joined: Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:24 pm
Location: America

Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sun Jul 01, 2012 12:48 am

Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta


jeff144
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Jun 29, 2012 9:20 pm

Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby jeff144 » Sun Jul 01, 2012 1:15 am


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manas
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Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby manas » Sun Jul 01, 2012 1:36 am

Hi jeff,

going to a butcher and purchasing meat supports the butcher, and the butcher buys that meat from a slaughterhouse, where animals are killed against their will, often in much distress. So in terms of resultant suffering for other living beings, yes I see your point; it makes less difference whether one kills the animal oneself, or merely purchases the meat for consumption.

But in terms of one's resultant state of mind, there is a big difference between purchasing a piece of dead meat lying on the butcher's table, as compared with personally restraining a living, sentient being against it's will, and killing it. The resultant effects on the mind are not the same.

with metta.
Then the Blessed One, picking up a tiny bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monk, "There isn't even this much form...feeling...
perception...fabrications...consciousness that is constant, lasting, eternal, not subject to change, that will stay just as it is as long as eternity."

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Ben
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Location: kanamaluka

Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby Ben » Sun Jul 01, 2012 4:46 am

Greetings Jeff,

Just continue to practice as best you can given your circumstances.
Kamma, according to the Buddha, is intention.
kind regards,

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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rowboat
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Location: Brentwood Bay

Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby rowboat » Sun Jul 01, 2012 8:37 am

Hello Jeff, on the subject of taking life I would advise you to consider the following:

Five faultless gifts
"There are these five gifts, five great gifts — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & brahmans. Which five?

"There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from taking life. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the first gift, the first great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & brahmans...


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dham ... asila.html
Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
Ud 5.5

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tiltbillings
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Jul 01, 2012 8:51 am


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Kim OHara
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Jul 01, 2012 10:00 am


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robertk
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Re: Right Livelihood and being a biologist

Postby robertk » Sun Jul 01, 2012 1:44 pm



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