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Q: Precept against taking life ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   10 Comments )
Subject: Precept against taking life
Category: Relationships and Society > Religion
Asked by: apteryx-ga
List Price: $3.41
Posted: 28 Dec 2003 13:44 PST
Expires: 27 Jan 2004 13:44 PST
Question ID: 290914
What does a true ahimsa-honoring Vedantist or Buddhist or other
genuine reverence-for-life practitioner do when ants get in the
kitchen or mice in the cellar?  Really, what?  This isn't
vegetarianism I'm talking about, or even sparing your enemy; this is
insects or vermin in the larder.

Thank you,
Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
Answered By: knowledge_seeker-ga on 28 Dec 2003 17:52 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi apteryx, 

Your question is a good one, and one that is common ? both from lay
people and from practitioners of certain faiths.

This from "Awakening the Buddha Within" by Lama Surya Das, whom I
think can safely speak for many reverence-for-life practitioners:

P. 201 ? 202

?Cherish Life Don?t Kill

?Not killing may seem to be a very simple instruction to follow, but
in reality it is quite difficult?what if you have cockroaches in your
kitchen or parasites in your intestinal tract? To kill or not to kill,
that is the question...

?Even the indomitable Dharma can be touched by infestation of
cockroaches. Karmapa?s KTD Monastary in Woodstock, New York was
established in 1976; two years ago we faced a unique moral dilemma.
The gentle Buddhist monks ? were being overrun by roaches ?the
cockroaches were teeming in corners and in floorboards? new Dharma
students were being put off ? a decision had to be made ? to
exterminate or not to exterminate. The lamas were visibly distressed ?
spent hours in debate and discussion..

?Finally after many phone calls between Woodstock, Nepal, and the
mother Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, a difficult decision was reached. 
Within days an exterminator?s van showed up at the monastery?s gates?.
Prayers were made, heads were bowed, hearts were touched, and the deed
was done. Sometimes in life we make decisions which appear to be as
practically necessary as they are painful.?

The point is to balance consideration, respect, and necessity. 

You may be interested to read the lama?s continued discussion of the
topic which goes for another page in his book. If you don?t have
access to the book, you should be able to access that section through
Amazon?s ?Search Inside This Book? feature.

Go here, scroll down to ?Search Inside This Book? and search the term: cockroaches.


Thank you for a thought-provoking question. 


search terms: 
none ? remembered the story, just had to find it in my book.

Request for Answer Clarification by apteryx-ga on 28 Dec 2003 20:19 PST
Thanks, knowledge-seeker, this is an interesting story.  But I'm
afraid it doesn't amount to an answer for me.  I'm more interested in
a general practice and principle than in a single incident, unless the
incident stands for universal practice.  Lama Surya Das, aka Jeffrey
Miller, is a good spokesman for a particular group, but I am not sure
he is the voice of ahimsa.  And I am not really interested in what
anyone who *doesn't* follow a strict principle of ahimsa does, thanks
very much, digs.  They're everywhere, and it doesn't much matter what
they call themselves, they're not the folks I am asking about.  I want
to know what people who won't wear silk and won't stomp a spider and
won't hook a fish for dinner are taught to do when they find bugs in
the breadbasket.  The precept to take no life does not say anything
about compromises with necessity.


Clarification of Answer by knowledge_seeker-ga on 29 Dec 2003 10:37 PST
Hi apteryx, 

I plan to follow up here. Am just a bit swamped this afternoon. If you
don't mind waiting, I'll see what else I can find.


Clarification of Answer by knowledge_seeker-ga on 30 Dec 2003 09:18 PST
Hi again apteryx, 

First, to apologize if I sounded trite above. When I used the term
?necessity? I didn?t mean it in a subjective way ? putting one?s
personal needs (or convenience) above the value of a life. I think a
better way to describe it would be a prioritizing of the lesser of two
evils. For example, when choosing between killing ants or having less
(or contaminated) food to feed your children, one *could* consider
deciding against your children to be a greater violation of ahimsa.

I?ve spoken with some friends and acquaintances who are Buddhists (one
Zen, the others I?m not sure) and adhere to various levels of ahimsa
or non-violence. They are all vegetarian; don?t believe in killing
animals for food, clothing, or convenience; live in modern suburban or
city homes; and all are faithful to the other practices of their
faith. Here?s what I?m hearing from them:

As you might expect, there is a range of ?correct? responses to the
problem of how to ultimately handle infestations of insects or vermin
and still maintain the precept of non-violence or ahimsa ? however,
all agree that they were taught that the bottom line is prevention
rather than cure.

To avoid being put into the position of having to choose between
preserving the life of an insect (or mouse) and protecting their
larder, these people (compared to many) are close to fanatic when it
comes to cleanliness.  Countertops and cupboards are kept clean and
sparse. Dry larder food is packaged tightly or, in the case of
potatoes and other unrefridgerated vegetables, hung. Dirty dishes,
food packaging, and garbage are never left out overnight. They apply
mindfulness to every aspect of food preparation and storage in order
to prevent having to deal with ants, roaches, and mice.

The same, by the way, applies to their gardens. Two are avid vegetable
gardeners. Neither will use insecticides or animal traps, but instead
plant and protect their gardens in such a way as to prevent
infestations. They both agree that when the bunnies and cabbage
caterpillars do arrive, they either chase or carry them away, or just
allow them their share of the bounty.

When pressed with the big, ?but what if??  they had varying responses
as to their final action, but all agreed that they were taught that
mindfulness, respect and gentleness were key. They also agreed that to
provide clean healthful food to their families was paramount, so
infestation control was a necessary and acceptable part of their
religious practice.

If prevention failed, they remove the attractant (food). If that
failed, they remove the offenders alive (live catch and relocate mice,
sweep ants into a box and take outdoors, etc.).  They would further
block off external access to their home, reroute ant trails using
bait, put down preventive barriers such as sodium bicarbonate and in
short, do everything else possible to avoid harming the animals. Only
as a last resort would two of them, (with great regret), kill the
offending invaders and even then, only those necessary ? no more. The
other woman said she would never resort to killing, but just work
harder at removing the bugs. All three of these people felt that they
were acting within the guidelines of their faith.

Another avenue one woman spoke of was that of using other animals to
control vermin ? for example, a cat to catch mice. She tells me there
is no Buddhist precept against cats killing mice. It is considered a
natural behavior and is acceptable. The same holds true for using
ladybugs to control aphids for example. (I haven?t researched that
line of thought to confirm this)

Now, those are somewhat anecdotal, though I think (as in my example of
the monastery) do speak to what ?real? people do in order to balance
the protection of their food supply while still honoring the
non-violent precepts of their faith.

As far as formal doctrines go, we can examine several of the
ahimsa-adhering groups. Let?s start with the most extreme --  the
Jains, who vow not to kill any living creature. These are the people
who gently brush ants aside as they walk, breath slowly so as not to
inhale insects, and even avoid disrupting the flow of water, which
they consider to be living.


Yet, even they have developed a precept for the everyday householder ?

?(1) Categorization of Vow of Ahimsa:

It is true that the rules of conduct laid down by Jainism for the
attainment of salvation the highest goal in life, are the same for all
people. But at the same time it is a fact that these rules have been
divided into two categories, viz., 'Sakala Charitra', i.e., full
conduct, and 'Vikala Charitra', i. e., partial conduct.

?While the first category is meant for the observance by the ascetics, the second
category is allowed for the observance by the householders or the common people.

?(3) Observance of Ahimsa by Householders:
When Ahimsa is to be observed by householders in accordance with their
situations and capacity while performing their normal functions as
members of different occupational or other groups of society,
naturally certain limitations arise.

??a householder is advised to keep the responsibilities to the minimum
as soon as possible and take the necessary precautions to cause
minimum Himsa or injury to others.?


Obviously, those were not the people you were referring to, but I
present them as the extreme one-hand.  Another example we could take
would be here --

Nandinatha Sutras of Hinduism - Siva

Siva's devotees, when unable to observe ahimsa perfectly, may claim
three exceptions to preserve one life over another. But these must be
used sparingly, reluctantly, after the noninjurious options have been
tried. Aum.

Siva's devotees faced with imminent danger may elect to injure or kill
to protect their life or that of another, or to defend the community
as a soldier or a law officer in the line of duty. This is ahimsa's
first exception. Aum.

Siva's devotees may elect to preserve the life and health of a person
or animal under their care by forfeiting the life of organisms, such
as worms or microbes, that pose a threat. This is the second exception
to ahimsa. Aum.

Siva's devotees may elect to protect the home, the village and the
nation by eradicating predators, pests, bacteria and disease-carrying
creatures that threaten health or safety. This is ahimsa's third and
last exception. Aum.

Siva's devotees uphold the principle not to kill even household pests,
but to stop their entry, not to kill garden insects or predators, but
keep them away by natural means. This is the highest ideal. Aum Namah

Nandinatha Sutras of Hinduism


Again, exception to Ahimsa based on the priority of human health over
that of microbes and pests, with focus on prevention followed by
mindfulness and respect in the event of necessary killing.

I?m not really sure if I can add anything more to this Apteryx -- or
which direction to go if I could. I?ve tried to give you an overall
sense of how everyday people and ordained practitioners view and
handle the dichotomy between preserving all life and protecting one?s

I hope that I?ve answered your question. Please let me know ..

Thank you ? 

apteryx-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $1.03
Thank you, Knowledge Seeker.  I consider that to be a thoughtful and
thorough answer to my question.  The combination of yama-niyama sutras
and present-day anecdotes covers the ground nicely, and the emphasis
on prevention is intuitively sound.  And as for the extremes, if even
the Jains make exceptions, then by my lights it must be okay.

Thanks also to the other commenters for sharing their understandings,
and especially to journalist for the practical preventive suggestions.


Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: digsalot-ga on 28 Dec 2003 14:44 PST
I can't speak for all Buddhists, but as a Shin Buddhist (Pure Land),
when ants get into the kitchen, I put down boric acid and if a mouse
is in the house, a trap is in order. (so far I've never had one)  I
also slap mosquitos and chase flies with a vengence.  Have swatter
will smack.

It is not against our principles.  Pure Land is the largest Buddhist
Practice in the world and we can chomp down burgers and hot dogs with
the best of 'em.  Heavy on the mustard, please.

Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: wiseman321-ga on 28 Dec 2003 20:46 PST
If possible, you can get more information on the topic of killing or
not killing from free online book- "Zhuan Falun", and it's a genuine
Buddhist teaching. I think this question cannot be answered merely a
few sentences because it deeply rooted in the Bhuddhist philosophy,
and there is a entire chapter devoted on explaining about it. You can
go directly to that chapter 6 -  or the book:  For your information,
Falun Dafa is not Buddhism nor a religion, but a Buddhist cultivation
practice based on  the universal principles of truthfulness,
compassion, and forbearance. The author also describes a story about
what did Buddha Shakyamuni's disciple do when Shakyamuni wanted to
take a bath and "saw the bathtub was covered with bugs, and that if he
cleaned it the bugs would be killed."
Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: tlspiegel-ga on 28 Dec 2003 21:42 PST
Hi apteryx,

This reference pretty much sums it up to the bottom line:

"I?ll give you an example. There was a story about Shakyamuni during
his early years. One day in the forest Shakyamuni wanted to take a
bath, so he asked his disciple to clean the bathtub. His disciple went
there and saw that the bathtub was covered with bugs, and that if he
cleaned it the bugs would be killed. The disciple came back to tell
Shakyamuni that the bathtub was covered with bugs. Without looking at
him, Shakyamuni said, "Go clean the bathtub." The disciple went to the
bathtub and found that he didn?t know where to begin, since the bugs
would be killed if he started cleaning it. He circled around it once
and headed back, and asked Shakyamuni, "Venerable teacher, the bathtub
is covered with bugs. If I clean it I?ll be killing them." Shakyamuni
took a glance at him and said, "What I asked you to clean was the
bathtub." The disciple suddenly got it and cleaned the bathtub right
away. That illustrates a point: we can?t stop taking baths because of
insects, and we can?t look for other places to live just because of
mosquitoes, just as we can?t tie up our necks and stop eating and
drinking because grains and vegetables have life in them. That?s not
the idea. We should keep these things in perspective and cultivate
openly and with dignity. It?s fine as long as we don?t harm living
things on purpose. At the same time, human beings need to have their
living spaces and living conditions, and these need to be maintained
and protected. Human beings need to sustain their lives and live

Best regards,
Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: apteryx-ga on 28 Dec 2003 22:16 PST
I'm sorry, I seem to be having a lot of trouble making my question
clear.  I am not a stranger to the teachings of the Dharma, having
been a student of Zen for nearly ten years.  But I am not asking what
somebody did 3000 years ago, not even Shakyamuni.  I would like to
know what ordinary people (not monks) who are true practitioners of
ahimsa do now, in a 21st-century American kitchen, when there are ants
in the cupboard.  This is no more answered by telling me what
Shakyamuni Buddha did than it would answer a question about modern-day
Christian practice in real everyday life to tell me what Jesus did.

Thank you,
Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: digsalot-ga on 29 Dec 2003 07:29 PST
It may very well be that the people you are asking about don't have a
kitchen in which to put a bread basket.  If they are as devoted to the
"way" as you say, the mere act of boiling water in which to cook
something would cause the deaths of innumerable bacteria and other
microscopic thingies.  So forget the kitchen.  Also, forget the bread,
the baking of it kills yeasts.

I would also imagine that a person who practiced ahimsa rules to the
hilt would be rather dirty since taking a bath kills small things,
would probably be infested with head lice and other body parasites
since killing them would also be wrong.

There could also be the other extreme which is the practice of extreme
cleanliness in order not to attract those things which need to be
killed in order to keep such death to the minimum.  Things such as
keeping their bread and other food supplies in closed containers,
keeping the kitchen immaculate so as not to attract bugs to start
with, along with bathing and doing laundry frequently in order to keep
germ populations to a minimum in order not to have to kill so many of
them by 'accident.'

I feel that the term "ordinary people" and "avid practicioners of
ahimsa" are mutually exclusive.  There can only be extremes of ultra
dirty or ultra clean depending on personal or group philosophy. 
Neither is "ordinary."

Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: apteryx-ga on 29 Dec 2003 13:57 PST
"Avid" was not my word.  People who don't have a breadbasket are not
the people I am asking about when I ask about people who have bugs in
the breadbasket.  I consider those responses argumentative without
being enlightening, digs, but thanks just the same.  I know there are
people of the sort I'm talking about who sincerely practice ahimsa and
also have jobs, kitchens, etc.  I am not talking about perfect
practice.  I am talking about genuine, committed practice by ordinary
people.  The people who are excluded by the question are excluded from
the answer.
Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: journalist-ga on 30 Dec 2003 08:48 PST
Greetings Apteryx:

My way of dealing with this is to issue "fair warning" to whatever is
in my house that I don't want there.  I do this to explain my intent
to ants/whatever *before* I take an action that might end life.

Your question is an interesting one and I wanted to share what I do
and have done in the past:

I had a similar situation with ants. I "communicated" to them to leave
and they didn't. So I purchased ant poison and, before I put it out, I
"communicated" to them that I was putting ant poison around the house
and, if they wanted to continue living, they would need to avoid the
poison.  I don't know if my "intent message" worked with the ants (or
if they ignored my warning) but they disappeared from my house and I
never saw any dead ones.

I also had a problem with red wasps getting into my former house (I
lived deep in the country). I would "communicate" to each one to fly
to a window where I told him/her I would capture him/her in my bug
catcher and release them outdoors ("where," I would tell them, "you
will be ever so much happier") - every single one (no exceptions)
would fly to the window within 10 seconds of my "intent message" and I
captured and released over 4 dozen while I lived there. I never killed
even one (nor was I ever stung).

I do think that "universal intent" (or whatever you want to call it)
does work.  That aside, you might choose to place a tasty food trail
away from your house and tell the ants to follow it for some fine
dining.  Maybe a pile of sugar far from your house.  Offer them a safe
banquet.  :)

Some natural ant repellents suggested online are:
"To deter ants, use catnip. Sprinkle it in their paths."
" a border around your house IE.. near doors and other entrys
of spearmint plants. why they dont like them, I dont know, but it
works, they keep the little pests away, plus it makes entries smell
These suggestions are from message at

Ground cinnamon or ground cloves

You may find these articles of interest:

Natural Insect Repellents 

Herbal Insect Repellents

Best regards,


natural ant repellent
herbal insect repellent
Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: voila-ga on 31 Dec 2003 08:05 PST
Greetings Apteryx,

I just pulled a couple of graphs out of the hat and I hope they're
helpful in your understanding.

"Jainism is much misunderstood by some Jainas themselves. The lay
belief is that Jainism consists only in not killing insects and other
living creatures, in avoiding meat-eating and in performing hard
religious penances; but Jainism is much more than this.

One  reason for such superficial lay belief is that even some ardent
followers of Jainism do not take the trouble of understanding some
very subtle ontological and metaphysical doctrines of Jaina
philosophy. (...) Jainism is nothing but an openness which leads us,
step by step, with the help of logic and reasoning, towards the
highest level of spiritual enlightenment where the individual soul
enters into the realm of pure knowledge, and the State of complete
bliss. 'Jainism' is not an 'ism.' It is a systematized line of
thinking which, being perfectly rational, does not demand any
allegiance to any individual or god. Nay, it puts emphasis on your own
efforts and plainly tells you that even the Tirthankars (the
path-makers) like Mahavira cannot help you beyond pointing out the
'path' to be followed, because they themselves have obtained salvation
by that path. They only show the path, but efforts must be your own;
there is no favour in finding the gates of Heaven."

"Buddhists reject the Jain idea that one can accrue Karma accidentally
(e.g., a Jain monk who accidentally ingests meat hidden in his begging
bowl takes on karmic debt even though he did not mean to.) Generally
speaking the Jains have a physical theory of karma, whereas the
Buddhists have a psychological theory."


"Furthermore, ahimsa goes beyond physical injury, as can be seen in
this passage from the Ayaramgasutta: "One may not kill, ill-use,
insult, torment, or persecute any kind of living being, any kind of
creature, any kind of thing having a soul, any kind of being." The
practice of ahimsa requires not only good action but pure intentions
as well. As the Pravacanasara states: "The soul is defiled even though
there may not be any actual injury to life. [But] a careful and a
pious person who is not disturbed by passions and who is kind towards
animals will not suffer the sin of violence, even if, by accident,
injury is caused to life." (3.17).

Metta communication

Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: journalist-ga on 02 Jan 2004 07:22 PST
Thanks for your kind words, Apteryx!  I'm delighted that my personal
experience may be of some benefit to you.  What started me on this
"intent" thing was a lady I heard one night on the Art Bell show.  She
was discussing how powerful is intent, how everything in the Universe
comprehends intent.  I began thinking about it and tried it on the red
wasps.  To my amazement, it worked.

I searched around in an effort to locate the woman's name/research but
I was unable to find a link that I recognized as her theory.  If I
ever do find one, I'll post it here for you.

Best regards,
Subject: Re: Precept against taking life
From: mgeorge-ga on 24 Aug 2004 08:21 PDT
There may be many exceptions taken to the precept against killing, or
justifications based on the way some groups might justify killing when
they feel it is needed. It is really quite simple and clear in the
light of the Dhamma. It's cause and effect, the law of kharma. If one
kills there will (eventually) be a result. Few of us can keep the
precept perfectly. Killing out of a sense of self preservation, greed,
or simply convenience is common. It reflects the strongly held
delusion of self, and lack of knowing of the certain future result.

Also, one should not confuse intentionally killing with
non-vegetarianism. That is red herring dating from the Buddha's time -
his jealous cousin tried to split the Sangha on that issue.

Another red herring is the idea that almost any activity might break
the precept because there are potentially microbes that are killed. It
is intentional killing of sentient beings that has kharmic results. A
creature too small to detect can hardly be the object of intentional
killing and is not sentient (according to a number of Budhist

So, if there are ants in the kitchen, find a way to take them out
without killing them to avoid undesirable future results. If you
choose to kill them then there WILL be future results.

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