Animals and the Buddha

Animals and the Buddha

This is a documentary about the relationship between humans and animals as it is understood in the various Buddhist traditions. It was made by Dharma Voices for Animals, which is an organisation I also belong to.

The film is basically a series of short interviews with representatives from all three Dharma traditions, who give a patchwork view of the teaching in Buddhism on the subject of animals.

The first section of the film looks at the teachings found in Buddhism, and how this defines our attitude to our relationships to animals. Beginning with the first precept not to harm or attack other creatures, which includes all breathing beings.

It also explains how we all have the same aggregates, the same sense contacts, the same ability to suffer and so on, and also the same aspirations for happiness and security.

The film discusses the various attitudes we have to animals, from loving our pets to disregarding almost entirely the welfare of food-animals, or animals that are used in laboratory experiments.

Part three then asks what can we actively do to change the situation. Obviously we cannot right the world overnight, and sometimes have to be content with the small influence we can have on the situation, but that doesn’t mean we cannot do anything.

Becoming vegetarian or vegan ourselves, and encouraging others to do so, would mean that some small part of the chain of violence against animals is broken; speaking out for animal rights in a general way is another positive step we can take.


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2 comments to Animals and the Buddha

  • Dana

    Dear Bhante,
    Having watched that video and having seen and read about pest outbreaks and their consequences, made me reflect on limits of Ahimsa and way of compassion-wisdom. So I would like to ask a few questions:

    Q: What would you do if your room, home or monastery was infested with bedbugs?

    As far as I see, the principle of Ahimsa and the first precept ideal is not so simple when it comes to invertebrate parasites like bedbugs who can reach plague proportions in a a few months.
    (Like passing on of Avian flu virus by sneezing and coughing and not disposing responsibly of infected tissues,catching the bedbugs and releasing them into neighborhood will help them find new hosts and so will likely facilitate spread and hence help multiply suffering rather than alleviate it. (In summary, save 2 bugs and let them multiply and you might add suffering for many humans, birds and other hosts.)

    With the same mind-heart intention – not to harm anyone but to alleviate and prevent suffering now and in the long-term, the answer is not simple and appears different from different views or perspectives.

    From a narrow view in space-time one seems to break the 1st precept by catching and squashing 2 bedbugs (not a threatened species) right where they are. But from a larger perspective in space-time (social and planetary) one who does so prevents potential bigger pest infestations or plague and with it human and bird hosts illness, suffering and even use of poisons that will harm other and ‘innocent’ species.

    As far as I see the kamma and vipaka are dependent on one’s intention and the situation present.
    Q: What is your view of Ahimsa and the 1st Precept, its limits in real life?
    Q: Who crates more of bad kamma:
    1. one who catches and releases a few bedbugs into neighbourhood, or
    2. one one who catches them and squashes them before they can spread, or
    3. one who asks someone else to remove them for him/her because he/she doesn’t want to break the 1st Precept?

    Thank you.
    With metta,

    • Anandajoti

      Hi Dana, I think the first thing to realise is that the training rules in Buddhism are not absolutes, they are guidelines and have to be treated as such. A second thing is that in real life we are not usually faced with binary choices, this or that, but normally there are many different options, and the best thing is to try and work within the guidelines while negotiating whatever reality has come up with.
      As you say, intention is very important, for example, if someone plunges a knife into someone’s stomach, we cannot simply say it is wrong: maybe he is performing a life-saving operation; maybe he is in the course of robbing someone.
      Similarly, someone who acts to prevent the outbreak of disease in a neighbourhood is not acting with the same intention as someone who habitually kills just as of moral negligence, or lack of care.

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