- Save all Life in the World of man and bird
- Bhikkhu Dhammavihari
All beings dread death. It is also
true that all dread being battered and beaten. This we must remember about ourselves as
well. Therefore we shall neither kill nor bring about the death of others. This idea is
beautifully expressed in the Buddhist Manual of Good Living called the Dhammapada as
Sabbe tasanti dasoassa sabbe bhayanti maccuno
attanam upamaü katva na haneyya na ghataye. Dhp. v.129
This Buddhist attitude of living in friendship with all else that lives
everywhere, i.e. both on this earth and in the universe as a whole, is comprehensively
covered under the terms metta [ in Pali ] and maitra [ in Sanskrit ]. It is
often referred to as 'universal loving kindness'. It is, in other words, 'the spirit of
friendliness expressed without any reservations towards all living things'.
This magnanimous philosophy of amity or friendship in Buddhism is fully
enunciated in the Metta Sutta of the Buddhists [ Sn. vv.143-152 and Khp. p.8f. ],
and brings within its fold all grades of life, of man and bird and beast, no matter how
large or small they are. Seen or unseen, near or far, all life is encompassed within
thoughts of loving kindness. In displeasure or in ill-will, one shall not long for or plan
for the destruction of another. With more or less maternal affection, one is called upon
to look at all life in the universe [ = Mata yatha niyaü puttaü ayusa ekaputtam
anurakkahe / Evam'pi sabba-bhatesu manasaü bhavaye aparimanam. op.cit. ]. This
attitude to the vast world we live in is expected to pervade all areas of Buddhist life,
both religious and secular.
World Trends Today
As we take into consideration this
wide concept of the universe, we discover that life on earth, has to be a co-operative
process, based on the principle of inter-relatedness, not only of mutual assistance but
also of mutual non-interruption and non-interference, in order that serious imbalances and
consequent destruction of parts or the whole might not be brought about. The scientists of
the world today emphatically announce the disastrous movement of man, unwittingly though,
in the direction of destroying the biota of the world we live in. Note what the men, whose
thinking in the world matters, say on this subject.
" The one process now going on that will take millions of years to
correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural
habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.
Although oft-cited and reported, the scale of the unfolding
catastrophic loss of many and varied ecosystems through human activity is still only dimly
perceived, for the link between the degradation of the biota and the diminishment of the
human prospect is poorly understood."
[ The Biophelia Hypothesis. Edited by Stephen R. Kellart and Edward O.
Wilson, Island Press, 1993 , p.4 ].
The protagonists of the idea of biophelia hypothesis whom we
have quoted above are laudably moving today in the same direction as
espoused in Buddhism. This is already in the spirit of the teachings of Shakya Muni Buddha
who expressed them more than two and a half millennia ago. These thinkers of today whom we
would unhesitatingly call philosopher scientists, reiterate the utterances of this ancient
wisdom. But they cannot emphasize it any more than what their Sri Lankan predecessors have
implicitly done more than a thousand years earlier. The contemporary stress on this kind
of thinking, namely that the desire for the survival of man must go closely hand in hand
with an equal degree of respect for the survival and well-being of the animal world around
us is boldly reflected in the writings of today's philosopher-thinkers like Peter Singer [
Professor of Philosophy at Monash University, Australia.]. One must co-operatively read
his Animal Liberation [ 1975, 1990 ] and his Save the Animals [
co-authored with Barbara Dover and Ingrid Newkirk, 1990,1991 ], with an appreciable
measure of sympathy, to comprehend the total dimension of this line of thinking and to
meaningfully relate it to the Buddhist concept of love or universal loving kindness [ metta
In a beautifully written brief FOREWORD to the small book Save the
Animals referred to above, Linda McCartney writes the following with a remarkably
' A long time ago we realized that anyone who cares about the Earth -- really cares --
must stop eating animals. The more we read about deforestation, water pollution, and
topsoil erosion, the stronger that realization becomes. Of course, anyone who cares about animals
must stop eating animals. Just the thought of what happens in a slaughter house is enough.
We stopped eating meat the day we happened to look out of our window during Sunday lunch
and saw our young lambs playing happily, as kittens do, in the fields. Eating bits of them
suddenly made no sense. In fact, it was revolting. If you want to live a longer and
healthier life, the conclusion is exactly the same, naturally.'
This spirit of concern for the world we live in and the total content
thereof, both animate and inanimate, is reflected today in many other parts of the
thinking world. Here is Frances Moore Lappe expressing a very candid opinion on this
subject in her Diet for a Small Planet [ Twentieth Anniversary Edition: November
1991 / Ballantine Books, New York ].
' The change you and I witness in a lifetime now exceeds what in previous centuries
transpired over many generations. And we who were born after World War II are the first to
know that our choices count : They count on a global scale. They matter in evolutionary
time. In our species' fantastic rush toward "modernization" we obliterate
millions of other species, transfigure the earth's surface, and create climate-changing
disruption of the upper atmosphere, all powerfully altering the path of evolution.
More personally, I feel the quickening of time in realizing that what
was heresay, what was "fringe," when I wrote Diet for a Small Planet just
twenty years ago is now common knowledge.
Then, the notion that human beings could do well without meat was
heretical. Today, the medical establishment acknowledges the numerous benefits of eating
low on the food chain.
Then, anyone who questioned the American diet's reliance on beef --
since cattle are the most wasteful converters of grain to meat -- was perceived as
challenging the American way of life (especially , when that someone came from Fort Worth,
Texas -- "Cowtown, USA"). Today, the expanding herds of cattle world-wide are
not only recognized as poor plant-to-meat converters but are documented contributors to
global climate change. They're responsible for releasing enormous quantities of methane
into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Then, anyone who questioned industrial agriculture -- fossil fuel and
chemically dependent -- was seen as naive " back to the lander." To challenge
industrial agriculture was to question efficiency itself and to wish us all back into the
fields at hard labor. Today, the National Academy of Sciences acknowledges the threat of
agricultural chemicals and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the small
family farm is at least as efficient as the superfarms undermining America's rural
communities. ' [ Ibid. p. xv f.]
More recently we discovered Jeremy Riffkin writing on this same theme
in his book which is amazingly titled BEYOND BEEF, and even more meaningfully
subtitled Breakdown of the Cattle Culture.
A New Awareness Around Us
Buddhism's basic policy, via its
religious direction, is first to maximize the healthy and harmonious acquisition of all
that is needed to make human life at its very down to earth level, both physically and
mentally, comfortable and pleasant. This policy, in fact, does cover all beings, both
human and non-human. Hence the recurrent Buddhist theme ' May all beings be well and
happy' [ = Sabbe sattà bhavantu sukhitattà ]. This we would unhesitatingly
declare as the ' living ethic ' of Buddhism. This would constitute the basic ethics of
living needed for the survival of humans in the world. To us, this is vitally the heritage
of Buddhism which has been delivered to the world with such sensitivity and awareness. Out
of this spirit also grow the cultural and religious institutions which become natural
derivatives of the religion. It shall be our concern to talk about their preservation and
fostering as well.
Within this magnanimous gesture of wishing well to the other are
contained two concepts which are elegantly encompassed within the words sukha [=
physical comfort ] and somanassa [ = mental satisfaction] as relevant factors
relating to the process we call life or living. Humans are declared to be
characteristically pleasure seekers or sukha-kàmà. They are said to be equally
averse, by their very nature, to displeasure and discomfort [= dukkha-pañikkålà ].
On this principle, the world cannot, and must not turn its back. When humans act contrary
to this principle, the net result thereof is misery and unhapiness in the world. And we
are positively certain that it is not the outcome of any wrath from elsewhere. It is
definitely an error of human judgement and cosequently of human action.
While death is declared in Buddhism to be more real than life, it is
true that people still recoil from death and from being put to death [ = sabbe
bhàyanti maccuno ]. It is well and truly nature's way that things [ including the
inanimate ] which have come into existence, also cease to be in the same way [ vayadhammà
saïkhàrà ]. Therefore it is assumed that it is incumbent on humans to keep
death and destruction of life, even in the animal world, at its farthest [ Na haneyya
na ghàtaye = One shall not destroy life nor get others to do so ].
This respect for life is undoubtedly the most fundamental feature of
the Buddhist heritage which the Buddhists, who are truly committed to the teachings of
their Master, must stand up to promote and uphold. As the impact of Buddhism came to be
felt more and more on the life of Emperor Asoka of India, we see him increasingly practice
this love towards animals. Not only the provision of sanctuaries for animals but even a
reduction in the slaughter of animals for the royal kitchen is witnessed.
At the time Asoka sent his son Thera Mahinda to Sri Lanka with the
message of Buddhism, Tissa who was the ruler of this land, was unfortunately caught on the
wrong foot, going out on his royal hunt to bag a deer [ = migavaü gato].
Understandably, and us giving Tissa the benefit of the doubt, he was at the time the ruler
of a non-Buddhist Sri Lanka. It must have caused him no small amount of embarrassment to
be caught red-handed in this act by the Thera Mahinda, the emissary sent by his unseen
friend Emperor Asoka, who arrived here with the Buddhism's message of love to all things
both great and small.
It did not take long in Sri Lanka for the turn of this tide. Kings
began to show consideration for the life of animals. Ban on the slaughter of animals came
to be imposed from time to time. Kings of Sri Lanka like Amaõóagàminã, Silàkàla,
Aggabodhi IV and Mahinda III, following this tradition of just kingship, ordered from time
to time that no animals should be slaughtered [Màghàtaü kàrayi dãpe sabbesaü yeva
pàõinam. Mhv. Ch. 41. v.30 ], and set up veterinary hospitals for the
treatment of sick animals. That even fishes, birds and beasts [ macchànaü
migapakkhãnaü Ibid. 48. v. 97 ] came under the loving care [ kattabbaü
sabbaü àcari. Ibid ] of a king like Sena I is undoubtedly owing to the benevolent
influence of Buddhism.
Sanctuaries for animals, including 'safe pools' for fish in rivers and
lakes became a common sight in the land. This is more to be viewed as a magnanimous change
of heart and a desirable change in the value systems of the land. It seems to make much
less sense to view this [ as some of our own Sri Lankan researchers at times have done ]
as a total imposition of vegetarianism or as leading, on the other hand, to malnutrition
or economic disaster.
In fact, one of the kings is supposed to have popularized the eating of
fruits as against the 'easy way ' of meat eating and himself undertaken the growing of
various types of fruit like the red melon in the land. Obviously they knew what they were
doing and had commendable long-range vision. They also seem to have held the view that it
was too presumptuous to believe that man had exclusive rights over the land in which he
lived to the exclusion of fauna and flora. On the other hand, they believed that the fauna
and flora not only had a right of their own but also contributed in no small measure to
the total harmonious growth of the land. This ecological sensitivity and the respect man
has for it, is the main stay which in the long run saves him from extinction.
To be in harmony with the world around us, both with the animate and
the inanimate, is one of the principles advocated in Buddhism, in order that man may
attain his fullest development within himself and also secure for himself the maximum
degree of success and happiness in life in the world outside. And this latter, Buddhism
insists, must be achieved without violence to anyone or anything, and at the same time
fostering peace on earth and goodwill among men. It must be remembered by all, the rulers
and the ruled, that within the framework of Buddhist thinking, no heavenly injunction, no
matter delivered from where, shall do violence to this.
We have adequately pointed out above that the world at large has now
reached this awareness that man on this planet must forthwith stop his destruction of life
around him. Man seems to destroy life through his greed for what he believes to be his
personal survival. This is the calculated process of destruction through large scale
rearing of cattle for meat, hide and other needs. In this process, he little realizes that
he is destroying the chances of survival on this planet of everybody including himself.
This greed for personal need, and this we say emphatically together with the social
philosophers of the day, is a totally misdirected and self-assumed need which blinds him
to the worldwide destruction he brings upon mankind.
The sources we have already quoted above like Frances Moore Lappe,
Peter Singer and Jeremy Riffkin, from different periods of time and from many different
parts of the world, have established with more than adequate statistical evidence the
folly of these endeavours of misguided economists and planners in the world. Those who
plan on paper, sitting at their desks, unmindful of the consequences of their paper work,
have to be put today into the same category as the men who planned the splitting up of the
atom, unmindful of what could happen in Hiroshima.
Besides this massive global destruction of life to feed humans which
has been successfully pointed out by saner men and women of greater sensibility to be a
misguided foolish venture, there is also the largely organized killing of animals for
industrial purposes. These include hunting of whales for oil, trapping of bears, foxes and
others for furs and hunting down of elephants for ivory. These are far too numerous to
A Heritage to Preserve
and Foster : Love and Respect for life
In the name of Buddhism what do we
wish to show as our Buddhistness and offer to the world. It is the message of love which
our great Master Buddha Gotama announced to the world. He is the one whom the whole
Buddhist world including the Mahayanists and the Vajrayanists now recognize as the
historical Buddha and refer to by the name Shakya Muni. This was his unmistakable message.
Love the world with the same degree of love you show yourself : Attànaü
upamaü katvà. Therefore kill not nor bring about any killing :
Na haneyya na ghàtaye. Dhp. v.129
This is where the religiousness of every Buddhist begins and should
necessarily begin. Out of the five basic precepts of the Buddhist pa¤ca-sãla, the
very first one begins with the restraint relating to destruction of life : pàõàtipàtà
veramaõã. This, we maintain, is the heritage worth preserving, worth fostering. Let
us begin by reducing killing to a minimum. The world as a whole is now convincingly
pointing out that neither for the sake of more food for human consumption nor for the sake
of more money for the state coffers, do humans need to go menacingly at the animal world.
It seems more a bestial policy befitting life in the jungle than a civilized society of
so-called humans marching in the direction of the twenty-first century.
We have already indicated the diverse areas in human society where love
and respect for life can and must essentially come in, both out of humane considerations
and out of a need for our own survival on this planet, as envisioned in modern scientific
and philosophical writings like Biophelia Hypothesis. It is now being daily argued
and proved more and more that no power besides man is holding the security of the world in
hand. And that more and more destruction of the world, no matter who created it, is also
being worked out by man with his own hands, whether they be the atomic explosions over
Hiroshima or the destruction of the protective ozone layer above the earth through man's
destructive use of chemicals down below. No body besides man, evidently, seems to step in
to intervene and correct these misdeeds.
It is here that all religions and all philisophies must come forward to
emphasize the role of human endeavour to correct human behaviour in thought, word and deed
in the interest of human well-being.
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