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I found this question very interesting because it shows some phenomenon:

The Buddha said:

Refrain from killing any sentient being.

But the thing is, you can kill the "sentient being" just to sustain life of another individual (food), or even save another "sentient being" (tapeworm and another parasites).

Even with mosquitos, you can kill them to save somebody from malaria (in extreme case), or just to make the population smaller, and less annoying to the human kind.

The key to understand what Buddha meant is probably appropriate interpretation of word :

Refrain

Did the Buddha mean one should kill only when necessary?

Where should buddhists draw a line?

Should he/she kill mosquitoes sitting on his/her body?

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    What does "sentient" mean? Are animals with the cognitive processing power (and architecture) of mosquitoes sentient? – Rex Kerr Aug 8 '13 at 21:33
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    The headline needs an edit. Of course he/she can. That's not the question. The question is if buddhism allows it. – iphigenie Aug 8 '13 at 22:15
  • How Buddhist reason through this question might be in the realm of philosophy. The specific rules depend on what variety of Buddhism you have in mind. The vinaya has specific rules about this (but not all Buddhist sects subscribe to the old vinaya). That part of the question, would probably be better answered on the Buddhist site if it ever goes up, since that is sort of like working out what is Kosher. – MatthewMartin Oct 3 '13 at 17:26
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This would be a great question for the proposed Buddhist site.

In Tibetan Buddhism (what I practice), it has been explained to me that all killing is wrong. By strict interpretation, yes, killing mosquitoes is wrong.

However, if we dig a little deeper, the answer is more nuanced. Yes, the killing of anything is wrong, but the degree of karma is proportional to the wrongness. By killing a mosquito, there will be consequences to that action. Yet those consequences are smaller when compared to killing a human, for example.

(One could have a side discussion about what is worse, but the best answer is you don't know, only Enlightened ones could know.)

There is a parable that the Buddha in a previous incarnation killed a pirate to protect other people. This damaged his karma terribly, but he did this for the greater good. He, being on the path to Enlightenment, knew the consequences. So can we say this as kill only when necessary? The issue is not knowing what necessary really is, so be safe, and don't kill.

As for the question if this is "allowed", again, my understanding is you are certainly allowed to do anything; there are just consequences to your actions... always.

I am sure I didn't explain that as well as a Buddhist scholar, but hopefully it gives you an indication that Buddhism deals with relative concepts as an answer to absolute questions.

Bonus answer: Mosquitoes are definitely sentient to Buddhists.

  • Maybe somebody have the "power" to move it to the Buddhist site ? – Paul Brewczynski Aug 11 '13 at 9:22
  • I don't quite understand why killing mosquito spawn less consequences that killing human. Does Karma is proportional to weight ? size ? size of brain ? our regrets ? – Paul Brewczynski Aug 11 '13 at 9:42
  • @bluesm What is karma is definitely a different question, and probably not germane to this site. In short, it's cause and effect. This link might help: buddhanet.net/fundbud9.htm – Richard Morgan Aug 11 '13 at 12:53
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Where should buddhists draw a line?

This assumes that buddhists should draw a line. As such it seems to miss the point of buddhism.

Buddhism is about actually being aware of the consequences of your actions. When faced with a mosquito you aren't supposed to think back in the past what someone told you about how to deal with mosquitos.

You are supposed to be present in the situation and fully appreatiate the situation for what it is knowing the consequences of your actions.

If you kill a mosquito out of reflex you aren't present and that's bad. If you simply ignore the mosquito and let it bite you, you also aren't present and that's also bad.

There a world of difference between killing a mosquito out of anger because you are annoyed by the mosquito and killing a mosquito who would otherwise bite someone and you feel compassion for that person and don't want them to get hurt.

It's also not about whether you have some intellectual excuse of wanting to make the mosquitos population smaller, and less annoying to the human kind. It's about your true motivations that drive you.

By trying to get a rule for handling the situation you avoid being conscious of the situation. In Buddhism beginners are often given rules because they aren't expected to be fully conscious of their actions. Rules however aren't what buddhism is about at it's core.

  • That may be true for 'Zen' buddhism. Also for other types? Traditional buddhist literature seems to me to be full of "rules": for example, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma_(Buddhism) and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinaya – ChrisW Dec 7 '13 at 2:20
  • @ChrisW: Buddhism isn't primarily a written religion. On the dharma wiki page you find the sentence: "Dharma (as the perennially fixed set of natural laws governing causation) presents the structure of rules which if understood correctly leads to natural or skillful action." The point isn't following rules but engaging in skillful action. Rules are tools and not ends in themselves. – Christian Dec 7 '13 at 10:50
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Perhaps a better question is: If you manifest as a Mosquito, what is your karma?

If you live your life causing pain, spreading disease and multiplying endlessly, what karma would you anticipate?

Even without you in the situation, could the Mosquito be seen to be manifesting it's own karma?

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