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    Thread: The Karma of Mercy Killing

    1. #1
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      The Karma of Mercy Killing

      Me and my wife are on vacation and just walked a botanical garden. On the path was a beautiful rat. It was breathing, but was paralysised. I figure the poor beautiful creatures came out to beg for a cracker and some jerk stomped him. Ants were swarming around his face. He looked fine but was obviously suffering a broken spine.

      In Buddhism many pacifists refuse to kill under any circumstance. I am a self molded yogi who has set aside any formal paths. I find flaws in a view that violence is always bad karma or wrong. I picture a Buddist monk who would not push a bell tower shooter from his perch, as childish and needing a few more lives. Just saying,,,

      I had my wife walk away. I took a flat rock and placed the edge on its neck and the slammed another rock onto the first one. Instant death. Bad karma???

      Any opinions?
      Last edited by sivason; 10-27-2013 at 08:49 AM.
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    2. #2
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      I too have done similar under similar circumstances. It is not an easy thing to do, but I desired to relieve the suffering of the creatures in question. I, however, am not a yogi, although I strive for enlightenment.

      Perhaps the buddhist teachings intended to convey the lesson that, as everything is perfect just the way it is, it is only our desire we are following in trying to relieve another's suffering, and that suffering is teaching the sufferer a lesson beyond our comprehension at that moment. Perhaps not.

      I would do it again, though.
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      I am not a Buddhist, though I have looked into Buddhism, and find many of its ideas appealing. My thought is that if it was done out of mercy, and if you do not regret doing it, then it won't be bad karma because it was done for the right reasons and should not haunt you. However, if you think about it and regret and wish you had made a different choice, it may create bad karma. The question should not be whether you should have done something else to that rat, because that rat is dead, and thinking about it anymore will not change that. The question though is if now you encountered a creature that was suffering, and you knew it would suffer for the rest of its life, would you be justified in killing it with instant death of mercy killing? And frankly, I think that is a question that everyone should answer for themselves, and I think either answer can be justified, but whichever of the two answers you choose, I think you have to be convinced yourself at it is the right answer for you, or else regret and doubt may result in bad karma.
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      Every murder is secretly an act of mercy, anyways. If you did the right thing you should welcome karma's reaction, not fear it. Sometimes the consequences to acting justly are negative. Since history, people have been tortured and killed for trying to help others and heal the world. But they act anyways, knowing full well the consequence. Living according to what you think karma will do to you and you gain little wisdom. To learn, one must act according to their own insights, not what they're told.

      The real scoop is you acted selfishly, your mirror neurons were reflecting the rat's suffering and you killed it so you wouldn't have to feel its pain anymore. In that sense, what you did to the rat, you truly did to yourself.

      Everything works out in the end, sometimes even badly.


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      My Indo-Aryan history is a bit rusty, but given the time and place of the probable roots of Yoga, and indeed the nobility from which Siddhartha himself emerged, which if I remember correctly was a warrior class, I find it extremely unlikely that killing was seen as always bad in the roots of the philosophy. If we really wish to understand these things, I think we need to go back to the time when the philosophy was more practical (the time of the Vedas for example) and use our common sense, using the ancient texts and those of surrounding civilizations as a guide. Cowardice at this time was not easily forgiven like it is today. Even Gandhi wrote about cowardice as being a contemptible weakness. Of course, Buddhists and Yogis do not abstain from killing out of cowardice, but rather discipline, and in Yoga this pacifist ideal is much less universal. Still I think the point stands given the time these philosophies were created. The real truth seeker, the true Yogi, would understand that killing can be necessary even very frequently; depending of course on the time, the amount of danger and harshness of survival; though it must be avoided whenever other means are available to resolve a situation.

      One could of course argue that killing causes guilt, which is a barrier to concentration and enlightenment, but I would respond that there is also the guilt of non-action; and again I think that anyone who believes that it is okay to allow the suffering of another can never really know himself; as he is first and foremost denying (or not seeing) himself from the start.

      I am no expert on this stuff, and I apologize for the lack of sources; I am not a Buddhist or a Yogi, but I take a significant interest in pre-Christian religions; and there is one thing about all of them that is always present: they are twisted and misunderstood in the modern context (usually due to Abrahamic genocidal evangelism); fortunately the philosophy of the Yogis is one of the few that remains largely intact.
      Last edited by Meskhetyw; 10-27-2013 at 08:43 PM.
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      I personally think such a killing will bring good karma. However I really like what JoannaB said about how one's own feelings of guilt could be the very cause of some negative karma.
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      I'd want someone to put me out of my misery instead of barely hanging on to life with a broken spine and a smashed head. That's just me.
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      I'm stuck in a spiritual framework where the only way I can make use of any given concept is to understand it metaphoricaly. My idea is that karma is the psychological ramifications of one's own (and others!) actions. As such, karma is what one thinks it is. Whereas literalists balance discrepancies and karmic injustices by invoking past lives, I think that individual subjective interpritations, which are known to be imperfect, explain these discrepencies much better. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I don't believe that karma is the kind of concept that is supposed to save us from hell, the way some of it's Judeo-Christian counterparts are. Good intentions bring about good karma. Or, to translate that metaphor, good intentions bring about positive psychological ramifications.

      I've mercy-killed animals before and I always wonder if I may have prematurely ended a euphoric slip into death but I can only act on the evidence I have access to. We can only try to learn more about what goes on in these moments. Neuroscience is cracking the behaviorism barrier that has limited us to what we know about the mental states of others (and non-human others in particular) to the behavior we can observe. I read an article recently about how they're getting dogs into MRI machines to scan their brain activity. I believe in the immediate legitimacy of good intentions. Maybe our intentions will be better informed in the future.
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      Depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to end the suffering of others than you should kill the rat. If it is to avoid suffering for yourself then go ahead and run away. I dunno what I would do, I would have to be there to make that kind of judgement. I can see myself not caring but if the rat really looked like it was in pain I would probably take notice.

      I don't even think that aggressive violence always produces bad karma, but that is not my path. I can't wield that weapon effectively and I think that there is usually a better way. Gutai's finger is a good story....

      Whenever anyone asked him about Zen, the great master Gutei would quietly raise one finger into the air. A boy in the village began to imitate this behavior. Whenever he heard people talking about Gutei's teachings, he would interrupt the discussion and raise his finger. Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. When he saw him in the street, he seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and began to run off, but Gutei called out to him. When the boy turned to look, Gutei raised his finger into the air. At that moment the boy became enlightened.

      Source: Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors

      Is that the best way to handle the situation? Maybe. It could be that if he had tried a more peaceful approach that this boy might never really understood emptiness. He could have gone on after this living his life but not really being there and in a sense maybe this saved his life.
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      While I personally don't believe in karma, it was the right thing to do, in my eyes. The poor creature was suffering, so you relieved it of its suffering. I don't see it as any different from euthenizing a dog who is so sick/injured that it will die anyway.
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      The moment and your actions obviously stuck with you, which is to say you have not seen through them. So yes, they are shaping your karma beyond your control and will continue to bear fruit. Bad karma? Karma.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Taosaur View Post
      The moment and your actions obviously stuck with you, which is to say you have not seen through them. So yes, they are shaping your karma beyond your control and will continue to bear fruit. Bad karma? Karma.
      By that token, I am sailing through life karma free, as I can barely remember what I did 2 hours ago, let alone a month ago! I seem to float through life in a state of happy forgetfulness
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    13. #13
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      Quote Originally Posted by Taosaur View Post
      The moment and your actions obviously stuck with you, which is to say you have not seen through them. So yes, they are shaping your karma beyond your control and will continue to bear fruit. Bad karma? Karma.
      That is true and a good observation. I am one of those types that has no intrest in escaping the physical world and removing myself from reincarnation. In that vein, I am all for good karma, and in my mind, this act is a decent and kind thing. I simply wonder at the preception of those who feel all killing is bad karma, or even those who choose not to interact with the world to avoid all karma.
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      The truth of violence is not in the action taken..

      Rather such is seen within the feelings...

      Within the intent..

      Which is driving the action


      The movement of "karma" begins within oneself

      Only the individual can "see" such a thing within themselves

      And then only if the individual becomes practiced at "looking"
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      It depends on the intention of the killing. My feeling is that you are fine. In a previous life the Buddha killed a pirate who was going to kill the crew of the boat and take it over. The Buddha killed the pirate in order to save the others, and also to save the pirate of the bad karma of killing all those people and being reborn in hell. To do what you feel is the right thing, even if you will be punished for it by rebirth in hell, is selfless action for the benefit of others. There have been Buddhist monks in Tibet who joined the Tibetan resistance to the Chinese invasion and killed Chinese soldiers, not caring if they were going to be reborn in hell, all to save the dharma and their fellow tibetans. Also, even Tibetan monks eat meat, because honestly there isn't much anything else available to eat in Tibet. They figure that as long as they have to kill, it is okay to kill one cow to eat than to kill hundreds of earthworms to dig up a garden... lol... But the climate is not that conducive to growing vegetables.

      If the rat wanted to die, and it was spending the rest of its miserable life in suffering, then to kill it out of mercy is the natural spontaneous thing to do out of compassion. Saying a little prayer for a higher rebirth would also be great. You weren't killing the rat for personal or selfish reasons... the rat would thank you.... If you would do the same thing for your mother, etc... You are all good. Every creature has been our mother in one lifetime or another. Let that be your guide on how to treat other sentient beings. You don't have to go by scriptures or teachings, but by your own heart. Blessings
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      Spoiler/disclaimer/caveat emptor: this post contains gory descriptions.

      One time I was staying on an organic farm, and me and my friend were out walking the dogs and we came across an absolutely mutilated cat that had been run over by a car but was still breathing. I would have found a rock right there on the spot but my friend thought it would be more humane to take it to the vet to be put down. It made sense except this involved walking back to get the car and then driving, which combined prolonged it by an hour. When we walked through the door the vet took one look and calmly produced a syringe and shot it in, and the breathing stopped.

      I remember riding through the back roads with the cat in my lap (via a dog food bag), just trying to send it good vibes, despite basically missing half its head and jaw. We buried it on the farm. I'm not sure about the hour-long ride to the vet, seems like the rock right then and there would have been better.
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      You guys must remember that karma isn't really good or bad. There is no good and bad in Buddhism, only cause and effect. Bad karma is from destructive acts that promote pandemonium, good karma is from constructive acts that promote peace. If all aspects of it were done in a peaceful nature, it is good karma. If you killed the rat because you intended to make it suffer more (despite whether or not killing it would make it suffer more) that would be bad karma, because you are doing it with destructive intent.
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      I don't know much about karma, but I have chosen both: two of my pets were put down, but also I have been a foot away from a cat like the one mentioned above...broken beyond repair but still breathing.

      It wasn't my decision to put my beloved dogs down, but maybe I didn't protest it enough.
      That cat was suffering, and yet I did nothing but cry and drive on because the light immediately turned green and I panicked.

      Could I have handled it better? I think so. But whether or not I worsened or eased the suffering in either case is not as clear to me.

      All I know is that I look back on both events with regret.
      I see these events negatively because I had an opportunity to act with my conscience but I didn't.

      The choice made in the OP is a dilemma of a different sort though, I think. It calls into question not only our ability to act consciounably, but also the parameters of one's own conscience to begin with.

      At least you can say with certainty that you fulfilled the first of those criteria. And in this case your actions were clearly based on the belief that in doing so you would relieve the creatures suffering. You could have simply ignored it's suffering, but you made a tough choice for the right reasons, imho.

      Regardless of what karma it may bring you, it is perhaps better than looking back on the situation with guilt and regret for not having taken any action at all.
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      I might be disrespectfully late commenting on this thread but let it be...

      Quote Originally Posted by sivason View Post
      I simply wonder at the perception of those who feel all killing is bad karma, or even those who choose not to interact with the world to avoid all karma
      You say you wonder about people who are entirely against killing so since I am, partly, such a person, I thought I would share how I feel about this topic. I am not saying what I'm about to say is true or false, just that this might be the perspective of someone who doesn't kill, not even for mercy:
      Life has good and bad moments. We must do with both moments. We can't only have the good. To kill a person only because there remains only bad moments and no good moments isn't right. If I were suffering in agony, slowly dying from some physical trauma, I should find a way to remain mindful. Trying to escape life and its pains is a flawed desire which increases pain. If you believe in life after death, then, when a being suffers before death, they aren't living their last moments of life in disgrace, but only living a moment of disgrace. They will live a new life after, with other joys and pains. Their soul may learn in the pain, how can we remove them from that experience. According to the believes surrounding Buddhism and Hinduism, one of the options is to be reincarnated as Gods (or human, animal, ghost, etc...). The obstacle about being a God, is that there is so little pain and life is so easy, that you may never think of enlightenment. Painful moments before death might be an important threshold in a soul's multi-life existence. Destroying that moment is taking away from that person and I don't know the workings of Karma, but technically, by taking away a life, a part of your life should also be removed in a future life.

      I don't mercy kill dying animals or insects I find. Instead, I empathize with them. I try to imagine their pain, and the beauty of their consciousness. I can't find it in me to take that beautiful moment from them. It's only temporary anyways. It hurts me to see that pain. But I can remember many painful moments in my life which I would have given away for nothing. Sometimes, there is beauty in pain. Not the kind you would ever seek or wish to others, but when someone has an obstacle to overcome, it's a unique experience of love, strength and hope. (I'm really not a sadist, I don't enjoy pain, it's horrible, but it has some worth if you know what I mean).

      About killing a murderer to save another person... personally, I would kill the murderer in order to save the other lives, I would also kill to prevent torture but only in a very direct scenario (or else I would hesitate too much) but I would never enjoy murder. Murder is always taking a life and I have sympathy for murderers. I can forgive them. Because they are like us, beautiful souls, victims of their body's whims. I always assume they are good inside but they are just too weak to control their bodies. I assume, theoretically, if Karma is very simple, then, taking someone's life and giving many other people lives would do the same to you, it would give you many lives and take away one. (When I say murderers can be forgiven through empathy, I still think they deserve punishment, consequences to their action).

      But I can see why someone wouldn't kill a killer, knowing that killing him won't actually kill him because we are all immortal after all (when you believe in reincarnation.) The only true way to save people from a killer is to speak to the killer's morality. But this is all too much for us. The simplest and most obvious situation is always to kill and thus save people. But it's maybe more complicated then that.

      I think, like JoannaB, it's a lot about what we are trying to do. As long as we act for the good, and are always thriving to figure out what is the good and never giving up, saying it's too hard so it doesn't matter... We will be okay. I was with some Hare Krishna Followers last summer and they told me that to remove Karma, you must offer whatever you do to God (Krishna) so that it is not your Karma. So in that sense, there is this belief that Karma doesn't go with action but with intention. When you give, do you feel like you have given and helped this person? Then, someone must give back to you. But if you think you have given to God, then God will bring you to Nirvana...

      Anyways, I hope you can get some sense out of what I said and some insight on this philosophy.
      Last edited by Occipitalred; 01-12-2015 at 02:30 AM.
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      Thanks for the thoughtful answer.
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