Tue 10 Aug, 2004 09:17 am
Does one accumulate bad karma for accidentally or unintentionally killing other living creatures? for example, the fly that hits my car windshield or the ant that I step on the sidewalk, unaware that it is under my foot. What about bacteria killed when I cook, clean, etc?
And who gets the bad karma for meat animals? The person that butchers the animal, or the person that eats its meat? What about middlemen in the process- those that handle/transport/sell the meat but neither kill it nor eat it themselves?
I think unintentional is "better" than intentional, but still isn't good.
Bacteria is interesting.
I think everyone along the chain for meat animals carries some of the blame and therefore gathers some of the bad karma. Probably most to the butcher, then the person who eats it, then the middleman.
From a Buddhist perspective, all Karma is bad Karma. Karma is what keeps sentient creatures bound to the perceptual world of illusion. Whether our thoughts, words and actions lead to temporary happiness/pleasure or suffering, they tend to reinforce Maya, the Illusory World. Both happiness and suffering are ultimately illusory, because they are interdependent values/states (pratejsamutpada, I've probably mispelled that Sanskrit term, but it is an important Buddhist concept that you should be aware of) that arise from the notion that multiplicity, not unity, is the underlying reality. To ultimately defeat suffering, one awakens from the dream of multiplicity to Ultimate Reality.
One can intentionally cause suffering to mitigate larger and more serious suffering. An example. The child is disobedient to parental warnings not to play with matches. Punishing the child, perhaps even a sound spanking, causes temporary and mild suffering but may well prevent an accidental fire that scars or kills the child, or someone else. To tell the truth sometimes hurts, but the well-intentioned lie told merely to spare another's feelings may lead to even greater suffering; of course, sometimes the truth may lead to greater and wider suffering than an untruth. When one thinks, speaks and acts mindfully and suffering results it will probably be a lower-order suffering than if one is wallowing in emotion, or lost outside the moment in either the past, or future. Inevitably, suffering will follow all thoughts, words and actions. Our task is to minimize that suffering as much as possible.
For Jains, Karma the injunction against causing the death of living things is raised to the max. Devout Jains carefully avoid being the proximate cause of ANY death. Some go so far as to filter the water between cup and lip so as not to inadvertently drink some tiny invisible creature that may live in their drink. Strict adherence to the principles of Jain is very hard to do, and they tend to have very small families. The result is that this religion has remained small in terms of overall followers, but those who do follow the religion are very disciplined and generally belong to families of Jains going back a thousand years. These are really admirable people.
Hindu conceptions of Karma and the effect of either conscious, or accidental killing, are far more complex. The Kali "cult" traditionally make the killing of strangers a positive virtue. Our term "thug" is derived from the Hindi "Tuggee", a term referring to the followers of Kali (the consort of Shiva, The Destroyer, and patron of death). The Tuggee liked to strangle wayfarers in lonely places. Devotees of Brahman, Krishna, or Vishnu, on the other hand, tend to avoid killing though they generally won't have any qualms about serving in the military, police, or in using deadly force in self-protection, or the protection of others. For most Hindus, I believe, the Karma one generates is largely conditioned upon how well one fits themselves into their caste. Those who live admirable lives within the caste system, may be reborn into a higher caste (transmigration of souls). To behave badly may result in being born into a lower caste.
I have a feeling that my explanation of Hindu notions about Karma is very inadequate and may lead to more confusion than not. Trying to be clear in describing a complex concept in one culture to those in a different cultural setting is difficult at best. To attempt such an explanation in this brief space may be impossible. Perhaps one of our Hindu friends will expand upon this and perhaps provide a clearer explanation for you.
Thanks for the post on Jainism. Actually, of all the "organized religions" I've studied, this one appears to be the most admirable in spirit and action.
As Asherman hinted, I think the answer to your question would depend on who you asked, and their particular background.
My understanding is that we are accumulating some negative karma through the very act of existence. If I walk over to get a glass of water and accidentally kill a microscopic living being as I walk, I will probably accumulate more negative karma. But I don't know that this negative karma is any more than I would accumulate by staying seated at my computer, accidentally thinking "bad thoughts" about someone, etc. So as much as I need to avoid killing things accidentally, I also need to watch my thoughts, my actions, etc.
I believe some Jains also wear face masks so as to not accidentally breath in and kill any animals. Even at that, probably a few slip through the cracks. I submit that it is impossible to live and kill nothing. Even as we breath, we are killing living organisms. Interesting. Of course, that doesn't mean we still shouldn't try our best not to kill.
Then of course there are fruititarians. Some groups claim "plants have souls too," so shouldn't we avoid killing them too? Plants are alive, just as animals are. There's a whole debate there, with some saying don't kill plants, others saying its not perfect, but its not as bad as killing animals. Then of course there's the fact that humans can't last very long on a 100% fruit diet.
As for who accumulates most the bad karma in the meat packing/selling chain, that is an interesting question that I've debated with friends before. We knew a fairly poor guy that lived in a small town, and was raising a family of 4. A really friendly, nice guy that always helped those in need, etc. He lost his job one day. Very soon, the family's back is against the wall, bills due, etc. The only job he could get was at the local meat packing factory, a big employer in town. We debated, is this guy really destined to accumulate more "bad karma" than some spoiled mean rich vegetarian kid in another town that never has to work at an "untouchable" job? Did the meat packing guy do something so terrible in his past that he is destined to accumulate even more bad karma in his meat packing job this life, while the rich vegetarian kid had a great past so he doesn't have to work through those dirty issues? Would it be better for the poor meat packer to uproot his family in search of a better karma job, even though that may mean things like danger, potential homelessness for the family? Interesting question.
Sorry, getting off on a tangent here. I really like the concepts of Hinduism. But something about the caste system (for all its positives, "glue of society," etc,...) rubs me the wrong way.