Vows, commitments and modern life: Pratimoksha vows: Abandoning killing and stealing

To abandon killing. 

Geshe-la explains the object of killing is any other being from the smallest insect to a Buddha.  As explained above, four factors must be present.  First, for our intention, we must have correct identification of the person we intend to kill.  We also need a determination to kill the person we have correctly identified.  Killing by accident is not a complete action.  Our mind must also be influenced by delusion, specifically anger, attachment, or ignorance.  It is possible to kill out of compassion to save the lives of others, but this requires great wisdom and courage.  Killing out of compassion is not a downfall, since compassion is not a delusion.  The action also requires preparation, namely we prepare the means to engage in the action.  This includes having others do the action for you, or engaging in the action as a group.  Finally, it requires the completion – the action must be completed, the person actually is killed.

The reality is we are killing all of the time.  Every time we scratch our arm, we are no doubt killing thousands of tiny bacteria or microbes.  Even if we don’t eat meat, we are indirectly killing thousands who died in the rice paddies or to the pesticides sprayed on our food.  Samsara is a slaughterhouse, and everything we do essentially kills.  This doesn’t mean we are doomed and it also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother trying to not kill because it is unavoidable.  What it means is we need to do our best to lead as low impact of a life as we can.  We should work gradually to kill less and less while working within our capacity and the karmic conditions we find ourselves in.

To abandon stealing. 

The object of stealing is anything that someone else regards as their own.  This includes other living beings.  If we take something that no one claims to possess, the action of stealing is not complete.  Like with killing, the intention must include a correct identification of the object of stealing, a determination to steal, and our mind must be influenced by delusion, usually desirous attachment, but sometimes out of hatred of wishing to harm our enemy.  It can also sometimes be out of ignorance thinking their stealing is justified such as not paying taxes or fines, or stealing from our employer, etc.  Stealing also requires preparation.  It may be done secretly or openly, using methods such as bribery, blackmail, or emotional manipulation.  Finally, it must also include completion.  The action is complete when we think to ourself ‘this object is now mine.’

In modern life we have countless opportunities to steal and we often take advantage of most of them.  Common examples include not giving money back when we have been given too much change at the store, accidentally walking out with some good we didn’t purchase and not making an effort to go back and pay for it, stealing work supplies from work for our personal use, stealing our employers time by doing personal things on company time beyond what is conventionally acceptable in your work place (most work environments allow you a limited amount of personal administrative time.  The point is don’t go beyond what is intended by your employer).  Another very common form of stealing is lying on our taxes so that we pay less.  We come up with all sorts of justifications for why this is OK, but it is still stealing.  Stealing can also include saying certain clever things to cause something to come to us when it would otherwise normally go to somebody else.  One of the most common forms of stealing these days is downloading pirated music or videos, or copying and using software we didn’t pay for.  Again, our rationalizations for such behavior know no limits, but it is still stealing.  The test for whether we are stealing or not is very simple:  if we asked the other person would they say its legitimately ours?  If not, it was stealing.

Stealing is incredibly short-sighted.  Anybody who feels tempted to steal should take a few hours driving through a really poor neighborhood or they should go visit a very poor country or watch a documentary on global poverty.  You can find plenty of material just on YouTube.  When we see these things, we should remind ourselves that this is our future if we steal.  When we steal we create the causes to have nothing in the future.  Giving is the cause of wealth, taking is the cause of poverty.  It is as simple as that.  Why are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet so rich?  Because they have the mental habits on their mind to give away everything.  Because they did this in the past, they become incredibly rich in this life.  Because they are again giving away all of their wealth, in future lives they will again be incredibly rich.  Just as they are external philanthropists, a Bodhisattva is an inner philanthropist.  We seek vast inner wealth so that we can have even more to give away. 


7 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Pratimoksha vows: Abandoning killing and stealing

  1. Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for this article. I am a bit confused by the microbes on the arm though, somebody once told me they have no mind so aren’t counted as living beings? Also the rice paddies etc…..if we are eating rice, veg etc, we didn’t have intention to kill? I believe there are ordained traditions who eat meat as long as the killing was thrice removed, is that coerect? Don’t they also eat whatever is placed in their begging bowls inc meat or fish?

    • I am not really a science guy, so I can’t say for sure what has a mind and what doesn’t. I just remember Venerable Tharchin using the examples of scratching our arm and the rice paddies as examples. This doesn’t mean don’t scratch and don’t eat anything, rather it means we understand that while we are in samsara, unintentional killing is taking place all of the time. So we do our best to minimize the extent to which we do, and then we get out as quickly as we can so we don’t do it anymore.

  2. Accidental killings in comparison to what is on our very subtle mind is something important to consider.

    The reality, ‘we are killing all the time’ is not far from the truth. But different to the suggested context that has been described.

    If we realise that there are karmic land mines in our mind related to the trillions of beings whom we have actually intended to kill and did so, then this is like it is still going on in our mind, it is merely not apparent at this time. Buddha said that if we leave that karma without purification it grows stronger. Je Pabonka explained it that if I kill one fly, after the clear light of sleep, that karma would have multiplied 100 fold as if I had killed a HUMAN being countless times and so forth to infinity.

    So, if we are to believe such things, we are killing all the time, this is why this vow is important. Not just to make a better future for ourself but it has a karmically purifying affect.

    Thank you.

  3. This could open the large common debate on, if I have bought a CD, then it is mine, I intend to share it with family and friends and so, are they stealing it? Which is similar to file sharing. Each one of these vows is open to wide interpretation and skilful means.

    My teacher once said they used to ‘lie’ for virtuous purposes. For the skill level of each practitioner I would say: if we are new, purification is the principal practice and that would start by not harming others directly.

    Stealing pens from work doesnt seem like a big deal, but overtime as our understanding of karma and faith deepens, this becomes more apparent that we are only stealing from our self.

    So although this vow seems like you can get away with it, you are probably right, in this life, but we can go back to our basic Buddhist intention and understanding that future lives are more important.

  4. My understanding after all has been said is that we need to purify everyday as much as possible…and at the same time not to lose our mind on this …”we are killing all the time”” “stealing from our self ” they are a very strong truths . what would be the most practical and wise advice, to live with, on this matter ? What we should be doing to decrease this multidimensional karmic land mines,besides purifying?

  5. Perform more virtuous actions.
    Good and bad karma are like opposites. Delusions have their opponents.
    In basic terms we look at the opposite of the negative or something along those lines.
    For example, give and take, destroy life and give/save life.
    Then we perform the virtuous action that opposes the negative one.
    Saving the life of a worm can multiply with Bodhichitta as can giving with Bodhichitta.
    And by Bodhichitta we can do this by exchanging self with others, so we cease giving to ‘others’ in a way. Who do we give to? And who receives the fruit of that giving? 

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