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The first precept states

I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing.

So does this mean that punching someone in the nose isn't actually against the first precept and the five precepts generally. It really feels like it should be.

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Just to note this came out of a very interesting chat with Sankha Kulathantille in one of the chat rooms so I just wanted to open this one up to the community generally. –  Crab Bucket Aug 23 at 17:10
    
Stiff thinking is a great obstacle on a path to awakening. Do we really need a written rule so we know that punching someone is bad? I won't punch a guy because it creates suffering, not because I'm afraid to break some rules. –  Rabbit Aug 26 at 18:59
    
@Rabbit I agree. There are a lot of questions on that site in the form of does XXXX break this or that precept. I think these are interesting but I'm not convinced about there ultimate use in Buddhist practice. I think there is a general question in there to ask - if I can phrase it –  Crab Bucket Aug 26 at 20:22

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The Pāḷi word for "killing living beings" is usually pāṇātipātā. It is composed by pāṇa + atipātā:

  • pāṇa, in this context, is normally translated as "living being".
  • atipātā is the useful word for answering the question. It can mean "killing, destroying, injuring or attacking".

Technically, it will depend on how one translates it. Either as killing\destroying or injuring\attacking. However, if one takes into account the entire Buddha's teaching it is evident, at least for me, that it means injuring\attacking, not only killing\destroying.

So I would say, yes, assault is against the first precept. However, one should always keep in mind that intention is key. One can injure a baby, for example, by extracting from his throat a swallowed toy. In such cases, I wouldn't consider it as against the first precept.

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The following five conditions must be satisfied to break the first precept.

  1. The being must be alive.
  2. There must be knowledge that it is a living being
  3. There must be intention to cause its death
  4. Action must be taken to cause its death
  5. Death must result from such action

So punching someone in the nose does not break the 1st precept. But it weakens it. Since the question is if it's against(not if it breaks) the precept, the answer is yes.

Weakening here means the merits you acquire by keeping to first precept are reduced or weakened. Also, when it comes to the consequences of Kamma, Killing results in one having a short life span if born as a human again. Just injuring or torturing results in having bad health if born as a human again. killing usually involves inflicting pain or torturing as well. So it can result in bad health too.

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The precepts are usually expressed in purely negative terms, but they are intended to express much broader positive principles. In other words, keeping the precepts is just as much about keeping the spirit of the law as it is the letter. For example, in the case of the first precept, the Buddha gives this description:

"And how is a monk consummate in virtue? Abandoning the taking of life, he abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings. This is part of his virtue."

(Source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.02.0.than.html )

Assault is clearly against the positive principle in the first precept regardless of whether or not it fits within the strict wording of the precept. Hitting someone might not be classified as pāṇātipātā but it certainly is incompatible with having mercy and compassion.

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