I know that killing virtuous beings is a grave bad karma. But when it comes animals, virtue is irrelevant. I have heard from monks that bigger the animal greater the sin it is to kill it. How is that so? Why does physicality matter at all? Isn't it just a matter of your intention when it comes to karma?

9 Answers 9


My knowledge in Buddhism is quite poor. IMO it is a greater sin to kill a larger animal than to kill a smaller animal but this cannot be the case always! Let me ask you a question. Which is easier, to kill an ant or to kill an elephant? Generally the effort and planning you have to go through to kill an elephant is much greater than to kill an ant. The greater the effort you are willing to put is because of the greater intensity of cruelness of your mind which makes it a greater sin. True physicality isn't what determines this. Hope this answers the question

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    since kamma is intention, i think there's no difference provided in both killings there's intention to kill. in the same way killing an elephant by accident entails bad kamma no greater than unintentional killing of an ant. Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 11:07
  • We are not talking about unintentional killing. Your thinking is not exactly accurate. there are instances where in which both karma can be the same. But intense intentions are needed to kill larger animals unlike for smaller animals making it worse than the case of an insect
    – Heisenberg
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 1:01
  • Did someone just down vote this?? Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 10:33

The intensity of Karma in killing of a being including an animal can be influenced by these 2 factors:

  • intensity of volition - more planning or effort the worse (elephant vs ant), more stronger your desire to kill the worst
  • conciseness of the being - if the being has a higher level of conciseness (elephant vs ant) and virtue (bear vs cow) the worst. Hence virtue of the animal also plays a role. E.g. sakes are to have more wroth than more tame animals.

In the novel The Dalai Lama's Cat, the Dalai Lama is quoted as teachiing,

I understand what you're saying, but there are some who would say that eating a cow is better, because a single cow can provide more than one thousand meals. A fish, only one meal. Sometimes it takes many prawns, many sentient beings, for only one meal.


It's a very big subject. You will find that some people tell you there is only one way, this way, which happens to be the way they think, and that everyone else should change their views to be like them. But it is really a matter of personal choice. The important thing is to make sure our decisions are guided with compassion and wisdom.

This is a subject on which different people (and, maybe, different schools of Buddhism) differ.

You wrote, "But when it comes animals, virtue is irrelevant" -- I don't know whether there's any Buddhist school/tradition which that's an accurate description of.

The kind of opinion I quoted above is not based on "virtue is irrelevant", instead it's based on "life is dear to all".


Buddhaghosa, an influential 5th-century Theravada commentator, states:

With regard to animals it is worse to kill large ones than small. Because a more extensive effort is involved. Even where the effort is the same, the difference in substance must be considered. In the case of humans the killing is the more blameworthy the more virtuous they are. Apart from that, the extent of the offence is proportionate to the intensity of the wish to kill.

So it seems to be the additional effort that makes it morally worse to kill bigger animals. Effort is a direct expression of cetana (volition). As Peter Harvey states:

cetana is the motive for which an action is done, its immediate intention (directed at a specific objective, as part of fulfilling a motive), and the immediate mental impulse which sets it going and sustains it.


  1. E. Conze, Buddhist Scriptures, Page 70, Penguin, 1976.
  2. P. Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues, Page 17, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

According to the Bhikkhu Patimokkha (quoted below), which are rules for monks, killing a human is grounds for immediate and irreversible dismissal from the monastic order (parajika).

However, deliberately killing an animal is an offense that requires only confession (pacittiya) within the monastic order, usually with the intention not to do it again. It's not as severe as killing a human.

Intentionally bringing about the death of a human being, even if it is still a fetus — whether by killing the person, arranging for an assassin to kill the person, inciting the person to die, or describing the advantages of death — is a pārājika offense. (Pr 3)

Pouring water that one knows to contain living beings — or having it poured — on grass or clay is a pācittiya offense. Pouring anything that would kill the beings into such water — or having it poured — is also a pācittiya offense. (Pc 20)

Deliberately killing an animal — or having it killed — is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 61)

Using water, or getting others to use it, knowing that it contains living beings that will die from that use, is a pācittiya offense. (Pc 62)

According to AN 6.87, there is actually a list of people a person could kill or injure, and such a person will never be able to have the right mental state or moral capacity to learn the Dhamma:

"Endowed with these six qualities, a person is incapable of alighting on the lawfulness, the rightness of skillful mental qualities even when listening to the true Dhamma. Which six?

"He has killed his mother; he has killed his father; he has killed an arahant; he has, with corrupt intent, caused the blood of a Tathagata to flow; he has caused a split in the Sangha; or he is a person of dull discernment, slow & dull-witted.

"Endowed with these six qualities, a person is capable of alighting on the lawfulness, the rightness of skillful mental qualities even while listening to the true Dhamma. Which six?

"He has not killed his mother; he has not killed his father; he has not killed an arahant; he has not, with corrupt intent, caused the blood of a Tathagata to flow; he has not caused a split in the Sangha; and he is a discerning person, not slow or dull-witted.

According to MN 86, Angulimala killed many human beings, but he could still change and become an arahant. So, probably, he did not commit the transgressions above (killing father, killing mother, killing arahant, injuring Buddha)

So this shows the value of humans above animals, and the value of the Buddha, the arahant and one's parents above all other humans.

So, the answer is yes, there is a difference in the consequence and effects of killing.

With this, we can extrapolate, that it's worse to kill a dog or cow, than a mosquito or cockroach. It's not the physical size, but it's the mental and emotional capacity of the animal.

That said, it would still be impossible for an arahant to kill any animal, however small, as the arahant is free of all mental defilements. In other words, to do any killing at all, you must have mental defilements.


Do you think that killing a baby causes less bad karma than killing an adult?

I'm talking about humans here and from my point of view, killing a baby, just for fun, this is pure evil. Maybe even more than killing an adult. Why? Because the baby is not yet able to defend himself.

This is the same thing for the animals. When you kill an animal, you must have a good reason for that. For example, you can kill to survive, to eat and you can kill also to defend yourself when you are being attacked.

If you kill animals just for fun or if you contribute to the extinction of some species, this is evil.

Example, killing hundreds of rhinoceros only to take the horns for sell it to some japanese people who are stupid enough to think it will help them to get better "erections": Evil.

All this to say that you shouldn't feel ashamed if you only have killed a couple of annoying flies in your life. There is way more evil compared to this. Everything is relative...

  • I doubt the amount of bad karma is decided on the ability of the victim to defend themselves
    – Heisenberg
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 9:54
  • And there is never a good reason to kill. Maybe a least evil reason
    – Heisenberg
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 9:54

Ants are not animals. Killing should be avoided. The only time to kill an animal, would be in a life threatening situation, or to eat it. The act of killing is the same for a small animal as it is a bigger animal. Both are living creatures. There is no difference. To kill an animal, just to watch it die, is pure evil. Bad Karma would be, is the type of animal that you killed, one day surrounds you in large numbers, and looking for blood.

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    Ants are not animals? animals = AnimaliaArthropodaInsectaHymenopteraApocritaVespoideaFormicidae = ants.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 16:15

IMO it's better to avoid hurting and killing all beings. Despite of how big or small karma will we get. They both aren't do good for us.


It's not about the physical size for a living creature in this universe, it's all about the intention to do so.

For example: A human kill daily billions of living creatures, totally unaware about it. We call them bacteria. But they are living creatures too. The point in this case is: THIS bacteria are only there to do one task and then die cause of thousands reproductions in nearly the same time. So ... it's not your fault ... it's natural intension.

The other site is: To killing an animal / human just for fun is extremely bad and pointed out as a rough negative karma.

But there is a point people are talking very aggressive about, is killing animals for eating. There are many points about this but if it's not 100% necessary to do so (for example as an Eskimo or living in the tundra in Mongolia) there is no way to say "This is normal and the karma doesn't count here".

"To follow the way of a vegetarian is nearly the half way to nirvana." - Siddhartha Gautama


"In his final teachings before he physically left this earth, the Buddha foresaw that a situation would arise in the future where those speaking in his name would pervert his Doctrine and encourage meat consumption. So here, in this great Nirvana Sutra, he lays down his last will and testament on the matter: in no circumstances should one eat meat or fish " nor animal corpses, found in the jungle, for instance " nor even accept from a donor a meal which contains an abundance of flesh-foods. The very contact of other food with meat is deemed defiling and requires purification of the food by water. It is quite evident from all this that the Buddha in no way condoned the eating of meat and was keen for his monastic and lay followers to abjure the uncompassionate practice of meat eating and follow the pure path of vegetarian Mahayana. In this, we would be wise and benevolent to follow him."


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