What is the difference if the snake was eating a frog or a human? What do Buddhist scriptures say about this?

  • 4
    When asked questions like this one, the Buddha would reply to the person asking something along the lines of "don't waste your time thinking about imagined scenarios; practice diligently and stay in the present" Dec 13, 2016 at 19:21
  • 1
    @EduardoSerra true , according to buddha , if someone is following the path to nirvana , he should do it in a way , a person who has a flames on his head tries to make it go away. Obviously we are not following the path to nirvana in this life , if we did, we wouldn't waste our time on SE :-)
    – lasan
    Dec 13, 2016 at 19:31
  • @Eduardo Serra I disagree strongly. This question seeks attainable truth that would benefit metta practice and silla. In a way the question IS Metta practice but maybe your correct, perhaps the Buddha would agree with you but how can you be so sure? Can you refernence a sutta to corroborate your comment?
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 13, 2016 at 20:43
  • @Eduardo Serrano As far as I know there are four unconjecturables that exist: (1) range of powers of a Buddha; (2) range of powers obtained while absorbed in jhana; (3) precise working out of the results of karma; (4) speculation about the origin (the first moment, purpose, etc.) of the cosmos. If the Buddha never mentioned an answer to this question perhaps nobody asked.-metta
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 13, 2016 at 20:56

4 Answers 4


Just kill the snake and save the baby

Ok , this would be the reaction of a person who has no idea what Buddhism is . But , even if we know Buddhism to some extent, we would do the same . Because still our minds are not developed.

According to Buddhism

Basically all lives are equal , if a snake is eating a frog , there will be no reaction from a person who has achieved nirvana. If the snake is eating a human (even if the infant is his own kid , there won't be a difference )he would never kill the snake , he will try to remove the snake using a stick , if it doesn't succeed,he will give himself to the snake and will save the life of his kid or any other human. But if the snake is eating some other animal, he will not interfere . Because according do Buddhism , people should not interfere with animal lives , all those things are unnecessary attachments. Buddha advises not to have pets , not to even give food to animals continuously , because if you do those animals will start to make bonds with you and you with them , that will definitely make ones samsara longer .


People should not interfere with actions of animals. But you can save any human being by sacrificing yourself or by using some strategy


Here are 2 stories from the Abhidhamma commentary.

A farmer who, after having taken his precepts from a respected monk, went to look for his buffalo that had strayed into the forest. Along the way, he was caught by a python. His first thought was to use his axe to kill the snake coiled around him. Then he remembered that he had taken his precepts from a respected monk. The thought came to him for a second time and again he refrained from killing. The third time he was prompted to kill, he threw away his axe. The snake uncoiled itself and freed him.

A lay devotee who was told by a physician to give rabbit meat to his sick mother to get her well. When he caught a rabbit, he thought that to take a life so that his mother could prolong hers was wrong. So, he freed the rabbit. On reaching home, he was scolded by his elder brother. However, he stood by his sick mother’s side and said, “Since I was matured enough, I’ve never intentionally taken a life. By the power of this truth, may my mother be healed.” This asseveration of truth saved his mother’s life.

What is the difference if the snake was eating a frog or a human?

Saving a human is much more meritorious compared to saving a frog

If a snake is eating a human infant in front of me what should I do?

Killing breaks the first precept no matter how you try to justify it! So, try to save the human without killing the snake. Use wisdom instead of fear/aversion towards the snake.

They say snakes dislike clove, cinnamon smell. Even a pepper spray might work. If you don't have those, try making loud noises and threatening gestures with sticks & stuff.

  • Sounds like some Christians that do not give their children medicine believing God will heal the children. When the children die, the Christians go to prison. Dec 16, 2016 at 4:39
  • This has nothing to do with Christianity. Aversion is always the proximate cause of killing. On the other hand, justifying killing based on false views is similar to terrorist mentality. Isn't that what ISIS do? :D Dec 16, 2016 at 4:57

Based on the monk's Vinaya (rules), intentionally killing a human being results in immediate expulsion from the monastic community where as killing a snake does not. Therefore, killing an infant is far more serious than killing a snake.

This is based on the natural laws of kamma known within our heart. If we must kill the snake to save the infant, we should kill the snake because if we allow the snake to kill the infant, we will feel great regret & remorse in our heart &, even worse, other people will blame us for our lack of compassion towards the child. We may be socially ostracised & rejected.

The snake was murdering the child thus the snake will reap its 'own kamma' (even though, in reality, animals are not subject to the laws of kamma).

The scriptures (AN 6.63) teach 'kamma is intention' & 'kamma only comes into play due to sense contact'. Therefore, the only repercussions/consequences of killing the snake will be known within your own heart & nowhere else.

When I lived in Thailand, alone near a village, I walked passed a very large cobra laying across the road to the village. Upon closer inspection, the cobra was fighting with an even larger python and had its jaws wrapped around the python's neck. A monk's house was nearby so I informed the monk, who returned with a big stick and hit the cobra until the cobra detached. We did this to save the cobra's life, since it could easily be crushed by a motor vehicle driving to the village.

On another occasion, a large cobra was in the visitor's quarters. Again, we had to use a large stick to remove the cobra. Although cobras are our friends, sometimes we must be firm with them.

  • 1
    Sounds like a great answer to me except I could have sworn that animals were subject to the laws of karma. I don't know why people assume the situation required lethal force.
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 14, 2016 at 4:46
  • Animals follow instinct. They have no faculty for reflection & decision. You would have to provide a scripture reference to shows animals follow the law of kamma. As for my post, I did not assume lethal force was required, since I said: "If we must kill the snake..." Regards Dec 14, 2016 at 7:08
  • 1
    It is wonderful to chat with such a bright mind as yours. I wasn't saying you assume leathal force. I think I am to lazy to provide scriptures besides, it's everywhere in the suttas. You seem very bright when it comes to intellectual knowledge so perhaps you can show me where it says animals don't follow the law of karma. Animals have no faculty for reflection & decision? I thought you didn't like to speculate. Truth is we probably all love to speculate because we are searching for the truth subjective or objective.
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 14, 2016 at 9:28
  • 1
    The suttas only refer to humans being 'reborn' as an 'animals' and, in one place, 'animals' realising the 4 noble truths. 'Animal' here refers to people with animalistic states of mind. For example, when monks talk about inappropriate topics, it is called 'animal talk'. The suttas do not talk about literal animals being reborn as people due to kamma. Animals in general do not have intentions of greed, hatred & delusion. They only have the intentions to eat, reproduce & protect their life (unlike people, who murder, rob, rape & enslave other people due to greed). Regards Dec 14, 2016 at 10:35
  • 1
    Sure. Some animals, particularly monkeys, due to their higher mental evolution, exhibit behaviours of greed. As for dolphins, yes, altruistic behaviors. Dec 14, 2016 at 20:19

Sounds like a lot of instinct to kill the snake. Replace the snake with say a cannibal and tell me what you would do.

You would most logically attempt to disengage the predator from the baby. With the baby safe, then toss a good meal to the predator to make sure he doesnt go empty handed.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.