This may be primarily for the Tibetan style practitioners. Also, my question assumes that "rebirth" etc are not metaphors.

Since non-human animal existence is lower down in the six realms, why wouldn't killing them (painlessly) be considered a good thing, since it then allows the being rebirth and maybe it will be reborn as a human? For example, in "Seven Years in Tibet", earthworms were saved from death. Isn't that in some sense cruel, since saving an animal prolongs the time it has to spend as an animal?

I think I know the answer; namely, that karmic effects need to be worked out and if we kill an animal prior to that point, then it's simply going to be reborn as another animal until it's paid whatever "karmic debt" is involved. Therefore, killing an animal doesn't serve to give it a chance of a higher rebirth.

But that's a guess. Any ideas? (And again, I know some people think the whole "rebirth" thing is just a metaphor. Fine. But this question is predicated on that not being the case, so in this particular case, please keep yer metaphors to yerself :-) )


10 Answers 10


It is clear that some Buddhist realized there was something unfair and unethical about the realms and that something should be done about it. Off the top of my head, I can't remember any that suggest killing as a solution.**

The Mahayanists realized that the hell realm was unfair and imagined Ksitigarbha, who vows to empty the hells, not by visiting hell and killing everyone, but by more conventional means, like merit-transference (doing deeds for good karma, but transferring it to others).

This is also the main theme of Ullambana Sutra and the Hungry Ghost Festival (O-Bon)-- getting people out of the Hungry Ghosts realms by making merit here and transferring it to those in the Hungry Ghost realm.

Also, in the Brahma Net Sutra, specifically mentions a way to get animals out of their current realm:

45th minor precept. Failing to Teach and Transform Sentient Beings “Buddha-Sons, one should always invoke the mind of great compassion. When one enters a city or home, one should say to people, ‘You should take the Three Refuges and accept the ten [Bodhisattva] precepts.’ When one sees animals, such as cows, horses, pigs, or goats, one should speak one’s mind, saying to them, ‘You animals should activate the bodhi mind.’ When a Bodhisattva crosses mountain forests, rivers, or wilderness, he should enable all sentient beings to activate the bodhi mind. If a Bodhisattva fails to teach and transform sentient beings, it is a minor sin.

And finally, there is a Jataka tale somewhere about crows overhearing monks preaching the 12 links of dependent origination and then are later reborn in a better state and primed to use the knowledge they gained as crows.

** as a side note, there is that Jataka tale about a ships captain killing pirates to save the more numerous passengers. I find that story, and really all the Jataka tales, to be not very Buddhist, or no more Buddhist than the fairy tales of any other randomly selected country. I think the Buddhists monks saw it as axiomatic that killing and death couldn't be a solution to a problem, so I'll have to keep looking for examples of why they thought killing couldn't be a solution to a problem.

  • In a version I read recently, the pirate was killed not (just) to save the passenger but because if the pirate weren't stopped his deeds would have sent him to hell (and so his being killed was to save him from hell). Also fwiw that story was referenced as an example of "wrong action for a right reason".
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 16:12

What makes you think that they will even be born at least as animals again? It's very difficult to get into higher realms once you go down. An animal can very rarely have a thought devoid of craving/lust, aversion and ignorance. So whether you kill an animal or let it die naturally, there's very little chance for it to get a better birth. There's a reason why the hells are called the great houses of Sansara. Once a being sinks below the human realm, it usually keeps sinking further down as it'll be mostly creating bad karma. Unless some good deed from a past life comes forward at the time of death, there's very little chance for it to escape hells. There are also rare instances of some animals listening to the Dhamma and being able to be born in higher realms. So if you are really interested in helping them, make them listen to the Dhamma and hope at least 1 in a million would be able to make use of it.

Breaking the 1st precept with such a false belief would probably make you join them instead of saving them :)


How do we know exactly that a "no pain method" of killing is painless?

Because he / she / it wouldn't get a chance to scream, shout, weep, cry and twitch due to the fact that the nervous system is first shut off before vital organs are?

And: if so, would you do that to yourself?

It is not only the screaming, crying, suffering from pain, etc that show the fear of death, but that moment when "you are not in control and forced to leave your body into the unknown".

If a kid is disallowed by his parents to have chocolate after 6pm (regardless the reason), would then be OK if he melted the chocolate and make a hot cup of chocolate instead?

If not, why would painless killing not be a killing? Your "intention" (thought / sense) is unaltered - to kill, "different" only by a method with which you justify yourself.

It "is" not about whether or not a being would become human through re-birth by being the judge yourself, it is about you accumulating the "debt" and ending a life that has its "duties" and its destiny through re-births.

Let just make a very rough example that a cow was re-birthed from someone in the previous life that had done vicious crimes and deeds. So it, in this life, has to farm all day, subjected to torment such as being milked daily and forced to see its own newborns (calves) being taken away and slaughtered. And in the end, without getting a chance to "rest", it itself got slaughtered.

You come along and take this cow in, without making it to do all of the above and treat it pretty well until its time is up.

You would then be "clearing" its debt and at the same time you produce a good cycle.

That is all this is about and that is - Compassion. The fundamental.

It is hard to grasp for others, because they got so used to of thinking of "profit and margin" - I do something good, I earn a point in my Karma Bank with interest. I did something bad, I lost Karma points and thus the interest.

Compassion and Karma is unlike capitalism.

Everyone has it - Compassion, but it is "covered" by our senses (desires: taste, lust, selfishness, touches, perceptions), thoughts (judgements, clinging, biases etc).

And once one finally grasps it, one would try to benefit all beings without the "self" and without thinking of Karma before or after doing something beneficial to other beings.


The simple answer is killing of any kind effects the mind and causes the mind to be impure. It's not the action of killing or hurting another being but what that action does to our own mind and every decisions we make in our life is effected by that action of killing. To be able to reach enlightenment one must achieve purity of mind.


As Buddhists we accept the precept to refrain from killing. So killing would be bad karma for us and also introducing more bad karma into the world. To follow the line of thinking of your question "why not kill an animal to give them a chance at a better rebirth" well...why stop with animals? Why not kill people who are currently messing up their lives with evil deeds to spare them the further effects of their own ever growing bad karma? And then there is the whole ecology/interdependence of all beings issue. Kill earthworms for better rebirth and now birds are starving, etc. We don't control the world with our own value judgments.

  • Not to mention people killing animals could end up with a lower rebirth! ;-)
    – Robin111
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 21:09
  • Sure, but the essence of my question is why is killing an animal bad karma? I'd have thought bad karma is, at very least, things that cause harm. But if killing a being in animal form helps that being move closer to enlightenment, then that doesn't seem like harm. As to why not extend the argument to humans, one reason is that one can never tell if another human is actually being evil, since one can never tell another's intention. (Hence the Christian idea of not judging.)
    – tkp
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 23:36
  • At the very least interfering with nature will harm all sorts of beings. As another poster noted you cannot say for sure that what you consider painless is actually painless. The animal is not choosing to die. And to continue that logic you should also kill any being you feel would be better off with rebirth instead of continung in their present suffering or bad karmic situation.
    – Robin111
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 23:51

When someone is facing to killing(The victim), always feel fear, sad and angry. Those minds become bad karma to the victim and they will go down to the realm hierarchy. Then even if they are suitable to go up, after the death due to the killing, they will go down.

when someone killing, killer also collect points to do to the down. then the killing process make both parties down. Then why intelligent people choose that path?

you have lot of options if you really want to make creatures up, and help creatures. first you have to identify which creatures you can help. Keep in mind that there are infinite creatures in the worlds. First most valuable creature is our self. Because we are also in the samsara and in very dangerous possibility of going down of realm hierarchy. That's can only done by attain Nirvana. After attain nirvana you can help lots of creatures to attain Nirvana.

while attain nirvana people has to practice donation, Śīla , meditation and other goodwill to collect good karma and keep up.


Everyone suffers here and now. So why inflict suffering on others? Instead you should relieve his suffering like mother takes care of life. If someone kills another, he ruined himself here and now deep within.


The reason why "Mercy killing" is bad according to Buddhism is very simple,let me provide some quotes from lord Buddha...

"Every being is attached to their lives no matter how good or bad those might be,no matter how much pain they suffer every being at all times is attached to their lives and wish to live"

"One should place himself or herself in the position of the receiver of his or her actions and see if what they are going to do is something that the receiver would like, As no one likes suffering,harm,fear or death no one should do such things to another"

Lord Buddha mentioned that even beings in hell are attached to their lives!

So the conclusion is that all beings at all levels in any place like only to live no matter what the state of their lives are.

  • There is also another reason....

If someone foolishly start mercy killing the bad karma he would harvest from it will not go away he will have to suffer no matter what he thought he was doing.

May triple gems bless you

If you have any questiones about my answer please leave a comment.


Animals love their life. They think their life is theirs. They scare suffer and death like human.

By killing, You are steal and exploit their life.

And also animals be an animal to spend their own bad karma.

Even you kill him, his karma not gone away. He still rebirth as animal until his time. But you created new karma.


Mercy killing is bad simply because it is unskillful. You may be helping to spend some one elses karma, but what you really doing is bringing it upon your self.

You have to be very careful when you get yourself involved in solving other beings problems, not to bring the same problems upon yourself.

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