The Buddha always said killing, no matter the circumstance, is always unskillful & leads to negative Rebirths.

In no recorded instance did he approve of killing any living being at all. When one of his monks went to an executioner and told the man to kill his victims compassionately, with one blow, rather than torturing them, the Buddha expelled the monk from the Sangha, on the grounds that even the recommendation to kill compassionately is still a recommendation to kill — something he would never condone. If a monk was physically attacked, the Buddha allowed him to strike back in self-defense, but never with the intention to kill. As he told the monks,

"Even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: 'Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.' That's how you should train yourselves."

— MN 21 http://zugangzureinsicht.org/html/lib/authors/thanissaro/gettingmessage_en.html

Three questions:

- What determines an animal's sentience?

- If killing is never allowed, how would one deal with a parasite infesting their body, or any other animal as so?

- Would not killing the parasite mean it is self-mortification, & thus an extreme, breaking the Middle Way (as it can hinder the practice of the Dhamma too)?

Please help! Metta to all!


4 Answers 4


OP: What determines an animal's sentience?

All five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness) must be present, in order for a being to be considered sentient.

OP: If killing is never allowed, how would one deal with a parasite infesting their body, or any other animal as so?

Killing sentient beings is against the first precept. The Five Precepts are training rules and not divine prohibitions.

Killing an animal is considered a lesser transgression than killing a human being.

From the Bhikkhu Patimokkha (disciplinary rules for monks):

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)

Above, you can see that deliberately killing a human is grounds for immediate and irreversible dismissal from the monastic order (pārājika).

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

OP: Would not killing the parasite mean it is self-mortification, & thus an extreme, breaking the Middle Way (as it can hinder the practice of the Dhamma too)?

Consuming medicine to cure oneself is acceptable for both monks and lay people. There are no prohibitions with regards to medicine. If a medicine contains some alcohol, that's also acceptable.


Mr Suminda here expressed well what is included in sentience.

The working out of the exact results of action & intention is not to be done, as far as i know.

The consequent origination is without a discernable beginning and the exact results of this or that action is not something that is easy to figure out.

There is no forumulae or a solver which can simulate two beginningless worlds, arrive at the same states of the world and split the desicion tree to compare outcomes; that would not be possible because if two systems evolve in exact same way with an infinite complexity then it is unreasonable to expect the decision tree to split in and by itself, as a matter of fact there is no decision tree either because world just evolves, it does not stop to think should i go this way or that way, become this or otherwise; it goes according to prior development.

However even if there was a decision tree there is no basis for a split if values are exact and same given that the systems simulate the same exact premises and conditions. This is not like simulating a move in chess or blackjack because these games have determined starting points and a "decision maker".

Therefore one can not evaluate actions in this way, there is no way to input values and simulate outcomes for action A comparing to action B, having solved for which one could say that 'one is better than the other because the better one has exactly this much estimated shorter time to Parinibbana'.

Therefore the exact values are difficult to work out. There are other circumstances where this comes into place, like the Parajika of stealing; "A bhikkhu must have stolen a certain amount for the circumstance to be considered an offence of defeat". Figuring out these values in their exacts & particulars is impossible at this point afaik.

Nothing else makes sense, the type of thinking; 'If i get maggots i will have found my assasin', is going to lead to inconsistencies and reveal hipocrisy imo. This is because a person who says he will be devoured by worms rather than break his training, he is saying "lives of others are sacred, i can train even as i am devoured by worms", but at the same time this same person probably goes for walks to exercize his legs where he might step on an animal, drives a car that might kill even a group of people or he causes others to walk and drive even if it is for his training or the training of others, so why sacrifice beings when it is better to train even when devoured by worms?

It is going to be inconsistent because there is no way to say this life-form goes and this one's are ok to hit with a car on a way to make living or the supermarket. There are all sorts of problems with that thinking, it seems like a person like this would want to sit down and not break the sitting posture until arahantship and then go without food but maybe that is not an option as it might kill the bacteria, beings and worms currently in the body.

  • In case a reader doesn't know, an attitude that "I will have found my assassin" may be a reference to the Punna Sutta (SN 35.88).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 11, 2019 at 19:31
  • 1
    There is also a story about monks said to have been wandering dangerous areas 'looking for an assasin' in reference to those looking for death and a murderer. Can't remember where it is from.
    – user8527
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 9:04

There's discussion between Buddhists of different schools about whether it's important to have a vegetarian diet.

  • Some say "yes" -- because eating meat involves farming and killing or hunting animals -- and even if you don't kill them yourself, your paying for meat contributes to that industry and cycle.

  • Some (as you probably know) say "no" -- that it's alright to buy already-dead meat in a market provided the animal wasn't killed specifically for you. They'd also point out that vegetarians too contribute to killing animals -- that ploughing the soil kills worms, that harvesting grain may kill mice, and so on.

    The proper reaction to that, I've seen it argued, is samvega and so on.

Anyway, I wonder whether killing a parasite like a tape-worm (by taking medicine) for the health of "my" body is morally similar to killing an earth-worm by digging in "my" garden to grow food.

I think that Jains are a little more extreme about "harmlessness" than Buddhists -- and that they view fasting to death as ethical -- which as you might point out is not the Middle Way of Buddhism.

I'm not sure what the rule would be for Buddhist monks. Perhaps they're expected to be obedient in taking medical prescriptions when they're ill. I don't know in fact whether a monk or doctor who prescribes a medicine would avoid prescribing a medicine which would kill a parasite (or other infection). I think that a medicine which "purges" is one of the traditional types of medicine according to the Vinaya.

  • What determines an animal's sentience?

What determines a being:

From the Pali words: pana, pāṇāni:

From Definition of Dependent Origination of Satta

  • Something that has consciousness
  • Something that has the 5 aggregates or Name and Form in full or in part (In asaññasatta - Unconscious beings - wold there is no sanna, and arupa-loka - The Immaterial World - there is no rupa, with these exceptions in other worlds all 5 aggregates must be present)
  • Something that has the 6 sense bases in full or in part
  • Something that feels
  • Something that perceives

From Abhidhamma:

  • Something that has the life faculty (Jivitindriya)

All being are sentient as when their faculties make contact they feel and perceive. So what determines sentience is if one is a being.

DO Defeinition of a Been DO Defeinition of a Been


DO Defeinition of a Been

Source: P51 - 52, Pāli Buddhism By Hoffman Frank


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