The 5 criteria of killing 1) There is life present 2) The person knows "there is life present" 3) Intention to take away the life 4) Action or speech that causes "life is taken away" 5) Life is taken away

Is it possible for a person to fulfil criteria 1, 2, 4 and 5 but not 3?

For example, a person orders me to kill and I did it unwillingly. Many times, I've heard people insisting that it's not counted as killing because the intention to kill is absent. But I kind of disagree thus posting this question for advice.

Perhaps, to explain my understanding. You know an action will cause life to be taken away but chooses to act upon it. That choice itself is the intention.

  • "That choice itself is the intention.", yes, good observed. To agree, approve, that death might happen counts as well as intention to kill. Is kamma of killing even if not acting on it. Yet Sila is meassured the other way around.
    – user11235
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 3:47
  • The title "intentionally kill without intention" doesn't make sense -- perhaps the word "intentionally" should be removed.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 9:54
  • Perhaps you mean without 'selfish intention' thus without negative karmic results. This is what the Baghavad Gita is about, and may be the reason for the preservation of (teaching?) stories about the Buddha's previous lives in which he killed with intention.
    – user14119
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 15:24

4 Answers 4


Quoting from The Pāṭimokkha Rules Translated & Explained by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

The non-offense clauses state that there is no offense for a bhikkhu who acts unintentionally, not knowing, or without aiming at death. In the Vinita-vatthu, unintentionally is used to describe cases in which a bhikkhu acts accidentally, such as dropping a poorly held stone, brick, or adze; removing a pestle from a shelf and accidentally knocking off another one. Not knowing is used in cases in which the bhikkhu deliberately does an action but without knowing that his action could cause death. An example would be giving food to a friend not knowing that it is poisoned. Not aiming at death is used in cases where the bhikkhu deliberately does an action but does not intend that action to result in death. Relevant examples include trying to help a bhikkhu who is choking on food by slapping him on the back and inadvertently causing his death; telling a bhikkhu to stand on a piece of scaffolding while helping with construction work, only to see the scaffolding collapse; describing the joys of heaven to an audience, only to have a member of the audience decide to commit suicide in hopes of going there.

Thus, to fulfill the factor of intention here, a bhikkhu must be acting intentionally, knowingly, and aiming at death.

The word-analysis covers all the same points—although it shuffles the terms around—when it defines intentionally as “having willed, having made the decision knowingly and consciously.” Without teasing out the differences in terminology, we may simply note the important point added in its analysis, which is that an act of manslaughter counts as intentional here only when the bhikkhu has made a clear decision to kill. Thus if he were to strike a person unthinkingly in a sudden fit of rage, without being clear about what his intention was, it would not qualify as “intentional” here. The Commentary seconds this point when it defines having made the decision as “having summoned up a reckless mind state, ‘crushing’ through the power of an attack.” The Sub-commentary does not explain crushing or attack here, but apparently they mean aggressively overcoming, through a brute act of will, any contrary or hesitant thoughts in the mind.

Quoting from Getting the Message (also by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu),

Killing is never skillful. Stealing, lying, and everything else in the first list are never skillful. When asked if there was anything whose killing he approved of, the Buddha answered that there was only one thing: anger. 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


If there is the knowlage or expectation there is life then to take a life there should be intention to do so. If there is no knowledge nor expectation there is life, then only there is no intention.

If you are ordered to kill you know it is a living being, hence following through cannot be done without intention.

Absence of intention is generally in accidents where you know there is life but without intention you might take a life.

Also, since when doing our daily activities we do not have full awareness of what beings are there one may unknowingly and intentionally kill. E.g. you may step on a leaf with an ant underneath.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 8:15

According to Abhidhamma killing is invariably done with ill will or aversion. Prompted by whatever motive, one, as a rule, kills with a thought of ill-will. Where there is ill will (pañigha) there is displeasure (domanassa). Where there is displeasure there is ill will in a subtle or gross way. - Narada

The Abhidhamma discusses 82 forms of consciousness. An adult who kills for sport does experience the 9th or 10th type of consciousness. There is ill-feeling at the moment of killing. This ill-feeling results in Kamma.


If a person orders you to kill (for example, you are a soldier), the killing remains intentional because you could have exercised your intention/choice to refuse the order. That is why Hitler, himself, did not kill 6 million Jews, 50 million Soviets, etc.

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