I jog everyday and teach children how to play basketball. There are some insects on the path where I jog and on the basketball court, and I’m sure we unintentionally kill a few of them. We live in a place where there are lots of trees and forests so it would be difficult to get rid of bugs. Am I violating the first precep?
Formally the Vinaya, or Buddhist monastic law, states this about killing:
pli-tv-bu-vb-pc61There is no offence if it is unintentional; if (he is) not thinking; if he does not know; if he is not meaning death; if he is mad, if he is the first wrong-doer.
In particular, notice that ignoring the knowledge that there are living creatures on sports grounds is also intentional and therefore harmful if one proceeds to practice sports and thereby kill insects. How to resolve this?
One observes that small creatures flee the sun. Because of this, one can skillfully choose a time for sports when small creatures will be safe from harm. Children will understand this logic, therefore adults can as well.
Intention therefore affects skillful means. If we play sports intending entertainment, then stadiums emerge along with massive environmental impact, death and destruction. Yet if we exercise for harmony and coordination, then the "need to kill" evaporates and our relationship with the world decreases suffering skillfully. Even a monk walking meditation can intend to walk peacefully without stomping and therefore with less killing.
But cowering inside afraid to step out and kill an insect is also wrong because it is self-mortification. Bodies need exercise for health. Children need physical practice that promotes teamwork. So a balance for all enters consideration.
Unskillful choices generate suffering. Skillful choices end suffering. The path revolves around the skillful.
AN3.69:9.1: There are these three skillful roots. What three? Contentment, love, and understanding.
Of course, if you are observing the first precept, you must not intentionally kill those insects on your jogging path i.e. if you see them while jogging, you should avoid them.
On the other hand, on a regular jogging track that many people use, you would find that insects and other animals would start to avoid this path and find other routes.
If you unintentionally killed an insect on a regular jogging track, that's ok.
If you go to exercise your legs or do walking meditation in the open air you are likely to step on some beings.
It can be unintentionally caused by not looking where you put your feet or due to an inability to see.
If it was due to carelessness, then that carelessness is blameworthy much like drunk-driving ie.
If one is lost in unwholesome thought and steps on some insect, one is essentially reckless and not concerned about the consequences of one's action as they might affect others.
If however one was blind and went to do walking meditation, unaware of the stepping on bugs one is then blameless. An incident like this is in the pali texts.
If going for a run you would see the road in front covered in bugs and worms, would you still run on it seeing that you would inevitably kill?
Some would out of compassion for those beings do something else.
It seems like we are generally uncomfortable knowing that for certain we are going to step on bugs, that enough to not go through with it.
However if we think there is a chance of not stepping on other beings in the process we roll the dice.
It's akin to this analogy; Drunk-driving is bad because one puts lives at risk, therefore all driving is bad if and to the extent that it puts lives at risk.
As i see it we do not say that all driving is always bad but some circumstances are certainly seen to be more or less unjustified and blameworthy.
If a monk jumps of a high cliff and unintentionally lands on someone's head he is not blamed for killing but he is blamed for jumping from that cliff.
We should think about actions more as long run evaluation of this or that resolve rather than focusing on the short-term.
Ie; what are the consequences of this if performed 100, 1000, 10000 times.
It is on this basis society blames drunk driving in that even if nothing bad happened it doesn't matter as it is a variable circumstance.
I hope you get the sentiment i try to communicate, there is a reason why we don't see monks running around playing sports in general.
But if that monk is to truly avoid killing shouldn't he be exercising in his room instead?
In context that monk might not have a room: monks are "homeless".
And monks might be discouraged from playing sports at all: walking might be their only physical exercise.
Perhaps monks are expected to be more virtuous -- more careful about not taking life -- than laypeople. Monks won't dig the ground for example, nor kill plants, which laypeople do -- see this commentary about Killing ...
Intention is an essential factor here. For example, if a bhikkhu only intends to sweep a path but accidentally kills ants in the process, there is no offence because it is not deliberate.
... and Destroying Vegetation ...
Bhikkhus who live in tropical forest monasteries constantly have to protect both the jungle and themselves. When paths are overgrown, snakes and other dangerous 'creepy-crawlies' can be trodden on — and bite back! There also may be a need for firebreaks. One way that forest monks cope with this is a daily routine of sweeping the paths. However they are not allowed to dig or clear the land.