Recently I found myself having a conversation about having to choose between wrong actions. It begun with the following scenario:

While walking through the forest a rabbit passes by your side, and you see the direction it goes. Seconds after that, a hunter arrives from the same direction the rabbit did, and asks you in which direction the rabit went. Everything points that the hunter wants to kill the rabbit. Would you lie to the hunter about the direction the rabbit went, in order to save the rabbit's life and the hunter's karma?

Here I see at least two limbs of the eightfold path that collide. On one hand, right speech tells me not to lie. On the other, right action and intention tells me not to kill nor be accomplice of killing by acting in such a way that will lead to that.

Since that I'd been thinking about it, and about whether it has sense to balance my beliefs, to calculate which precepts, paramis, limbs, etc. are more important, or more leading to illumination.

What I think right now is that it could be that sometimes the best option would be to break a rule I decided to live by, but I lack the wisdom to make that calculation. Also, if I see myself in a situation where I have to choose between which belief to betray, most probably I'm lacking the wisdom to see the third choice, since, I don't have to choose which tool (thinking of this beliefs as tools) leave.

I'd like to share it with you so new points of view and conclusions can arise and we can improve our understanding of our own paths.

PS: I tried to ask the question as clearly and neatly as I could, but I feel like it is a bit confusing. Please, feel free to change anything if you think that through that change it'll be clearer.


9 Answers 9


You could choose to say the following:

"Yes i know which direction the rabbit went. I do however choose not to share that information since it will probably lead to the killing of the animal and the creation of unwholesome kamma for you (hunter)".

This way you are honest but choose not to give the information because you know what might happen. This way the rabbit might still be found and killed by the hunter but you did what you could to prevent both the killing and the hunter from performing unwholesome deeds.

How can the rabbit perform unwholesome kamma?

If the mind of the rabbit is not developed enough it might give rise to strong aversion when killed by a hunter. If the rabbit instead dies a natural death, e.g. of old age it might have less or no aversion to the experience thereby creating less unwholesome kamma. This might result in rebirth in a higher realm for the rabbit.

What is important here is your Volition and Intention. You have a wholesome intention that is based in one of the 3 wholesome roots (kusala-mula), namely non-hatred (adosa). Since the intention is not tainted or polluted by the 3 unwholesome roots the action will be beneficial for oneself and others.

Said in another way. If the source is not tainted the ones that drink from it risk no infection.


Just because someone asks for something, does not mean you're obligated to provide it. The third option is to ask the hunter why, and say "Not telling." if he's set out to kill the rabbit.


The option remains to simply say nothing. I find that to be an often-forgotten option in many, many circumstances.


You are stuck in a dilemma which is caused by your own suffering. If you lie to the hunter, you suffer. If you tell the truth to the hunter, you suffer.

It's because of your suffering that you have difficulties in choosing an appropriate action. It's because of your suffering your mind can't discern wrong action from right action, wrong view from right view, wrong doing from right doing.

In choosing between a set of actions and if one action from the set must be chosen, you should choose the one that creates lesser suffering to others. This is hard to do if you are not liberated from your own suffering. Your suffering would condition your decision, thus clouding your mind in discerning good from wrong.

Nonetheless, you should always act according to your right view. While acting according to your right view, new knowledge will be gained and your right view would probably become wrong view. When right view becomes wrong view, wrong view will be replaced with a new right view, and so on, until the attainment of freedom from suffering.

You already answered your question:

What I think right now is that it could be that sometimes the best option would be to break a rule I decided to live by, but I lack the wisdom to make that calculation. Also, if I see myself in a situation where I have to choose between which belief to betray, most probably I'm lacking the wisdom to see the third choice, since, I don't have to choose which tool (thinking of this beliefs as tools) leave.

You lack wisdom. Why? Because suffering has not yet been extinct within you.

Continue on your way towards illumination, strive as you're striving right now, new wisdom will be gained and sooner or later liberation from suffering will be reached and true wisdom attained.


Suppose you were able to tell the hunter,

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.

(from the Dhammapada)

I'd guess that reply, that speech, would be neither lying nor being an accomplice.

I'm not sure whether that speech would be welcome (by the hunter) or timely, but that's a separate consideration.

most probably I'm lacking the wisdom to see the third choice

Yes I'm guessing that there is a third choice: if the question were "Should I choose 'this evil', or 'that evil'?" then the answer might be, ideally, "no" to both.


What rabbit?

The deep thinkers need to consider they are [likely] talking to an armed person. This reduces the probability of unintended consequences for yourself and gives the rabbit a fighting chance.

  • You took the hypothetical anecdotal story so literally that your answer doesn't actually even touch the philosophical side of the question. OP is not in a forest IRL chasing a rabbit..... Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 13:57

Assuming you have to pick one and "not telling" is too much of an easy way out, I would say be honest with the hunter.

The hunter is a hunter, has hunted plenty and if he fails to catch one rabbit, that is hardly going to, for want of better word, "save" him from an undesirable rebirth (because he still wants to kill it). He breaks a precept for a living, but if you're honest, at least he has a chance at making the right choice if you also try to appeal to his compassion.

If the rabbit is killed, then that isn't so bad for will it really be reborn as something lesser than a rabbit?

Just my two cents. Not sure how this option would affect you, the person that has to make the choice, karma-wise. You're indirectly responsible for killing, if that is what the hunter decides to do, but your intent is still good.


Not answering may be more evil than lying to the hunter, if the hunter is likely to find the rabbit anyway. Lying may cause the hunter to actually lose the rabbit (through wasted search), so silence is not as neutral as some have portrayed it to be.

To make the situation even more interesting, what if the hunter appeared to be emaciated, and you knew that any edible plants in the forest were the property of a jealous landlord, who would surely punish someone who chose to eat them? Then, not helping the hunter may, in fact, be the greater evil.

Or, what if there are only two obvious paths the rabbit could take, and the hunter asks: "Did you see the rabbit go to the left? I will assume that any answer but an affirmative means that you saw it go to the right." Now there is no such thing as a non-answer, because silence is explicitly taken as a response by the hunter, and if the answer is wrong, then you are surely lying (rather than merely witholding information).

In fact, you cannot know whether it is better to help or hinder the hunter. Perhaps the hunter is a fugitive from the law who has harmed many people. Then, even if he appears to be a victim of a ruthless landlord, it is perhaps better to let him starve. Or perhaps, after feasting upon the rabbit, the hunter is later enlightened and sacrifices his life for the greater good, which would not have occurred had you deterred him. Both the past and the future determine the goodness or suffering of any given action. You cannot possibly know all the facts, so really, all actions are right.

  • Illustration of your logic in a nutshell: "You cannot possibly know all of your kids names, so really, all names are right." Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 13:53

You of course can be silent or state that you cannot tell as you are a Buddhist opposed to killing. However the bigger issue is in most cultures including some Buddhist cultures killing animals for food is quite acceptable. Should we not accept this as the way it is?

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