Friday, May 23, 2014

PBP- Week 21: Killing

I have never really followed a path that subscribed to any form of pacifism. I have considered myself a warrior at heart since I was a kid. The concept of killing, whether it is in the form of a soldier fighting a war or slaughtering an animal for food, has never been a moral issue for me. Life and death are two sides of the same concept in my mind, and where there is one there is the other.

I remember reading about some more extreme forms of Buddhism, where the goal is to never cause death in other living beings, to the point of brushing the path as you walk so that you don't accidentally step on an insect. This level of focused awareness is not something I have ever seen myself as working towards. I am a carnivore, I eat meat, and I know that the meat that I eat was a living thing that was killed for the purpose of becoming my food. If I were in a more rural area, I might participate in hunting or raising food animals, but as I live in a city (as small as it is), I honor the animals I eat in a more passive way, by a sincere acknowledgment of their death that I may receive sustenance.

I also remember reading about some experiments that have been preformed on plants to show that they experience pain and have awareness of the world around them. Being of a path that accepts that plants have spirits and personalities, I always found it strange that even in the Pagan world, such a focus is put on the pain and suffering of animals and yet the eating of plants is not only widely accepted but put on a pedestal. If all things have spirit, why is it okay to eat plants but not animals? Why is the life of the cow worth more than the life of the corn?

I understand that animals are in many ways closer to us than plants, they are easier for us to understand. We bond better with our pets than we do (generally) with our houseplants. It is not that much of a jump to then that we would value more the things we understand better. It is very similar in my mind to the way we (as a species) seem to care more for the cute animals than we do for the ones that creep us out. I rarely find people to be as concerned about the lives of insects as they are about the lives of bunnies.

To take this even a step further, if I, in any way shape or form, recognize the spirits present in the world around me, and see these personalities not just in the animals and plants but in the inanimate as well: stones, earth, fire, water...should I not be concerned with causing their 'deaths' as well? When I drink water, am I bringing about it's death or does it remain alive as it travels through my body and gets released to be water again? If my practice involves the use of stones, am I mindful of their sacrifice?

I don't think there are absolute answers for all these questions, but I definitely think they need to be asked. I believe that it is important to be aware of the world around me, to attempt to try to honor the things that make my life what it is. If there is sacrifice or death involved, I should respect and honor it. For me, this involves not only not wasting food (or resources), but also reflecting on the things that give their energy so that I might continue and to be grateful.

I know I have some pretty severe views when it comes to people killing other people as well. It isn't that I don't find life sacred, rather that I find that there are things that I feel are worth the sacrifice of life. War may be a horrible thing, but why do we go to war? And if I don't agree with a war, does that make the sacrifice of the soldiers any less? If I, as an adult member of a country, take no action to work against the war that my government has engaged in, do I have any right to treat my countries soldiers poorly?

On a more local matter, I do think there are crimes that deserve a death penalty. I have been asked before, after having made my thoughts on the death penalty known, if I would be willing to die for my beliefs. Typically the argument is that some people who are sentenced to death by our courts are actually innocent, and how would I feel if I were sentenced to death for a crime I didn't commit. Of course, I would not want to die, but would I feel that the death penalty was no longer valid? I can not actually say with absolute certainty that my mind might not change if I were in that position, but I would like to think that it wouldn't. I don't think our courts make that many mistakes. And if my death would be the price of making sure that many other lives would be saved, I would like to think that I would be willing to make that sacrifice.

On a very personal level, I definitely feel that if someone were actively trying to kill me that I would fight back. Again, until I actually find myself in that position, I don't know for sure how I would react, but I don't think I would hold back in a true 'kill or be killed' situation. Perhaps fear or inexperience might cripple me, but not morality. I value my own life, and if someone were to try to take it away from me, I don't feel that I am obligated to give their life more weight than my own.

Nature includes death. It includes killing. Animals kill other animals for food, for mating rights, for territory and sometimes for status. Plants compete for sunlight, water and soil, and often the plants that loose that competition wither and die. I think that we feel that a part of civilized life is to draw away from killing, but in fact we are just drawing a curtain over it and denying that it exists. Killing is still a part of life, we just try to avoid looking at it and admitting that it is necessary. And when we are forced to admit that we have killed (or that killing has taken place for our benefit) we struggle to work this into our civilized way of thinking. I don't think killing should be glorified, but neither should it (when necessary) be vilified.


  1. Thank you for your honesty. I, likewise, (having been a soldier) understand that to be utterly non-violent, to absolutely cause "no harm" ultimately ends in paralysis. As you say, everything in life competes. I have killed animals, sometimes for food, sometimes as a mercy to the animal. It only left me with MORE reverence for life while it endures.

  2. I think it is a very strange society we live in that in many ways glorifies (on TV and movies) violence and killing, and yet in others (everyday life) tries to remove all signs of it. As you pointed out, there are times where killing is done as a mercy, and where a being would be grateful to not be kept in this world in a state they could not tolerate.

  3. I agree, there is some kind of disconnect between reality and the near video game quality madness in the media. People who criticize me when I slaughter the excess ducks I owned, but eat Chinese food made with duck. What, did that duck grow out of a cabbage patch or something? Where do they think the piles of chicken and beef and pork come from in their grocery store? Since I DO prefer the meat I eat 6 or 7 times per month to have had a life first, I rarely buy as much as the average American becauseI know commerically raised animals lead miserable existences not to be confused with life. I honor both living and dying....but cognitive dissonance and denial serve neither.

  4. I read a really interesting thought on the sterilization of our supermarkets leading to some of our unbalanced views...that because our meat in the markets doesn't look like the animal it comes from (all nicely packaged and what not), that it makes it less connected to the animal it came from. In fact a lot of people seem really bothered when they see whole animal bodies. I consider myself lucky to have been partially raised in other countries (dad was military) so whole roast duck, fish or other animals have never bothered me. I am much more bothered by the preference of many people to only use the 'prime' cuts and to discard or devalue the less desirable parts of the animal. Not only is it wasteful, but also leads to raising food costs in the market (and lack of cheap meats for people who are on a tight budget)

  5. When I want truly lean meat....a rich beef for a meat pie or sauce? I buy a beef heart. Usually very cheap per pound....and incredibly rich and delicious. A little goes a long way.

  6. I loved beef heart, in Hawaii it was a very cheap meat, but here in Kentucky it is more priced like steak. I think more people around here eat it.