Can Killing a Living Being Ever Be an Act of Compassion?

Rupert Gethin
Publish Place: 
University of Bristol
Centre for Buddhist Studies Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol

In the Theravdin exegetical tradition, the notion that a intentionally killing a living being is wrong involves a claim that when certain mental states (such as compassion) are present in the mind, it is simply impossible that one could act in certain ways (such as to intentionally kill). Contrary to what Keown has claimed, the only criterion for judging whether an act is “moral” (kusala) or “immoral” (akusala) in Indian systematic Buddhist thought is the quality of the intention that motivates it. The idea that killing a living being might be a solution to the problem of suffering runs counter to the Buddhist emphasis on dukkha as a reality that must be understood. The cultivation of friendliness in the face of suffering is seen as something that can bring beneficial effects for self and others in a situation where it might seem that compassion should lead one to kill.