The Urban Dharma Newsletter - Sept 5, 2006


In This Issue: The Dhammapada / the Passing of Venerable K Sri Dhammananda

1. Loving Monk / Chief Reverend Venerable Dr K. Sri Dhammananda

2. A Video Documentary of the Venerable K Sri Dhammananda

3. Dhammapada - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

4. The Dhammapada The Buddha's Path of Wisdom - Introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi

5. Animal Rights and the Dhammapada - by Rosemary Amey



In this newsletter... Two articles on the passing of a world famous Buddhist monk... If you find the time, use the video link to watch the short documentary of his life.

And then some articles on the Dhammapada, one of the most read books from the Pali cannon.

Peace... Kusala

1. Loving Monk / Chief Reverend Venerable Dr K. Sri Dhammananda / March 18, 1919 – Aug 31, 2006 - By MAJORIE CHIEW, The Star, September 6, 2006


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Death is no cause for sorrow, but it would be sorrow if one dies without having done something for oneself and for the world. – Chief Reverend Venerable Dr K. Sri Dhammananda, Food for The Thinking Mind

Nineteen years ago, my daughter was fortunate to get the blessing from the chief monk of the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, during her full moon celebration. That was the first time I met Chief Reverend Ven Dr K. Sri Dhammananda. Over the years, I met Chief Reverend a few times. I always left in awe.

Sadly on Merdeka Day, I returned with husband and daughter to pay our last respects to Chief Reverend. Pieces of saffron cloth were hung across the road at the entrance to symbolise the passing of a monk. But a good omen was perhaps beautiful rainbow before twilight that arched across the evening sky.

At his funeral at the Nirvana Memorial Park in Semenyih on Sunday (Sept 3), we joined thousands of devotees for Chief Reverend's funeral, the biggest in the history of Buddhist Maha Vihara. Some 500 monks from the Maha Sangha came from 11 countries – Sri Lanka, Japan, the United States, Canada, Taiwan, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.

Devotees braved the rain, which started at about 5.15pm. Exactly an hour later, the heavy downpour relented when it was time to light the funeral pyre of sandalwood.

The casket was set inside a 30-foot high replica of a stupa made of yellow cloth and supported by wood structures made by some 25 Sri Lankan monks. The open pyre cremation of Chief Reverend made history as the first of its kind in Nirvana Memorial Park, said Rev. K. Dhammaratana, 55, deputy chief monk of Buddhist Maha Vihara.

For whilst the nation observed Merdeka Day, the Buddhist community also mourned the loss of a great leader – the Chief High Priest of Malaysia and Singapore, Venerable Dr K. Sri Dhammananda, 87. He passed away on Aug 31 at 11.32am, surrounded by monks and devotees at Subang Jaya Medical Centre in Petaling Jaya.

“The Chief Reverend is a living Buddha. He has contributed immensely not just to Malaysians but to the whole world. He had preached (the Dhamma) to both young and old with his simple language and was a prolific writer,” said Rev Dhammaratana of Chief Reverend, his uncle.

“We hope that he will come back to us (through rebirth) and continue his great work. Our hearts are always with him.”

Confined to a wheelchair, Chief Reverend insisted on giving his last sermon on July 10 at his temple, the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, where he was chief monk.

“The sermon meant so much to him because it was not just on a full moon's day but it coincided with Buddha's first sermon to his first five disciples,” said Rev Dhammaratana. The next day, he had to be admitted to hospital.

From then, Chief Reverend was ill for over six weeks following a second mild stroke. He sought treatment in private hospitals in Malaysia and Singapore. On Aug 21, he was readmitted to a private hospital in Subang Jaya upon his return from Singapore. After a week, his health deteriorated further.

Chief Reverend was also an animal lover and kept a dog, Lucky, and two cats.

“His dog was very protective of him. Even his cats used to give him massages. They must have observed the masseurs attending to the Chief Reverend and learnt some tricks,” said Rev Dhammaratana.

What was Chief Reverend like? Here's what some people who have known him have to say:

Mother A. Mangalam, 80, president of the Pure Life Society in Puchong, Kuala Lumpur, said:

“Rev Dhammananda's death is a great loss to the Inter-Faith Spiritual Fellowship (INSaF). He's a person who, though Buddhist by faith, rises above all religions and cuts across all barriers.”

Rev Dhammananda also had “wit and humour and always has a smile, no matter what.”

Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society of Buddhist Maha Vihara president S.W. Surendre said the vihara's chief monk was “a very dynamic and very compassionate person. He is an irreplaceable loss for a monk of his stature. When he came to reside at the Buddhist Maha Vihara, it was a stepping stone for this temple to go higher. Every Malaysian Buddhist considers the Buddhist Maha Vihara as the main centre of Buddhism in the country.”

Ti-Ratana Welfare Society president Datuk Liu Thim Soon was touched and blessed by the Chief Reverend for the last 25 years. ”Chief was full of energy whenever he preached and always had a set of jokes.“

At the eulogy ceremony on Sunday, Ven Dr Kakapalliye Anuruddha, former Vice-Chancellor of Sri Lanka University, said: “It's a sad day for Sri Lankan monks because one of their illustrious Sri Lankan monks had passed away.” The Chief Reverend or Nayaka Hamuduruwo (an equal meaning term used in Sri Lanka) did not just explain Buddha's teachings but practised what he told others.

Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, who represented the government, said that Chief Reverend was a very powerful voice in promoting inter-religious harmony in Malaysia.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, who read a message from the President of Sri Lanka, said: “Sri Lanka had lost a great monk. The Buddhist world had lost a great missionary.”

The eulogy of Buddhist Summit president Most Venerable Dr Kyuse Enshinjoh was read by Buddhist Summit of Japan secretary-general Venerable Fujikura of Japan, who described Chief Reverend as “a great dhamma friend and a true Supreme Buddhist”.

Rev Dhammananda was involved in Buddhist missionary work for 54 years. He was born in Sri Lanka on March 18, 1919. When he was 12, he was ordained as a novice monk and given the name Dhammananda meaning “Bliss of the Dhamma” as well as the first name Kirinde after his village.

At 26, he graduated from the Vidyalankara Pirivena College in Colombo with a Diploma in Pali and Sanskrit, Buddhist philosophy and the Pali Cannon. He continued post-graduate studies at the Benares Hindu University in North India for four years and graduated with a Masters degree in Indian Philosophy in 1949.

In 1952, he was invited to Malaya to reside at the Buddhist Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur to teach Buddhism. In 1962, he established the Buddhist Missionary Society (BMS) for a more organised missionary work in the country. Under BMS, he wrote many booklets and books on Buddhist teachings. To-date, he had written 70 books, which have been translated into no less than 16 languages worldwide.

In 1965, Rev Dhammananda was appointed the Chief High Priest of Malaysia and Singapore.

Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia (BMSM) president Ang Choo Hong said: “The Chief Reverend wrote his last book at his sick bed. And on the day of his funeral, 60,000 copies of the book, “Where is the Buddha”, were published for free distribution as his last legacy.

2. A Buddhist Channel Original - A Video Documentary of the Venerable K Sri Dhammananda


Now available online. For the first time ever, a documentary on Malaysia's most famous monk, Venerable K Sri Dhammananda. It premiered with resounding success at the recently concluded Wesak International Film Festival (WIFF). This video is in three parts (.mov file) and can be downloaded at: http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=12,2800,0,0,1,0

3. Dhammapada - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Dhammapada (Pāli, translates as Path of the Dharma. Also Prakrit Dhamapada, Sanskrit Dharmapada) is a Buddhist scripture, containing 423 verses in 26 categories. According to tradition, these are answers to questions put to the Buddha on various occasions, most of which deal with ethics. A fifth century commentary by Buddhaghosa includes 305 stories which give context to the verses. [1]

The Dhammapada is a popular section of the Pāli Tipitaka and is considered one of the most important pieces of Theravada literature.

Although the Pāli edition is the most well known, a Gandhari edition written in Kharosthi and a seemingly related text in Sanskrit known as the Udanavarga have also been discovered.

Despite being a primarily Theravada text, the Dhammapada is read by many Mahayana Buddhists and remains a very popular text across all schools of Buddhism

Excerpt from the Dhammapada

Contrary Ways

1. What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart.


2. He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, he robbed me. Those who think such thoughts will not be free from hate.


3. For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal.

 (Translation by Juan Mascaro)

Check your mind,

Be on your guard,

Pull yourself out,

As an elephant from mud.

— xxiii.8

4. The Dhammapada The Buddha's Path of Wisdom - An Introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi


From ancient times to the present, the Dhammapada has been regarded as the most succinct expression of the Buddha's teaching found in the Pali Canon and the chief spiritual testament of early Buddhism. In the countries following Theravada Buddhism, such as Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, the influence of the Dhammapada is ubiquitous. It is an ever-fecund source of themes for sermons and discussions, a guidebook for resolving the countless problems of everyday life, a primer for the instruction of novices in the monasteries. Even the experienced contemplative, withdrawn to forest hermitage or mountainside cave for a life of meditation, can be expected to count a copy of the book among his few material possessions. Yet the admiration the Dhammapada has elicited has not been confined to avowed followers of Buddhism. Wherever it has become known its moral earnestness, realistic understanding of human life, aphoristic wisdom and stirring message of a way to freedom from suffering have won for it the devotion and veneration of those responsive to the good and the true.

The expounder of the verses that comprise the Dhammapada is the Indian sage called the Buddha, an honorific title meaning "the Enlightened One" or "the Awakened One." The story of this venerable personage has often been overlaid with literary embellishment and the admixture of legend, but the historical essentials of his life are simple and clear. He was born in the sixth century B.C., the son of a king ruling over a small state in the Himalayan foothills, in what is now Nepal. His given name was Siddhattha and his family name Gotama (Sanskrit: Siddhartha Gautama) . Raised in luxury, groomed by his father to be the heir to the throne, in his early manhood he went through a deeply disturbing encounter with the sufferings of life, as a result of which he lost all interest in the pleasures and privileges of rulership. One night, in his twenty-ninth year, he fled the royal city and entered the forest to live as an ascetic, resolved to find a way to deliverance from suffering. For six years he experimented with different systems of meditation and subjected himself to severe austerities, but found that these practices did not bring him any closer to his goal. Finally, in his thirty-fifth year, while sitting in deep meditation beneath a tree at Gaya, he attained Supreme Enlightenment and became, in the proper sense of the title, the Buddha, the Enlightened One. Thereafter, for forty-five years, he traveled throughout northern India, proclaiming the truths he had discovered and founding an order of monks and nuns to carry on his message. At the age of eighty, after a long and fruitful life, he passed away peacefully in the small town of Kusinara, surrounded by a large number of disciples.

To his followers, the Buddha is neither a god, a divine incarnation, or a prophet bearing a message of divine revelation, but a human being who by his own striving and intelligence has reached the highest spiritual attainment of which man is capable — perfect wisdom, full enlightenment, complete purification of mind. His function in relation to humanity is that of a teacher — a world teacher who, out of compassion, points out to others the way to Nibbana (Sanskrit: Nirvana), final release from suffering. His teaching, known as the Dhamma, offers a body of instructions explaining the true nature of existence and showing the path that leads to liberation. Free from all dogmas and inscrutable claims to authority, the Dhamma is founded solidly upon the bedrock of the Buddha's own clear comprehension of reality, and it leads the one who practices it to that same understanding — the knowledge which extricates the roots of suffering.

The title "Dhammapada" which the ancient compilers of the Buddhist scriptures attached to our anthology means portions, aspects, or sections of Dhamma. The work has been given this title because, in its twenty-six chapters, it spans the multiple aspects of the Buddha's teaching, offering a variety of standpoints from which to gain a glimpse into its heart. Whereas the longer discourses of the Buddha contained in the prose sections of the Canon usually proceed methodically, unfolding according to the sequential structure of the doctrine, the Dhammapada lacks such a systematic arrangement. The work is simply a collection of inspirational or pedagogical verses on the fundamentals of the Dhamma, to be used as a basis for personal edification and instruction. In any given chapter several successive verses may have been spoken by the Buddha on a single occasion, and thus among themselves will exhibit a meaningful development or a set of variations on a theme. But by and large, the logic behind the grouping together of verses into a chapter is merely the concern with a common topic. The twenty-six chapter headings thus function as a kind of rubric for classifying the diverse poetic utterances of the Master, and the reason behind the inclusion of any given verse in a particular chapter is its mention of the subject indicated in the chapter's heading . In some cases (Chapters 4 and 23) this may be a metaphorical symbol rather than a point of doctrine. There also seems to be no intentional design in the order of the chapters themselves, though at certain points a loose thread of development can be discerned.

The teachings of the Buddha, viewed in their completeness, all link together into a single perfectly coherent system of thought and practice which gains its unity from its final goal, the attainment of deliverance from suffering. But the teachings inevitably emerge from the human condition as their matrix and starting point, and thus must be expressed in such a way as to reach human beings standing at different levels of spiritual development, with their highly diverse problems, ends, and concerns and with their very different capacities for understanding. Thence, just as water, though one in essence. assumes different shapes due to the vessels into which it is poured, so the Dhamma of liberation takes on different forms in response to the needs of the beings to be taught. This diversity, evident enough already in the prose discourses, becomes even more conspicuous in the highly condensed. spontaneous and intuitively charged medium of verse used in the Dhammapada. The intensified power of delivery can result in apparent inconsistencies which may perplex the unwary. For example, in many verses the Buddha commends certain practices on the grounds that they lead to a heavenly birth, but in others he discourages disciples from aspiring for heaven and extols the one who takes no delight in celestial pleasures (187, 417) [Unless chapter numbers are indicated, all figures enclosed in parenthesis refer to verse numbers of the Dhammapada.]

Often he enjoins works of merit, yet elsewhere he praises the one who has gone beyond both merit and demerit (39, 412). Without a grasp of the underlying structure of the Dhamma, such statements viewed side by side will appear incompatible and may even elicit the judgment that the teaching is self-contradictory.

The key to resolving these apparent discrepancies is the recognition that the Dhamma assumes its formulation from the needs of the diverse persons to whom it is addressed, as well as from the diversity of needs that may co-exist even in a single individual. To make sense of the various utterances found in the Dhammapada, we will suggest a schematism of four levels to be used for ascertaining the intention behind any particular verse found in the work, and thus for understanding its proper place in the total systematic vision of the Dhamma. This fourfold schematism develops out of an ancient interpretive maxim which holds that the Buddha's teaching is designed to meet three primary aims: human welfare here and now, a favorable rebirth in the next life, and the attainment of the ultimate good. The four levels are arrived at by distinguishing the last aim into two stages: path and fruit.

(i) The first level is the concern with establishing well-being and happiness in the immediately visible sphere of concrete human relations. The aim at this level is to show man the way to live at peace with himself and his fellow men, to fulfill his family and social responsibilities, and to restrain the bitterness, conflict and violence which infect human relationships and bring such immense suffering to the individual, society, and the world as a whole. The guidelines appropriate to this level are largely identical with the basic ethical injunctions proposed by most of the great world religions, but in the Buddhist teaching they are freed from theistic moorings and grounded upon two directly verifiable foundations: concern for one's own integrity and long-range happiness and concern for the welfare of those whom one's actions may affect (129-132). The most general counsel the Dhammapada gives is to avoid all evil, to cultivate good and to cleanse one's mind (183). But to dispel any doubts the disciple might entertain as to what he should avoid and what he should cultivate, other verses provide more specific directives. One should avoid irritability in deed, word and thought and exercise self-control (231-234). One should adhere to the five precepts, the fundamental moral code of Buddhism, which teach abstinence from destroying life, from stealing, from committing adultery, from speaking lies and from taking intoxicants; one who violates these five training rules "digs up his own root even in this very world" (246-247). The disciple should treat all beings with kindness and compassion, live honestly and righteously, control his sensual desires, speak the truth and live a sober upright life, diligently fulfilling his duties, such as service to parents, to his immediate family and to those recluses and brahmans who depend on the laity for their maintenance (332-333).

A large number of verses pertaining to this first level are concerned with the resolution of conflict and hostility. Quarrels are to be avoided by patience and forgiveness, for responding to hatred by further hatred only maintains the cycle of vengeance and retaliation. The true conquest of hatred is achieved by non-hatred, by forbearance, by love (4-6). One should not respond to bitter speech but maintain silence (134). One should not yield to anger but control it as a driver controls a chariot (222). Instead of keeping watch for the faults of others, the disciple is admonished to examine his own faults, and to make a continual effort to remove his impurities just as a silversmith purifies silver (50, 239). Even if he has committed evil in the past, there is no need for dejection or despair; for a man's ways can be radically changed, and one who abandons the evil for the good illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds (173).

The sterling qualities distinguishing the man of virtue are generosity, truthfulness, patience, and compassion (223). By developing and mastering these qualities within himself, a man lives at harmony with his own conscience and at peace with his fellow beings. The scent of virtue, the Buddha declares, is sweeter than the scent of all flowers and perfumes (55-56). The good man, like the Himalaya mountains, shines from afar, and wherever he goes he is loved and respected (303-304).

(ii) In its second level of teaching, the Dhammapada shows that morality does not exhaust its significance in its contribution to human felicity here and now, but exercises a far more critical influence in molding personal destiny. This level begins with the recognition that, to reflective thought, the human situation demands a more satisfactory context for ethics than mere appeals to altruism can provide. On the one hand our innate sense of moral justice requires that goodness be recompensed with happiness and evil with suffering; on the other our typical experience shows us virtuous people beset with hardships and afflictions and thoroughly bad people riding the waves of fortune (119-120). Moral intuition tells us that if there is any long-range value to righteousness, the imbalance must somehow be redressed. The visible order does not yield an evident solution, but the Buddha's teaching reveals the factor needed to vindicate our cry for moral justice in an impersonal universal law which reigns over all sentient existence. This is the law of kamma (Sanskrit: karma), of action and its fruit, which ensures that morally determinate action does not disappear into nothingness but eventually meets its due retribution, the good with happiness, the bad with suffering.

In the popular understanding kamma is sometimes identified with fate, but this is a total misconception utterly inapplicable to the Buddhist doctrine. Kamma means volitional action, action springing from intention, which may manifest itself outwardly as bodily deeds or speech, or remain internally as unexpressed thoughts, desires and emotions. The Buddha distinguishes kamma into two primary ethical types: unwholesome kamma, action rooted in mental states of greed, hatred and delusion; and wholesome kamma. action rooted in mental states of generosity or detachment, goodwill and understanding. The willed actions a person performs in the course of his life may fade from memory without a trace, but once performed they leave subtle imprints on the mind, seeds with the potential to come to fruition in the future when they meet conditions conducive to their ripening.

The objective field in which the seeds of kamma ripen is the process of rebirths called samsara. In the Buddha's teaching, life is not viewed as an isolated occurrence beginning spontaneously with birth and ending in utter annihilation at death. Each single life span is seen, rather, as part of an individualized series of lives having no discoverable beginning in time and continuing on as long as the desire for existence stands intact. Rebirth can take place in various realms. There are not only the familiar realms of human beings and animals, but ranged above we meet heavenly worlds of greater happiness, beauty and power, and ranged below infernal worlds of extreme suffering.

The cause for rebirth into these various realms the Buddha locates in kamma, our own willed actions. In its primary role, kamma determines the sphere into which rebirth takes place, wholesome actions bringing rebirth in higher forms, unwholesome actions rebirth in lower forms. After yielding rebirth, kamma continues to operate, governing the endowments and circumstances of the individual within his given form of existence. Thus, within the human world, previous stores of wholesome kamma will issue in long life, health, wealth, beauty and success; stores of unwholesome kamma in short life, illness, poverty, ugliness and failure.

Prescriptively, the second level of teaching found in the Dhammapada is the practical corollary to this recognition of the law of kamma, put forth to show human beings, who naturally desire happiness and freedom from sorrow, the effective means to achieve their objectives. The content of this teaching itself does not differ from that presented at the first level; it is the same set of ethical injunctions for abstaining from evil and for cultivating the good. The difference lies in the perspective from which the injunctions are issued and the aim for the sake of which they are to be taken up. The principles of morality are shown now in their broader cosmic connections, as tied to an invisible but all-embracing law which binds together all life and holds sway over the repeated rotations of the cycle of birth and death. The observance of morality is justified, despite its difficulties and apparent failures, by the fact that it is in harmony with that law, that through the efficacy of kamma, our willed actions become the chief determinant of our destiny both in this life and in future states of becoming. To follow the ethical law leads upwards — to inner development, to higher rebirths and to richer experiences of happiness and joy. To violate the law, to act in the grip of selfishness and hate, leads downwards — to inner deterioration, to suffering and to rebirth in the worlds of misery. This theme is announced already by the pair of verses which opens the Dhammapada, and reappears in diverse formulations throughout the work (see, e.g., 15-18, 117-122, 127, 132-133, Chapter 22).

(iii) The ethical counsel based on the desire for higher rebirths and happiness in future lives is not the final teaching of the Buddha, and thus cannot provide the decisive program of personal training commended by the Dhammapada. In its own sphere of application, it is perfectly valid as a preparatory or provisional teaching for those whose spiritual faculties are not yet ripe but still require further maturation over a succession of lives. A deeper, more searching examination, however, reveals that all states of existence in samsara, even the loftiest celestial abodes, are lacking in genuine worth; for they are all inherently impermanent, without any lasting substance, and thus, for those who cling to them, potential bases for suffering. The disciple of mature faculties, sufficiently prepared by previous experience for the Buddha's distinctive exposition of the Dhamma, does not long even for rebirth among the gods. Having understood the intrinsic inadequacy of all conditioned things, his focal aspiration is only for deliverance from the ever-repeating round of births. This is the ultimate goal to which the Buddha points, as the immediate aim for those of developed faculties and also as the long-term ideal for those in need of further development: Nibbana, the Deathless, the unconditioned state where there is no more birth, aging and death, and no more suffering.

The third level of teaching found in the Dhammapada sets forth the theoretical framework and practical discipline emerging out of the aspiration for final deliverance. The theoretical framework is provided by the teaching of the Four Noble Truths (190-192, 273), which the Buddha had proclaimed already in his first sermon and upon which he placed so much stress in his many discourses that all schools of Buddhism have appropriated them as their common foundation. The four truths all center around the fact of suffering (dukkha), understood not as mere experienced pain and sorrow, but as the pervasive unsatisfactoriness of everything conditioned (202-203). The first truth details the various forms of suffering — birth, old age, sickness and death, the misery of unpleasant encounters and painful separations, the suffering of not obtaining what one wants. It culminates in the declaration that all constituent phenomena of body and mind, "the aggregates of existence" (khandha), being impermanent and substanceless, are intrinsically unsatisfactory. The second truth points out that the cause of suffering is craving (tanha), the desire for pleasure and existence which drives us through the round of rebirths, bringing in its trail sorrow, anxiety, and despair (212-216, Chapter 24). The third truth declares that the destruction of craving issues in release from suffering, and the fourth prescribes the means to gain release, the Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (Chapter 20).

If, at this third level, the doctrinal emphasis shifts from the principles of kamma and rebirth to the Four Noble Truths, a corresponding shift in emphasis takes place in the practical sphere as well. The stress now no longer falls on the observation of basic morality and the cultivation of wholesome attitudes as a means to higher rebirths. Instead it falls on the integral development of the Noble Eightfold Path as the means to uproot the craving that nurtures the process of rebirth itself. For practical purposes the eight factors of the path are arranged into three major groups which reveal more clearly the developmental structure of the training: moral discipline (including right speech, right action and right livelihood), concentration (including right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration), and wisdom (including right understanding and right thought). By the training in morality, the coarsest forms of the mental defilements, those erupting as unwholesome deeds and words, are checked and kept under control. By the training in concentration the mind is made calm, pure and unified, purged of the currents of distractive thoughts. By the training in wisdom the concentrated beam of attention is focused upon the constituent factors of mind and body to investigate and contemplate their salient characteristics. This wisdom, gradually ripened, climaxes in the understanding that brings complete purification and deliverance of mind.

In principle, the practice of the path in all three stages is feasible for people in any walk of life. The Buddha taught it to laypeople as well as to monks, and many of his lay followers reached high stages of attainment. However, application to the development of the path becomes most fruitful for those who have relinquished all other concerns in order to devote themselves wholeheartedly to spiritual training, to living the "holy life" (brahmacariya). For conduct to be completely purified, for sustained contemplation and penetrating wisdom to unfold without impediments, adoption of a different style of life becomes imperative, one which minimizes distractions and stimulants to craving and orders all activities around the aim of liberation. Thus the Buddha established the Sangha, the order of monks and nuns, as the special field for those ready to dedicate their lives to the practice of his path, and in the Dhammapada the call to the monastic life resounds throughout.

The entry-way to the monastic life is an act of radical renunciation. The thoughtful, who have seen the transience and hidden misery of worldly life, break the ties of family and social bonds, abandon their homes and mundane pleasures, and enter upon the state of homelessness (83, 87-89, 91). Withdrawn to silent and secluded places, they seek out the company of wise instructors, and guided by the rules of the monastic training, devote their energies to a life of meditation. Content with the simplest material requisites, moderate in eating, restrained in their senses, they stir up their energy, abide in constant mindfulness and still the restless waves of thoughts (185, 375). With the mind made clear and steady, they learn to contemplate the arising and falling away of all formations, and experience thereby "a delight that transcends all human delights," a joy and happiness that anticipates the bliss of the Deathless (373-374). The life of meditative contemplation reaches its peak in the development of insight (vipassana), and the Dhammapada enunciates the principles to be discerned by insight-wisdom: that all conditioned things are impermanent, that they are all unsatisfactory, that there is no self or truly existent ego entity to be found in anything whatsoever (277-279). When these truths are penetrated by direct experience, the craving, ignorance and related mental fetters maintaining bondage break asunder, and the disciple rises through successive stages of realization to the full attainment of Nibbana.

(iv) The fourth level of teaching in the Dhammapada provides no new disclosure of doctrine or practice, but an acclamation and exaltation of those who have reached the goal. In the Pali Canon the stages of definite attainment along the way to Nibbana are enumerated as four. At the first, called "stream-entry" (sotapatti), the disciple gains his first glimpse of "the Deathless" and enters irreversibly upon the path to liberation, bound to reach the goal in seven lives at most. This achievement alone, the Dhammapada declares, is greater than lordship over all the worlds (178). Following stream-entry come two further stages which weaken and eradicate still more defilements and bring the goal increasingly closer to view. One is called the stage of once-returner (sakadagami), when the disciple will return to the human world at most only one more time; the other the stage of nonreturner (anagami), when he will never come back to human existence but will take rebirth in a celestial plane, bound to win final deliverance there. The fourth and final stage is that of the arahant, the Perfected One, the fully accomplished sage who has completed the development of the path, eradicated all defilements and freed himself from bondage to the cycle of rebirths. This is the ideal figure of early Buddhism and the supreme hero of the Dhammapada. Extolled in Chapter 7 under his own name and in Chapter 26 (385-388, 396-423) under the name brahmana, "holy man," the arahant serves as a living demonstration of the truth of the Dhamma. Bearing his last body, perfectly at peace, he is the inspiring model who shows in his own person that it is possible to free oneself from the stains of greed, hatred and delusion, to rise above suffering, to win Nibbana in this very life.

The arahant ideal reaches its optimal exemplification in the Buddha, the promulgator and master of the entire teaching. It was the Buddha who. without any aid or guidance, rediscovered the ancient path to deliverance and taught it to countless others. His arising in the world provides the precious opportunity to hear and practice the excellent Dhamma (182, 194). He is the giver and shower of refuge (190-192), the Supreme Teacher who depends on nothing but his own self-evolved wisdom (353). Born a man, the Buddha always remains essentially human, yet his attainment of Perfect Enlightenment elevates him to a level far surpassing that of common humanity. All our familiar concepts and modes of knowing fail to circumscribe his nature: he is trackless, of limitless range, free from all worldliness, the conqueror of all, the knower of all, untainted by the world (179, 180, 353).

Always shining in the splendor of his wisdom, the Buddha by his very being confirms the Buddhist faith in human perfectibility consummates the Dhammapada's picture of man perfected, the arahant.

The four levels of teaching just discussed give us the key for sorting out the Dhammapada's diverse utterances on Buddhist doctrine and for discerning the intention behind its words of practical counsel. Interlaced with the verses specific to these four main levels, there runs throughout the work a large number of verses not tied to any single level but applicable to all alike. Taken together, these delineate for us the basic world view of early Buddhism. The most arresting feature of this view is its stress on process rather than persistence as the defining mark of actuality. The universe is in flux, a boundless river of incessant becoming sweeping everything along; dust motes and mountains, gods and men and animals, world system after world system without number — all are engulfed by the irrepressible current. There is no creator of this process, no providential deity behind the scenes steering all things to some great and glorious end. The cosmos is beginningless, and in its movement from phase to phase it is governed only by the impersonal, implacable law of arising, change, and passing away.

However, the focus of the Dhammapada is not on the outer cosmos, but on the human world, upon man with his yearning and his suffering. his immense complexity, his striving and movement towards transcendence. The starting point is the human condition as given, and fundamental to the picture that emerges is the inescapable duality of human life, the dichotomies which taunt and challenge man at every turn. Seeking happiness, afraid of pain, loss and death, man walks the delicate balance between good and evil, purity and defilement, progress and decline. His actions are strung out between these moral antipodes, and because he cannot evade the necessity to choose, he must bear the full responsibility for his decisions. Man's moral freedom is a reason for both dread and jubilation, for by means of his choices he determines his own individual destiny, not only through one life, but through the numerous lives to be turned up by the rolling wheel of samsara. If he chooses wrongly he can sink to the lowest depths of degradation, if he chooses rightly he can make himself worthy even of the homage of the gods. The paths to all destinations branch out from the present, from the ineluctable immediate occasion of conscious choice and action.

The recognition of duality extends beyond the limits of conditioned existence to include the antithetical poles of the conditioned and the unconditioned, samsara and Nibbana, the "near shore" and the "far shore." The Buddha appears in the world as the Great Liberator who shows man the way to break free from the one and arrive at the other, where alone true safety is to be found. But all he can do is indicate the path; the work of treading it lies in the hands of the disciple. The Dhammapada again and again sounds this challenge to human freedom: man is the maker and master of himself, the protector or destroyer of himself, the savior of himself (160, 165, 380). In the end he must choose between the way that leads back into the world, to the round of becoming, and the way that leads out of the world, to Nibbana. And though this last course is extremely difficult and demanding, the voice of the Buddha speaks words of assurance confirming that it can be done, that it lies within man's power to overcome all barriers and to triumph even over death itself.

The pivotal role in achieving progress in all spheres, the Dhammapada declares, is played by the mind. In contrast to the Bible, which opens with an account of God's creation of the world, the Dhammapada begins with an unequivocal assertion that mind is the forerunner of all that we are, the maker of our character, the creator of our destiny. The entire discipline of the Buddha, from basic morality to the highest levels of meditation, hinges upon training the mind. A wrongly directed mind brings greater harm than any enemy, a rightly directed mind brings greater good than any other relative or friend (42, 43). The mind is unruly, fickle, difficult to subdue, but by effort, mindfulness and unflagging self-discipline, one can master its vagrant tendencies, escape the torrents of the passions and find "an island which no flood can overwhelm" (25). The one who conquers himself, the victor over his own mind, achieves a conquest which can never be undone, a victory greater than that of the mightiest warriors (103-105).

What is needed most urgently to train and subdue the mind is a quality called heedfulness (appamada). Heedfulness combines critical self awareness and unremitting energy in a process of keeping the mind under constant observation to detect and expel the defiling impulses whenever they seek an opportunity to surface. In a world where man has no savior but himself, and where the means to his deliverance lies in mental purification, heedfulness becomes the crucial factor for ensuring that the aspirant keeps to the straight path of training without deviating due to the seductive allurements of sense pleasures or the stagnating influences of laziness and complacency. Heedfulness, the Buddha declares, is the path to the Deathless; heedlessness, the path to death. The wise who understand this distinction abide in heedfulness and experience Nibbana, "the incomparable freedom from bondage" (21-23).

As a great religious classic and the chief spiritual testament of early Buddhism, the Dhammapada cannot be gauged in its true value by a single reading, even if that reading is done carefully and reverentially. It yields its riches only through repeated study, sustained reflection, and most importantly, through the application of its principles to daily life. Thence it might be suggested to the reader in search of spiritual guidance that the Dhammapada be used as a manual for contemplation. After his initial reading, he would do well to read several verses or even a whole chapter every day, slowly and carefully, relishing the words. He should reflect on the meaning of each verse deeply and thoroughly, investigate its relevance to his life, and apply it as a guide to conduct. If this is done repeatedly, with patience and perseverance, it is certain that the Dhammapada will confer upon his life a new meaning and sense of purpose. Infusing him with hope and inspiration, gradually it will lead him to discover a freedom and happiness far greater than anything the world can offer.

— Bhikkhu Bodhi


1. (v. 7) Mara: the Tempter in Buddhism, represented in the scriptures as an evil-minded deity who tries to lead people from the path to liberation. The commentaries explain Mara as the lord of evil forces, as mental defilements and as death.

2. (v. 8) The impurities (asubha): subjects of meditation which focus on the inherent repulsiveness of the body, recommended especially as powerful antidotes to lust.

3. (v. 21) The Deathless (amata): Nibbana, so called because those who attain it are free from the cycle of repeated birth and death.

4. (v. 22) The Noble Ones (ariya): those who have reached any of the four stages of supramundane attainment leading irreversibly to Nibbana.

5. (v. 30) Indra: the ruler of the gods in ancient Indian mythology.

6. (v. 39) The arahant is said to be beyond both merit and demerit because, as he has abandoned all defilements, he can no longer perform evil actions; and as he has no more attachment, his virtuous actions no longer bear kammic fruit.

7. (v. 45) The Striver-on-the-Path (sekha): one who has achieved any of the first three stages of supramundane attainment: a stream-enterer, once-returner, or nonreturner.

8. (v. 49) The "sage in the village" is the Buddhist monk who receives his food by going silently from door to door with his alms bowls, accepting whatever is offered.

9. (v. 54) Tagara: a fragrant powder obtained from a particular kind of shrub.

10. (v. 89) This verse describes the arahant, dealt with more fully in the following chapter. The "cankers" (asava) are the four basic defilements of sensual desire, desire for continued existence, false views and ignorance.

11. (v. 97) In the Pali this verse presents a series of puns, and if the "underside" of each pun were to be translated, the verse would read thus: "The man who is faithless, ungrateful, a burglar, who destroys opportunities and eats vomit — he truly is the most excellent of men."

12. (v. 104) Brahma: a high divinity in ancient Indian religion.

13. (vv. 153-154) According to the commentary, these verses are the Buddha's "Song of Victory," his first utterance after his Enlightenment. The house is individualized existence in samsara, the house-builder craving, the rafters the passions and the ridge-pole ignorance.

14. (v. 164) Certain reeds of the bamboo family perish immediately after producing fruits.

15. (v. 178) Stream-entry (sotapatti): the first stage of supramundane attainment.

16. (vv. 190-191) The Order: both the monastic Order (bhikkhu sangha) and the Order of Noble Ones (ariya sangha) who have reached the four supramundane stages.

17. (v. 202) Aggregates (of existence) (khandha): the five groups of factors into which the Buddha analyzes the living being — material form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness.

18. (v. 218) One Bound Upstream: a nonreturner (anagami).

19. (vv. 254-255) Recluse (samana): here used in the special sense of those who have reached the four supramundane stages.

20. (v. 283) The meaning of this injunction is: "Cut down the forest of lust, but do not mortify the body."

21. (v. 339) The thirty-six currents of craving: the three cravings — for sensual pleasure, for continued existence, and for annihilation — in relation to each of the twelve bases — the six sense organs, including mind, and their corresponding objects.

22. (v. 344) This verse, in the original, puns with the Pali word vana meaning both "desire" and "forest."

23. (v. 353) This was the Buddha's reply to a wandering ascetic who asked him about his teacher. The Buddha's answer shows that Supreme Enlightenment was his own unique attainment, which he had not learned from anyone else.

24. (v. 370) The five to be cut off are the five "lower fetters": self-illusion, doubt, belief in rites and rituals, lust and ill-will. The five to be abandoned are the five "higher fetters": craving for the divine realms with form, craving for the formless realms, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance. Stream-enterers and once-returners cut off the first three fetters, nonreturners the next two and Arahants the last five. The five to be cultivated are the five spiritual faculties: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. The five bonds are: greed, hatred, delusion, false views, and conceit.

25. (v. 374) See note 17 (to v. 202).

26. (v. 383) "Holy man" is used as a makeshift rendering for brahmana, intended to reproduce the ambiguity of the Indian word. Originally men of spiritual stature; by the time of the Buddha the brahmans had turned into a privileged priesthood which defined itself by means of birth and lineage rather than by genuine inner sanctity. The Buddha attempted to restore to the word brahmana its original connotation by identifying the true "holy man" as the arahant, who merits the title through his own inward purity and holiness regardless of family lineage. The contrast between the two meanings is highlighted in verses 393 and 396. Those who led a contemplative life dedicated to gaining Arahantship could also be called brahmans, as in verses 383, 389, and 390.

27. (v. 385) This shore: the six sense organs; the other shore: their corresponding objects; both: I-ness and my-ness.

28. (v. 394) In the time of the Buddha, such ascetic practices as wearing matted hair and garments of hides were considered marks of holiness.

Source: Copyright © 1985 Buddhist Publication Society. Reproduced and reformatted from The Dhammapada The Buddha's Path of Wisdom, Translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita, Access to Insight edition © 1996 For free distribution. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted, and redistributed in any medium. It is the author's wish, however, that any such republication and redistribution be made available to the public on a free and unrestricted basis and that translations and other derivative works be clearly marked as such.

Friday , September 8, 2006

5. Animal Rights and the Dhammapada - by Rosemary Amey


Do not what is evil. Do what is good. Keep your mind pure. This is the teaching of Buddha. (Dhammapada, 183.)

Background: Buddhism and the Dhammapada

What does Buddhism have to say about animal rights? Among the world's hundreds of millions of Buddhists, there is disagreement about this basic issue. I first became interested in Buddhism because two of my favourite restaurants (Buddha's Vegetarian Foods and the Lotus Garden, both on Dundas Street West in Toronto) are Buddhist, and are very careful to serve only vegetarian food with no eggs. In one restaurant I was told that this was necessary because Buddhist monks and nuns eat there. This suggested to me that Buddhism takes the plight of nonhuman animals very seriously indeed. On the other hand, my fiancé and I have several friends who are Buddhist, but continue to eat meat and feel this is consistent with Buddhism.

Do Buddhists, or at least Buddhist nuns and monks, have to be vegetarian? What does Buddhism have to say about our treatment of animals in general?

To resolve this controversy, it is necessary, I feel, to return to the Buddhist scriptures and see what (if anything) they have to say about the issue.

So far, I have been frustrated in my attempts to purchase my own copy of the Bhuddist Pali scriptures -- perhaps because they are eleven times as long as the Bible. The bookstores I have been to all stock large numbers of books about Buddhism, but not the scriptures themselves! These secondary (or worse!) sources about Buddhism shed little light on what the Buddha's own teachings about animals were.

However, I have been able to acquire a copy of an important part of the Pali scriptures, the Dhammapada. Dhamma (Dharma in Sanskrit), means "law, a moral law, a spiritual law of righteousness, the eternal law of the Universe, Truth;" and pada means "foot" or "step." So the Dhammapada are the steps we must take to live according to (Buddhist) moral and spiritual laws. According to scholar Juan Mascaró, "that the spirit of the Dhammapada is the spirit of Buddha is accepted both by his followers and by scholars." Therefore, it seems reasonable that we can derive at least a first approximation of the Buddhist approach to the question of animal rights from the basic moral foundation laid by Gotama Buddha in the Dhammapada.

Not Killing and Not Hurting

In Buddhism, there are five "precepts," which could be considered to play a similar rôle as the Ten Commandments do for Jews and Christians. These precepts provide moral guidance for lay Buddhists as well as monks and nuns. They are concisely summed up as follows:

He who destroys life, who utters lies, who takes what is not given to him, who goes to the wife of another, who gets drunk with strong drinks -- he digs up the very roots of his life. (Dhammapada, 246-247)

The injunction against destroying life is known as the First Precept.

In addition, the Buddha also tells us not to "hurt" others, for example:

He who for the sake of happiness hurts others who also want happiness, shall not hereafter find happiness. (Dhammapada, 131.)

Probably because not killing and not hurting are so important, Buddha repeatedly asks us not to do either in many places throughout the Dhammapada (see next section for details).

The fact that the First Precept and other teachings forbid killing and hurting is not controversial among Buddhists. Where the controversy comes in is the question of whom Buddhists are forbidden to kill or hurt.

Who is Protected by The First Precept and the Prohibition on Hurting?

Do the First Precept and other passages against hurting protect non-human animals? Perhaps they, like the Judeo-Christian Commandment "Thou shalt not kill," were intended to apply only to humans. This possibility can be ruled out almost immediately, for in the Dhammapada, there are numerous explicit injunctions against killing or otherwise hurting "living beings," rather than "persons":

But although a man may wear fine clothing, if he lives peacefully; and is good, self-possessed, has faith and is pure; and if he does not hurt any living being, he is a holy Brahmin, a hermit of seclusion, a monk called a Bhikkhu. (Dhammapada, 142. Emphasis added.)

The wise who hurt no living being, and who keep their body under self-control, they go to the immortal NIRVANA, where once gone they sorrow no more. (Dhammapada, 225 Emphasis added.)

A man is not a great man because he is a warrior and kills other men; but because he hurts not any living being he in truth is called a great man. (Dhammapada, 405. Emphasis added.)

It seems clear that the Buddha has taken pains to make it clear that the injunction against killing or hurting is not confined to humans, but extends to other "living beings."

Then we might wonder, who or what are these "living beings"? Some have argued that the protection of "living beings" extends to plants as well as to animals, for they are also alive. If this were the case, then it could be claimed that for a Buddhist, eating a rabbit is no worse than eating a carrot.

Here I am at a disadvantage, as I have not yet learned Pali, nor do I have the scriptures as originally rendered in Pali. However, a beautiful passage suggests that the beings referred to are sentient beings:

All beings tremble before danger, all fear death. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.

All beings fear before danger, life is dear to all. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill. (Dhammapada, 129-130.)

Here, the Buddha explains that we should not kill out of consideration for the feelings of fear and the love of life that beings experience. Moreover, he says all beings share these attributes, suggesting that the word which Mascaró has translated as "beings" really means "sentient beings."

Some skeptics may claim that nonhuman animals are not really sentient. However, in another passage, the Buddha alludes to the sentience of fish in a metaphor describing an unquiet mind:

Like a fish which is thrown on dry land, taken from his home in the waters, the mind strives and struggles to get free from the power of Death. (Dhammapada, 34.)

This passage suggests that, like the "beings" referred to in Dhammapada 130 (see above), the fish's life is dear to him -- otherwise why would he "strive and struggle to get free from the power of Death" when removed from his aquatic home? If the Buddha believed fish to be sentient, it is highly improbable that he would deny that many of the other animals commonly killed and hurt by humans (e.g. mammals and birds) are not sentient. Therefore, at least fish, birds, and mammals could not be killed or otherwise hurt according to the First Precept and other teachings which protect sentient beings. It is quite possible that the First Precept covers other animals as well.

So why didn't the Buddha come right out and say that "animals" should not be harmed, rather than "living beings"? Perhaps it was because, when and where the Buddha lived, practitioners of other well-known religions such as Jainism were already conscientious about protecting animals and so it would have been obvious to the Buddha's students that not killing "living beings" meant not killing animals. Perhaps there was no word in Pali which would encompass both nonhuman and human animals, so that the term translated as "living beings" was needed to be inclusive. Or perhaps the Buddha wanted us to be more concerned about sentient animals, rather than any nonsentient animals which might exist.

Implications for Our Treatment of Animals

Since the Buddha's time, there have been enormous changes in the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. Practices such as vivisection and factory farming would have been unknown to the Buddha, and so of course they are not explicitly mentioned in the Dhammapada. Moreover, the Dhammapada is very concise, and does not catalogue all the possible misdeeds which could be committed against animals (note that includes humans as well as nonhumans!)

However, although the myriad harms to animals are not all explicitly mentioned in the Dhammapada, we can infer a great deal merely from the First Precept and the teachings against hurting other beings. It is clear that the Buddha does not want us to kill or hurt animals ourselves. Therefore, Buddhists cannot be hunters, fisherpeople, trappers, slaughterhouse workers, vivisectors, etc., nor can we "euthanize" homeless animals in so-called animal "shelters."

What about eating meat? Some might claim that, as long as people don't kill animals themselves, it is okay to eat meat. However, note that passages 129 and 130 in the Dhammapada specify that we should not "kill or cause to kill." When people buy products made from the bodies of dead animals, they must necessarily cause someone to kill those animals. Therefore, meat, leather, and fur are off limits. It is probably true that, in order to be economically viable, killing older, less productive animals is necessary to produce milk and eggs -- certainly this is one claim of the egg and milk industries in justifying this practice. If so, then buying milk and eggs also necessarily causes killing, and thus should be avoided under the First Precept.

How about meat that someone else has bought? In most, perhaps all cases, by accepting meat served to us by someone else, we are causing killing. For example, if meat-eating friends invite us over for dinner, they will buy extra meat for us in anticipation of our visit, or if our visit was unplanned they are likely to buy extra meat to restock their larder after we leave. In either case, our acceptance of the meat has caused additional animals to be killed. So ideally, we should not accept meat served to us by others, and should let people know this in advance whenever possible.

Some claim that the contents of their stomach do not matter, only the contents of their mind. However, the Buddha points out that we should give thought to what we eat:

He who lives only for pleasures, and whose soul is not in harmony, who considers not the food he eats, is idle, and has not the power of virtue -- such a man is moved by MARA, is moved by selfish temptations, even as a weak tree is shaken by the wind. (Dhammapada, 7. Emphasis added.)

Not to hurt by deeds or words, self-control as taught in the Rules, moderation in food, the solitude of one's room and one's bed, and the practice of the highest consciousness: this is the teaching of the Buddhas who are awake. (Dhammapada, 185. Emphasis added.)

Probably these passages refer to avoiding gluttony as well as vegetarianism. Certainly, people who find the thought of "giving up" meat (or other products of animal killing) distressing should also consider if they have allowed themselves to become too attached to material pleasures, and heed the words of the Buddha:

He who does what should not be done and fails to do what should be done, who forgets the true aim of life and sinks into transient pleasures -- he will one day envy the man who lives in high contemplation.

Let a man be free from pleasure and let a man be free from pain; for not to have pleasure is sorrow and to have pain is also sorrow. (Dhammapada, 209-210.)

Although the ideal of detachment does not mean we are forbidden to experience material pleasures, clearly allowing one's attachment to, say, the taste of meat to override adherence to the First Precept is contrary to the spirit of the Dhammapada.

Many people have tried to justify killing animals because of the (alleged) benefits it brings, whether economic benefits to people who work in animal-killing occupations, or potential medical benefits which might arise from vivisection. But the Buddha says:

He who for himself or others craves not for sons or power or wealth, who puts not his own success before the success of righteousness, he is virtuous, and righteous, and wise. (Dhammapada, 84. Emphasis added.)

That is, doing the righteous thing (obeying the Precepts) has a higher priority over worldly "success." Moreover, the Buddha cautions against being overly attached to our current bodies:

Consider this body! A painted puppet with jointed limbs, sometimes suffering and covered with ulcers, full of imaginings, never permanent, for ever changing.

This body is decaying! A nest of diseases, a heap of corruption, bound to destruction, to dissolution. All life ends in death.

Look at these grey-white dried bones, like dried empty gourds thrown away at the end of the summer. Who will feel joy in looking at them?

A house of bones is this body, bones covered with flesh and with blood. Pride and hypocrisy dwell in this house and also old age and death.

The glorious chariots of kings wear out, and the body wears out and grows old; but the virtue of the good never grows old... (Dhammapada, 147-151).

Although the Buddha does not ask that we harm our body, either directly or by neglecting our bodies' needs (this would be pointless), he emphasizes that the body is impermanent, and we should be more concerned about being virtuous than about preserving the body. Therefore, killing animals (a violation of the First Precept), cannot be justified by the claim that it will prolong human life. Moreover, unlike the Judeo-Christian scriptures, the Dhammapada does not claim that humans are superior to or more important than other animals.

Where does it end? It is a depressing fact of life that absolutely everything we buy has involved harm to sentient beings at some point in its production, simply because the vast majority of people are willing to harm nonhumans whenever it is expedient. For example, the vegetables we eat may have been fertilized with bone meal, plant-fibre clothing may have been treated with animal-derived products, medications are currently required by law to be tested on animals. However, in buying products such as these which do not require killing for their production, it is not clear that we are causing others to kill -- especially if we are also working to change the practices in these industries. Still, it is best to keep the consumption of all products to a minimum, both to minimize our monetary contribution to killing, and in keeping with the Buddhist ideal of detachment.

Implications of the Dhammapada for Animal Rights Activists

At a minimum, the Dhammapada is consistent with animal rights. Indeed, it seems to mandate many of the goals of the animal rights movement, for example the abolition of the meat industry and vivisection. Given that the Dhammapada is one of the core scriptures of Buddhism, it is difficult to see how Buddhists who do participate in activities which kill animals can justify the discrepancy between their practice and the words of the Buddha.

However, animal rights activists should note that killing of animals in "shelters" is also forbidden. As far as I am concerned, this is a logical consequence of animal rights as well as Buddhism, however it is an unfortunate reality that many who consider themselves part of the animal rights movement still see killing of homeless cats and dogs as legitimate or perhaps even necessary.

Also, although the goals of animal rights are by and large consistent with Buddhism, too often the actions taken to achieve these goals are not. Many animal rights advocates speak harshly of those who oppress animals, but what good does that do? The Buddha reminds us to

Never speak harsh words, for once spoken they may return to you. Angry words are painful and there may be blows for blows. (Dhammapada, 133.)

So how are we to work to liberate our fellow sentient beings from suffering? We would do well to reflect frequently on the following:

Overcome anger by peacefulness: overcome evil by good. Overcome the mean by generosity; and the man who lies by truth. (Dhammapada, 223.)

It is sufficient merely to tell the truth about what is happening to animals -- there is no need to attack the character of the people committing these actions as well. And striving to live peacefully will teach the world more about compassion than hostile ranting.

Of course, this isn't easy! I don't claim to have mastered this myself, although it is something I continue to strive for. Buddha acknowledges the difficulty, but encourages us to keep striving:

If he makes himself as good as he tells others to be, then he in truth can teach others. Difficult indeed is self-control. (Dhammapada, 159.)

At times when this ideal seems pointless, and frustrating, and futile, let us try to set aside our rage and despair at what our fellow humans are doing to animals, and focus on the love for animals which motivates our animal rights work: For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal. (Dhammapada, 5.)

(c) Rosemary A. Amey, December 1996.


The Dhammapada, (translated by Juan Mascaró). Penguin, 1973. - Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught (2nd ed.). Grove Weidenfeld, 1974. - Acknowledgement - I would like to thank David Sztybel for his assistance with this article.


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