I have an acquaintance whose only hobby is fishing. One day, he asked me in a sullen tone, "In Buddhism why is fishing regarded as a sinful deed and banned totally?" He argued that from old times hunting has been a main resort of human beings' lives, and yet why is it sinful? His question led to a heated argument.
If anyone, whatever religion he/she may have, is questioned about his/her opinion of murder, he/she is sure to give a negative answer. It is beyond dispute, since there is no religion advocating murder. However, as regards killing sentient being other than human, there has been discrepancies in opinions among religious traditions of the world, especially between religions of the East and those of the West. Why is there such conflict of views? To understand this, it is needed to see the religious background of the East and the West.
Western religions in general originated on the basis of a nomadic society in which human cannot but subdue nature and people should obey the most powerful being such as the one and only God. All things under the Sun are viewed as being organized along vertical lines. From the viewpoint of such a vertical and hierarchical society, it is natural for animals to make a sacrifice to human and likewise for human to serve God. Therefore, shooting and fishing is not considered as a sinful deed in the West.
On the other hand, Buddhism, as a typical religion of the East, originated out of an agrarian society and contrives to establish organic harmony between human and nature. According to Buddhism, all things of the world are interdependent and essentially equal. Human and animal in their nature are not different from each other. Even Buddha himself and all sentient beings of the world have their own Buddha nature. In this respect, fishing is not different form murder. As murder is destruction of life, so is fishing. Understanding this point is very important.
To all sentient beings, life is cardinal and essential. As the life of a human is important, so is that of a fish. All things of the world are organically and interdependently related to each other, and therefore the life of a fish is also necessarily connected to oneself. Furthermore, in the light of transmigration, the fish, in a previous life, might have been one of our ancestors. Considering all this, we cannot enjoy fishing as a mere hobby. This was the point of my argument.
In Buddhism, death is not considered as total annihilation. The death of a sentient being in the universe contributes to the lives of others. After our deaths, our bodies return to nature and become nutritious elements for others. Self and others are not really independent. In reality, their respective lives are intertwined. In case of animals and plants, this is equally true.
In this respect, taking the lives of animals and plants is not essentially different from doing away with a human. This is the Buddhist sense of values on life.
The writer is a professor in the Dept. of Buddhism.
Jang Ae-sun firstname.lastname@example.org
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