Wednesday, March 12, 2008

To Kill or Not to Kill

Yesterday at Tim's work, we were standing around the desk of one of her employees talking when we saw a flying ant land. As the women were trying to figure out what to do, I smashed it between my fingers. Tim jokingly said, "oh you sinned." This reminded me of an interesting quirk among Thais and perhaps Buddhists more generally.

Many (and perhaps all) Buddhists believe that killing not only people, but also animals is a sin. They believe that animals have souls and are part of the reincarnation circle. This extends not just to cute and cuddly puppies, but to less popular creatures such as mosquitoes. Indeed, the worse you are in this life, the lower on the totem pole you'll return in the next life. So a lot of times a Thai might shoe away an insect instead of squashing it dead. This is certainly not universal, because I've seen quite a few Thais smash mosquitoes between their hands, while I've yet to see one wring the neck of a kitten. I guess its a lot harder to seen your long lost Uncle Fred reincarnated in a dog than in a fruit fly.

The aversion to killing animals affects not only pest control, but also the dietary habits some Buddhists. Vegetarianism is a lot more popular here than in the United States. There are all vegetarian restaurants, street food vendors, and even a vegetarian festival that lasts several weeks. Tim tells me that the vegetarian fare is excellent and she's probably right.

The majority of Thais do eat meat though, and many of those are the same ones who believe taking an animal life is a sin. How does such a Thai resolve the contradiction of not wanting to sin by killing to eat? Tim said its simple, just have someone else kill it and you eat it. That answer makes me shake my head and laugh because it is so Thai. You essentially hire the butcher to kill the animal for its meat, but your hands stay clean because you did not administer the killing blow? Pardon the pun, but that seems a bit fishy to me.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with someone not wanting to butcher their own meat. I certainly don't want to do that myself. Nor do I take issue with someone choosing not to eat meat for religious (or any other) reason. If someone thinks that killing any animal is a sin, I respect their right to that belief.

I do find it hard though to accept that one absolves oneself of the sin by outsourcing the dirty work. I mean come on, if you put a contract hit on someone, is their no sin because you don't actually pull the trigger? Its such a Thai thing though. It doesn't matter if the reasoning falls apart at close examination, so long as there is an explanation in place, no-one wants to dig very deeply.

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