World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Reverence For Life

Passages in this section prescribe the ethic proper to reverence for life. There is, first of all, the ethic of ahimsa, nonviolence toward all living beings. Religious vegetarianism is motivated by this ethic. Then we have passages on the ethic of proper stewardship, recognizing that the natural world is given to humans as a trust, to be tended, maintained, and made fruit- ful. These deal with doing kindness to animals in distress, the proper management of natural resources, agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting, and forestry.

As a mother with her own life guards the life of her own child, let all- embracing thoughts for all that lives be thine.

Buddhism. Khuddaka Patha, Metta Sutta

Have benevolence towards all living beings.

Jainism. Tattvarthasutra 7.11

The mode of living which is founded upon a total harmlessness towards all creatures or [in case of actual necessity] upon a minimum of such harm, is the highest morality.

Hinduism. Mahabharata, Shantiparva 262.5-6

One should not injure, subjugate, enslave, torture, or kill any animal, living being, organism, or sentient being. This doctrine of nonviolence is immaculate, immutable, and eternal. Just as suffering is painful to you, in the same way it is painful, disquieting, and terrifying to all animals, living beings, organisms, and sentient beings.

Jainism. Acarangasutra 4.25-26

One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.

African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)

Metta Sutta: Cf. Lion's Roar of Queen Srimala 4, p. 373; Milarepa, p. 316; Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 1, p. 1034.

The Exalted One was entering Savatthi when he saw some youths ill-treating a snake with a stick. Then he uttered these verses of uplift,

Whoso wreaks injury with a rod On creatures fain for happiness, When the self hereafter he seeks happiness, Not his, it may be, happiness to win.

Buddhism. Udana 11-12

This is the quintessence of wisdom: not to kill anything. Know this to be the legitimate conclusion from the principle of reciprocity with regard to non-killing. He should cease to injure living beings whether they move or not, on high, below, and on earth. For this has been called the Nirvana, which consists in peace....

A true monk should not accept such food and drink as has been especially prepared for him involving the slaughter of living beings. He should not partake of a meal which contains but a particle of forbidden food: this is the Law of him who is rich in control. Whatever he suspects, he may not eat. A man who guards his soul and subdues his senses, should never assent to anybody killing living beings.

Jainism. Sutrakritanga 1.11.10-16

Without doing injury to living beings, meat cannot be had anywhere; and the killing of living beings is not conducive to heaven; hence eating of meat should be avoided.

Hinduism. Laws of Manu 5.48

If one is trying to practice meditation and is still eating meat, he would be like a man closing his ears and shouting loudly and then asserting that he heard nothing... Pure and earnest bhikshus, when walking a narrow path, will never so much as tread on the growing grass beside the path. How can a bhikshu, who hopes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings? Pure and earnest bhikshus will never wear clothing made of silk, nor wear boots made of leather for it involves the taking of life. Neither will they indulge in eating milk or cheese because thereby they are depriving the young animals of that which is rightfully belongs to them.

Buddhism. Surangama Sutra

Udana 11-12: Cf. Anguttara Nikaya iv.41-45, pp. 863f., condemning the slaughter of animals for ritual sacrifice.

Buy captive animals and give them freedom. How commendable is abstinence that dispenses with the butcher! While walking be mindful of worms and ants. Be cautious with fire and do not set mountain woods or forests ablaze.

Do not go into the mountain to catch birds in nets, nor to the water to poison fishes and minnows. Do not butcher the ox that plows your field.

Taoism. Tract of the Quiet Way

At the openings of ant hills Please have trustworthy men Always put food and water, Sugar and piles of grain.

Before and after taking food Offer appropriate fare To hungry ghosts, dogs, Ants, birds, and so forth.

Buddhism. Nagarjuna, Precious Garland 249-50

"He that is wise, wins souls" (Proverbs 11.30). The rabbis said, "This refers to Noah, for in the Ark he fed and sustained the animals with much care. He gave to each animal its special food, and fed each at its proper period, some in the daytime and some at night. Thus he gave chopped straw to the camel, barley to the ass, vine tendrils to the elephant, and glass to the ostrich. So for twelve months he did not sleep by night or day, because all the time he was busy feeding the animals."

Judaism. Midrash, Tanhuma, Noah 15a

According to Abu Hurairah, the Messenger of God said, "A man travelling along a road felt extremely thirsty and went down a well and drank. When he came up he saw a dog panting with thirst and licking the moist earth. "This animal," the man said, "is suffering from thirst just as much as I was." So he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, and taking it in his teeth climbed out of the well and gave the water to the dog. God was pleased with his act and granted him pardon for his sins."

Someone said, "O Messenger of God, will we then have a reward for the good done to our animals?" "There will be a reward," he replied, "for anyone who gives water to a being that has a tender heart."

Islam. Hadith of Bukhari

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Genesis 2.15

Precious Garland 249-50: Cf. Digha Nikaya ii.88, Nihon Shoki 22, p. 372.

Never does a Muslim plant trees or cultivate land, and birds or men or beasts eat out of them, but that is a charity on his behalf.

Islam. Hadith of Muslim

For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild beasts may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Exodus 23.10-11

A certain priest had been killed by the bite of a snake, and when they announced the matter to the Blessed One, he said, "Surely now, O priests, that priest never suffused the four royal families of snakes with his friendliness. For if that priest had suffused the four royal families of the snakes with his friendliness, that priest would not have been killed by the bite of a snake....

Creatures without feet have my love, And likewise those that have two feet, And those that have four feet I love, And those, too, that have many feet.

May those without feet harm me not, And those with two feet cause no hurt; May those with four feet harm me not, Nor those who many feet possess.

Let creatures all, all things that live, All beings of whatever kind, See nothing that will bode them ill! May naught of evil come to them!"

Buddhism. Vinaya Pitaka, Cullavagga v.6

Behold this buffalo, O Grandfather, which You have given us. He is the chief of all four-leggeds upon our Sacred Mother. >From him the people live and with him they walk the sacred path.

Native American Religions. Sioux Prayer

Hadith of Muslim: And likewise if he should cause a stream to flow: see Hadith of Ibn Majah, p. 1015. Exodus 23.10-11: The sabbath for the land signifies that God is the true landowner, and He gives the land to us as its stewards. Land, like man and beast, deserves periodic rest; it should not be overexploited. In addition, the fallow land provided food to the poor who had no property. Cf. Leviticus 25.1-7. Cullavagga v.6: Buddha gives in these verses a song for protection against harm from wild animals. Sioux Prayer: The buffalo, as the source of food, clothing, and all life's necessities for the Sioux, represents Mother Earth herself.

The cows have come and brought us good fortune, may they stay in the stall and be pleased with us; may they live here, mothers of calves, many-colored, and yield milk for Indra on many dawns....

They are not lost, nor do robbers injure them, nor the unfriendly frighten, nor wish to assail them; the master of cattle lives together long with these, and worships the gods and offers gifts.

The charger, whirling up dust, does not reach them, they never take their way to the slaughtering stool, the cows of the worshipping man roam about over the widespread pastures, free from all danger.

To me the cows are Bhaga, they are Indra, they [their milk] are a portion of the first-poured Soma. These that are cows are Indra, O people! the Indra I long for with heart and spirit.

Ye cows, you fatten the emaciated, and you make the unlovely look beautiful, make our house happy, you with pleasant lowings, your power is glorified in our assemblies.

Hinduism. Rig Veda 6.28

A man should not breed a savage dog, nor place a shaking ladder in his house.

Judaism. Talmud, Ketubot 41b

Confucius fished with a line but not with a net. While fowling he would not aim at a roosting bird.

Confucianism. Analects 7.26

If you do not allow nets with too fine a mesh to be used in large ponds, then there will be more fish and turtles than they can eat; if hatchets and axes are permitted in the forests on the hills only in the proper seasons, then there will be more timber than they can use... This is the first step along the kingly way.

Confucianism. Mencius I.A.3

Rig Veda 6.28: Vv. 1, 3-6. This special regard for cows as sacred animals has persisted in India from Vedic times till today. Ketubot 41b: Stewardship includes creating a safe environment. Cf. Deuteronomy 22.8, a biblical ordinance requiring flat-roofed houses to have parapets.

When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them; for you may eat of them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field men that they should be besieged by you?

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Deuteronomy 20.19

The destruction of vegetable growth is an offense requiring expiation.

Buddhism. Pacittiya 11

There is a type of man whose... aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But God loves not mischief.

Islam. Qur'an 2.205

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say, "If there be a plant in your hand when they say to you, 'Behold the Messiah!', go and plant the plant, and afterwards go out and greet him."

Judaism. Talmud, Abot de Rabbi Nathan, Ver. B, 31

Rajah Koravya had a king banyan tree called Steadfast, and the shade of its widespread branches was cool and lovely. Its shelter broadened to twelve leagues.... None guarded its fruit, and none hurt another for its fruit. Now there came a man who ate his fill of fruit, broke down a branch, and went his way. Thought the spirit dwelling in that tree, "How amazing, how astonishing it is, that a man should be so evil as to break off a branch of the tree, after eating his fill. Suppose the tree were to bear no more fruit." And the tree bore no more fruit.

Buddhism. Anguttara Nikaya iii.368

Deuteronomy 20.19: But contrast Qur'an 59.5. Pacittiya 11: This monastic rule refers to monks living in forest dwellings. It is interpreted to mean that monks should never cut down large trees to clear the land; they may only clear underbrush. Abot de Rabbi Nathan Ver. B, 31: Cf. Luke 14.16-24, p. 674. Anguttara Nikaya iii.368: Cf. Nihon Shoki 22, p. 372.


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