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Kannon (Guan Yin)

Right Livelihood, Cont.

There are limitations which a Buddhist ought to impose upon himself. While he may be a deerstalker if he believes that the meat will be eaten, it is hoped that he would not associate himself with frivolous blood sports or trophy hunting. There are people, for example, who use pigeons for target practice or who kill foxes for the fun of it. The precept of nonviolence prevents anyone from indulging himself in recreational killing, the wanton killing of animals being unambiguously cruel. Helping other people to kill recreationally is, however, honest and legal. Many family men are employed by country squires who occasionally hunt foxes. What should they do when ordered to prepare for the hunt? Quit or get fired? What about the hound breeder and the blacksmith? They also contribute their skill to the hunt. If the only way in the world a man can earn a living and feed his family is to guide people on safari, well... we can hope he makes sure no nursing females are taken and that all the kills are clean, but we can't ask him either to remove himself from our Buddhist ranks or to abandon his responsibilities to his family. The guide, furthermore, is not alone in lending his talents to the kill and may not be singled out for criticism. The hunter may have been outfitted by a pious sporting goods salesman and transported to the safari site through the services of a upstanding travel agent and a devout pilot. A decent, loving clerk may have sold him his hunting license. What are we asking here? Should Buddhist pilots refuse to fly to Nairobi?

May a Buddhist perform or assist in the performance of an abortion? Good question. (My personal answer is, 'God, I hope not.') But... it is honest and it is legal and sometimes greater compassion in shown assisting in an abortion than in denying the procedure. Health care professionals have to decide for themselves whether they consider terminating an early pregnancy to be killing. The law more or less states that if a child can make it on its own, its life may not be aborted. For this reason, third trimester pregnancies are usually not even considered. In some unsophisticated societies, an infant doesn't exist as a human being until it is named. If the mother does not have sufficient food for it, she lets it die anonymously. Wherever medicines or skills are available, abortions are performed.

No society has existed without practicing abortion and/or infanticide. Some societies are, however, more skilled than others and kill less women. Ultimately, this is the issue. Legal abortions are at least safe. Where abortion is not legal, the rich can afford to go where it is legal to obtain a safe procedure. The poor, removed from the traditions of native cultures, are reduced to the often lethal quackery of back-alley abortionists. Abortion, however, is not and can never be anything but a remedy of last resort. It is not an acceptable substitute for the Pill or other birth control methods.

In "The Empty Mirror", Janwillem van de Wetering's fascinating account of his experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery, he relates how villagers would often bring their unwanted kittens to the monastery. The task of disposing of them fell to a Buddhist priest who would put them into a sack and drown them. What else could this priest have done? Should he have kept a large snake as a monastery pet, thrown the kittens to the dogs, or let the kittens starve to death? People who get indignant about the priest's solution have lived too long in an oxygen-deprived stratosphere. Down on earth tough life-and-death choices have to be made.

It is a certainty that the villagers knew or suspected that the kittens were being killed. But they did what so many of us do. We don't have 'the heart' or we are 'religiously opposed' to doing a particularly odious job so we absolve ourselves of guilt by dumping the job onto someone else.

A person who goes to work every day makes choices and compromises. So complex is the network of commerce, industry, and professional services that it is often impossible to draw any line of demarcation between acceptable and unacceptable occupations. A Chan man must live in society and what is legal in society is legal for a Chan man. If he doesn't like the law, he can try by legal means to alter it. If he finds an occupation personally repugnant, he should abstain from it; but he should not chastise or condemn someone else whose views differ from his. There simply is no other realistic way of complying with Right Livelihood.

In all the world there is nothing more repugnant than a morally superior religious leader who will take money from those whose occupations he finds reprehensible, who likes fine leather gloves which, he supposes, come from leather trees, who demands a well ordered society while denigrating the hands that do the dirty work of maintaining it, who richly lives where there are no rats but who forbids the poor to rid themselves even of this scourge, and so on.

Such a cleric is a professional hypocrite, a livelihood many stations below the more conservative forms of prostitution.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 15: Right Livelihood, Page 2 of 2