No true good
can arise from
any true harm.
According to the Matakabhatta Jataka, when the Buddha was in Jetavana, some monks asked if there was any benefit in sacrificing animals as offerings for the departed, to which he replied that no good ever comes from such killing. As he recalled, a long time ago, when Brahmadatta ruled Varanasi, a brahmin wanted to offer a ‘feast for the deceased’. He bought a sacrificial goat and asked his disciples to bathe him by the river, before grooming, adorning and feeding him. While doing so, he began to laugh with the sound of a pot smashing, before weeping just as suddenly. Amazed at this, they asked him for the reasons for the strange behaviour. The goat requested that they repeat the question when they return to their teacher, to whom they hurried back and recollected what happened. The master thus personally asked the goat why he laughed and wept.
The goat replied that in the past, he too was a brahmin, who taught the Vedas, and sacrificed a goat for a ‘feast for the deceased’. Having killed that one goat, he have had his head severed 499 times. He laughed aloud as he realised this would be his last life as a sacrificial animal, after which he would be free from such misery. Yet, he also wept – out of empathy as he realised that due to killing him, the brahmin too may lose his head 500 times. Hearing this, the brahmin announced that he will not kill him. However, the goat exclaimed that whether he kills him or not, he could not escape death that day. To that, the brahmin asked him not to worry, as he would protect him. The goat replied that such protection is weak, while the force of his negative karma is strong. Still determined, the brahmin ordered his disciples not to let anyone harm the goat. While grazing under the disciples’ supervision, he stretched his neck to reach the leaves on a bush near the top of a rock.
There and then, out of the blue, a bolt of lightning struck the rock. A sharp sliver chipped off and flew through the air… before cleanly cutting off the goat’s head! A crowd gathered and began to discuss excitedly about the amazing incident. Having witnessed it all, a tree deva (terrestrial god) told everyone that if only they knew such horrible karmic effects of being reborn into sorrow, they would cease from killing. Wary of such hellish retribution, they gave up their traditional sacrificing of animals entirely. He also further instructed on observation of the moral precepts and encouraged them to do good. Faithfully doing so for several generations, they lived charitably and had favourable rebirths. The Buddha then revealed that the deva was himself as a Bodhisattva. Just as the deva was no ordinary god, the wise talking goat was probably a skilful teaching Bodhisattva too?
Unrepented negative karma created can have its effects magnified, though new positive karma repentantly created has mitigating effects too. Having fallen into the lower realms of hell-beings, hungry ghosts and animals, it is seldom easy to exit, with many rebirths there until the corresponding karma depletes. Although the lightning seemed like an ‘accident’, it was the deliberation of the law of karma exacting through nature. When conditions are ripe, karma finds its way! The Buddha also taught that it is much nobler to sacrifice one’s harmful spiritual defilements than others’ precious lives. In the Ksitigarbha Sutra, it was advised that to relieve suffering and facilitate better rebirths, merits for sharing with the recently deceased should be created by making meat-free offerings to the Buddha and monastics [before the deceased, during funerals and for at least 49 days, during which rebirth can occur]. Those who do so, and go vegetarian or (even more ideally) vegan personally, even if only for this period will receive much blessings too.
Instead of ending others’ physical lives,
Bodhisattvas facilitate the beginning
and furthering of their spiritual lives.
The Best Sacrifice
Offering Of Greater Kindness