Killing and sin

To understand this article please read the article on ‘What are merits and sins?

1 Introduction to a spiritual perspective on killing

Each year people in Yulin, Guangxi, a region in China, celebrate the Summer Solstice by having a dog eating festival. Here over 10,000 to 15,000 dogs are killed and consumed with lychees and liquor. It attracts intense criticism from animal rights groups and social media. It is widely denounced as cruel and inhumane. Dog meat is also eaten in many other parts of the world. The same people denouncing the killing of dogs for food may well be avid beef-eaters themselves. In the US alone approximately 100,000 cows are killed every day of the year along with over 20 million chickens.

“What makes a dog’s life more valuable than a cow’s or chicken’s life?” argue the people who eat dogs. “After all, they are both animals”, they rationalise.

“A dog is man’s best friend!” would come the quick and incredulous retort from their critics.

With dogs and humans there is a natural emotional bond that develops. On the other hand we do not have an emotional bond with cows, chicken and fish. Does this make it okay to kill them? Every year the human race kills over 150 billion fish, animals and poultry. Non-vegetarians defend their need to eat meat by saying that plants too have life and that vegetarians kill plants. Some non-vegetarians feel that if they eat meat when the animal is ethically killed, it is okay, as opposed to some cultures where animals die a slow death with their throats partially slit.

All life has value. Do we incur sin by killing or being part of the reason why animals are killed? In a world increasingly disturbed by conflict and war where thousands of people are being killed, in this article we share a spiritual perspective on the gravity of sin or demerits incurred by a person killing humans, animals, fish and plants.

2 A spiritual perspective on sin incurred due to killing

2.1 Complexity in deciding the amount of sin incurred from killing another living being

At the outset it is important to understand that it is only possible to give very broad guidelines in relation to this topic. The reason for referring to this information as broad guidelines is because there are thousands of reasons as to why one person may kill another living being. Depending on the reason or intent behind one’s action, the severity of the sin may vary based on the following factors:

  1. Was there a give-and-take account between the killer and the victim? In a previous lifetime, the roles could have been reversed prompting a settling of accounts.
  2. Was the killer in an intoxicated state?
  3. Was the killer acting under the influence of negative energies?
  4. What method of killing was used?
  5. Was the killing done as one’s duty, as in the case of a soldier?
  6. What was the intention behind the killing? Was it premeditated, for fun or due to self-defence?
  7. Was the killing for food?

As you can see there are a lot of factors that are taken into account when the gravity of sin (or demerit) is decided in God’s court for an act of killing. A normal court of law does not have the tools nor the subtle vision to be able to see the various subtleties when deciding the punishment for murder. In God’s court even if a killer is smart enough to evade the justice system, he cannot evade the universal law of give-and-take or the law of Karma. We are all born with destiny that we have to undergo based on our actions from previous births.

There is another factor that needs to be considered relevant to the times we live in. It is the importance of time or cycle in the Universe. We are currently in an extremely adverse period in the history of humankind. In the years 2012 to 2023, the collective destiny of humankind will have a significant impact on every person that will be over and above their individual destiny. This period of upheaval is because of demerits earned by the human race for leading a way of life that is Raja-Tama predominant and which is taken advantage of by powerful negative energies to bring about Armageddon. The many wars and natural disasters that are taking place around the world is but a reflection of this period. It will finally culminate in World War 3 where a large portion of the world’s population will die.

2.2 Some other concepts in relation to killing

There are a few other aspects that need to be stated in relation to a person killing another life form:

  • All living beings need to eat living organisms or at least organic matter. This is a law of life. For example a person cannot eat a stone and be nourished by it.
  • God is the only creator Who is also part of His creation. In other words, the God principle exists in varying proportions both in inanimate objects and in living beings.
  • Depending on the proportion of the God principle, each person, animal and plant may have different proportions of Sattva, Raja and Tama. One incurs a greater sin by killing Sattva predominant beings as it reduces the overall amount of sāttvikta or spiritual purity in society. On the other hand, one incurs less sin if one kills a being that is Tama predominant and especially if it is affecting society negatively. When the overall sattvikta in society decreases as a result of human thoughts and actions, it leads to various problems at a personal level as well as for society. Weird weather patterns that we are witnessing today is one such by-product of a reduction in spiritual purity and an increase in Raja-Tama in the overall environment.
  • Killing a living being that is helpful to mankind incurs a higher sin as opposed to those living beings that are not. Generally all animals that are helpful or have an affinity for the human race are Sattva-Raja predominant and hence have a higher level of sattvikta as compared to others.
  • The aim of growing spiritually for God-realisation is the highest goal a person can have. Apart from completing one’s destiny, it is the higher reason for why a subtle-body is given a human birth. Humans are the only species that are able to make spiritual progress due to their thinking ability and intelligence. Hence the life of human beings is considered more precious than other life forms due to their potential to make spiritual growth in their lifetime.
  • One incurs more sin if one tortures a person or animal while performing the act of killing regardless of customs and traditions that one adheres to.

3 Relative weightage of sin incurred depending on who is killed

This table shows the relative gravity of the sin incurred when a person kills another living being. In order to provide a comparative estimate of the sin incurred, in this article only the intent behind the killing and the method of killing have been considered. When we look at the amount of sin incurred from killing another being, the intent behind the action is 70% important, whereas the action is only 30% important. The relative amount of sin incurred (3rd column) which has been expressed as a percentage includes sin from both intent and the act of killing.

Please note all figures given in the table below are an average indicator of sin incurred and can vary by +/- 5% to 10% depending on the type of person, animal or plant being killed.

Who is killed/destroyed? General proportion of the Divine Principle (%) Relative amount of sin incurred % Comments on the sin incurred
Inanimate objects
All inanimate objects such as stones, wood and steel.  (It does not include sāttvik objects such as idols of Deities, places of worship.) 1/10 – 1/million
Places of worship where a Deity principle is active 2-6 25-35 We incur a grave sin when we destroy a place of worship where a Deity principle is active. Deity principle is active in those places where the sanctity of the place of worship is maintained.
Germs and Insects
Micro-organisms that are pathogens (germs) 1/10 1/10
Various micro-organisms which are useful to humans 2/10 2/10
Various insects which also includes pests such as mosquitoes and cockroaches 1-3 1-3
Ordinary plants1  1-4  4-6 Plants that are edible have been made by God for human consumption. These include plants such as spinach and carrots. They have very rudimentary capacity to feel pain. When we pray before having our meals we absolve ourselves of this sin. Continuously chanting also helps to overcome such sin. If we pluck fruits and vegetables from a plant without killing it, then no sin is incurred.
Large scale deforestation 1-4 4-10 Greater sin as it has a wider impact on society and climate change.
Plants related to Deity principles in the universe and which are used in ritualistic worship. For example Holy Basil (Tulsī), Hibiscus.  5-12  8-12  Higher proportion of sin as destroying such plants and trees reduces the overall sattvikta in society
Ordinary fish and shell fish such as sardines and shrimp. 4-6 5-7 Considering the large scale killing of fish that occurs every year by humans, this aspect has the potential to be one of the bigger reasons for the collective sin of mankind.
More advanced underwater life forms such as dolphins and whales that are mammals and which are friendly towards humans. 6-8 8-10
Ordinary (includes turkeys, chickens, ducks) 6-8 8-12 Considering the large scale killing of birds/poultry that occurs every year by humans this aspect has the potential to be one of the bigger reasons for collective sin of mankind.
Domesticated, for example, a parrot. 8-11 13-17 Birds that have an affiliation towards humans are generally considered more sattvik.
Special birds that are related to Deity principles, for example, swans, eagles and peacocks 12-15 18-22
Wild animals, for example, tigers, lions, snakes2 5-8 Varies Totally depends on intent for example self-protection or hunting or eating.
Ordinary animals which include life stock such as Jersey cows, goats and pigs.3 9-13 8-12 Depriving a living being of their right to live. Considering the large scale killing of farm animals that occurs every year by humans this aspect has the potential to be one of the bigger reasons for collective sin of mankind.
Domesticated animals, for example, dogs, cats and horses 15-17 18-22 Killing an animal that is helpful to mankind incurs a higher sin as opposed to animals that are not. Generally all animals which are helpful or have an affinity for the human race are Sattva-Raja predominant and hence have a higher level of sattvikta as compared to others.
Associated with the temples, for example, elephants, bulls (Nandi) 13-14 38-42
The Indian cow3,7 31-33 45-55 The Indian cow is the most sattvik animal and is equivalent in sattvika to a person at the spiritual level of 30%. More importantly, the Indian cow also has the Divine ability to radiate Deity principles (that reside in it) into the environment. Hence one incurs a grave sin by killing such an animal which makes the environment sattvik and also gives us milk that is the most sattvik drink.
A bad or evil person who has a tendency to harms others (Tama pre-dominant by nature) 15-20 28-324 As bad as a person may be, by killing him one deprives the person of the opportunity to do spiritual practice and use his or her lifetime to grow spiritually. For this, the person performing the act of killing incurs a sin. On the other hand when one kills a bad person who is harming society, one also earns 31-41% merits. This is because of saving society from distress caused by the bad person.4
An ordinary person5 (Raja predominant who is not doing anything bad towards society)  21-25  38-42  When an ordinary person is killed he or she loses an opportunity to perform spiritual practice and grow spiritually which is the spiritual purpose of their life. Hence the person killing incurs a sin.
A seeker7 30-69 45-55 A seeker has realised the importance of spiritual practice and hence makes earnest efforts to grow spiritually. Thus a seeker is a person who is living life in accordance with the true purpose of life. A seeker also increases the sattvikta in society and hence a person incurs a greater sin killing a seeker.
One who commits suicide6 15-25 Varies6 Refer to the article on ‘Where do we go after death’- Section 7 – Suicide and the after life.
A Saint7 70-99 100 One incurs the gravest sin when killing a Saint. A Saint is someone who makes the environment sattvik (spiritually pure) and guides society towards the path of God realisation which is the aim of human life.

In the table above, the figures given in column 3 for the act of killing are not linear. This means that each act of killing at one level does not add sin up linearly. For example, killing 10 fish (5 to 7 units of sin X 10) does not amount to a sin greater than killing a seeker (which is 45-55 units). The purpose of this table is to just understand the severity of sin or the quality and not the quantity.


  1. When plants or animals die, they have an opportunity to evolve to a higher species. This is a natural course of evolution.
  2. While this whole table is about sin incurred by humans for killing another living being, a wild animal such as a tiger or snake does not incur sin if it kills a person as it does not have the ability to discern who it kills and it generally kills due to hunger or self-preservation.
  3. In the case of the slaughter of the Indian cow or other animals, the people killing the animal incur 50% of the sin while the people eating it incur the other 50%. The latter 50% is not divided among the people that partake of the meat of that animal. Instead each person eating the meat incurs a sin which is equivalent to 50% of the overall sin of killing an animal.
  4. It is important to note that in such a case, merits do not cancel out demerits and the destined result from both a merit and a demerit has to be experienced by the person who kills. The demerits gained from such an act may be minimal if the act is in self-defence or for the protection of others.
  5. An ordinary person refers to a human being at the spiritual level of 20%.
  6. The proportion of the Divine principle is less in a person who commits suicide. This is because due to extended bouts of severe depression the spiritual level of a person reduces. Individuals at a higher spiritual level will not consider suicide. Sin can vary depending on the reason for committing suicide. Refer to the article “Life After Death“. Killing oneself incurs 30% sin as opposed to killing another person of average spiritual level.
  7. If a living being has 30% or more of the Divine Principle than those who come into contact with such a person or animal, they benefit from the Divine Principle emitted. The Divine Principle is more than 30% only in cows, seekers and Saints. Therefore those coming in contact with them benefit from the Principle emitted from them. Hence the maximum sin is incurred by those who kill them.

Severity of sin from killing

3.1 Some guidelines on how the intent behind killing can affect the sin incurred

As stated earlier, the intention behind killing holds 70% weightage when deciding the severity of the sin incurred. In the following table we show some examples in relation to this.

Intent of killing a human being Proportion of the sin incurred (out of 70% due to intent) Comments
Accidental killing 0 E.g. Road accident. Sin is only incurred for the act of killing which is 30%.
To prevent suffering to oneself or to prevent oneself from being killed 30 In this case less sin would have incurred if other options such as leaving the scene, hurting the person a little bit, etc. were applied instead of killing the attacker. On the other hand, merits are also accrued for saving society from an evil person. Refer to the table above.
The proportion of sin can vary depending on who is killing who.
Casual 50 This includes casual killing such as a thief killing while escaping. This does not accrue maximum sin because a strong impression does not form in the mind.
Killing for evil fun 70 Example raping a woman and then killing her. Torturing a person while killing.
Unnecessarily considering another person as an enemy 70 Deep-seated thoughts of hate and revenge as a reason for killing cause more sin because there are bigger impressions in the sub-conscious mind which can remain for many births.

If a person is possessed by negative energies and commits a crime such as killing another person or animal, the sin incurred from the action will depend more on who was responsible for the thought behind the action; was it the possessing entity or the person or both? Accordingly, the sin incurred will be shared commensurate with who’s consciousness contributed to the event.

What if the possessed person’s consciousness was completely taken over by the negative energy and hence committed the act of killing without his or her knowledge or control? In such a case the negative energy will incur the major proportion of sin or demerits. However, for the person who is possessed and whose body has been used to commit the crime they will incur 10 to 30% of the sin. The reason for this is because they let themselves get possessed and used by a negative energy due to lack of spiritual practice.

The above reasoning is similar to how a person who is mentally challenged or mentally compromised is not given the same punishment as compared to a normal person if they commit the same type of crime.

If the same situation (of total loss of control) involved a seeker (who was possessed and who was making sincere efforts for spiritual growth) the percentage of sin incurred by the seeker would be minimal.

3.2 Method of killing can affect sin incurred

As stated earlier while intent hold 70% importance, the method or way of killing holds 30% importance.

Method of killing Proportion of sin incurred (out of 30%)
Killing with one strike, for example, killing with a gun 10
Killing by torture 30

The person killing accrues the full weight of sin from the act of killing if the person or animal is tortured while being killed.

4 Some key summary points with regards to killing and sin

Righteousness (Dharma) is that which accomplishes the 3 tasks of:

  1. Keeping the social system in excellent condition
  2. Bringing about the worldly progress of every living being
  3. Causing progress in the spiritual realm as well.

 – Shri Adi Shankaracharya

  • As human beings we may be the most evolved and powerful species on Earth, but this also comes with a responsibility towards all living things.
  • Needless killing of other living beings comes with a heavy penalty of sin which one has to pay for at a karmic level either in the current lifetime or the next.
  • If one is not aware that eating meat is a sin, then one incurs approximately 50% less sin.
  • The urge to eat meat is not a defensible argument for not incurring sin from killing a cow or other animals especially if there is an alternative to it such as a vegetarian diet.
  • Humane slaughter or ethical killing of animals, whatever the argument, ultimately does not reflect what is important to the animals being slaughtered, which is to be given a chance to live a normal life.
  • When the human race conducts their affairs in accordance with Righteousness (Dharma), then peace and prosperity is assured.
  • Undertaking regular spiritual practice helps make our minds and intellect spiritually purer so that we can make better decisions for both ourselves and the well-being of society. Chanting the Name of God is the easiest way to overcome the sin incurred because of the killing of plants and microorganisms in our day-to-day life. At the spiritual level of 60% and above, one has a greater communion with God. Beyond this spiritual level, chanting continues to take place (at a non-verbal level) throughout the day in the sub-conscious mind. Chanting at this advanced level automatically absolves us from minor sins incurred by killing various living beings such as plants and insects throughout the day.