Is It Dharmic to Kill One Person to Save Many?


This is a philosophical question

If you had to kill 1 person to save 1 million people, would it than be justified to kill that 1 person when you knew that you would save the life of 1 million people. But if you did not kill that 1 person you would be the reason that 1 million people died? What would be the moral thing to do in this scenario kill 1 person or let 1 million people die?

—BE, Europe


Dear BE,

Your question is an “armchair philosophy” question — it’s not a scenario anyone is really likely to face, but it poses us with a moral dilemma that might help us develop wisdom. I wanted to preface my answer this way to point out that, spiritually speaking, it’s often not helpful or even detrimental to our understanding if we get lost in seemingly meaningful, but often misleading philosophical concepts. That being said, let me try to address your question.

I will answer your question based on the assumption that the “one person” you reference is the “killer” or the catalyst in some way for the “1 million” who are to die, rather than simply some random victim. All of life is a direct expression of God’s consciousness, and the human soul is therefore of the greatest value in creation, more so than the the animals, plants, rocks and stars, which are of course beautiful expressions of God in their own right. If it is simply a question of one life being more valuable than one million lives, the answer is simple — God values all life, and all souls equally, and the lives of many outnumber the few. However the moral dilemma remains.

I believe that Mahatma Gandhi, when asked a similar question, answered that he would offer his own life first (of the million, in this case). Paramhansa Yogananda offered a different perspective, saying that the higher dharma, or righteous action, would be to take the life of the one “killer” in order to save the million.

All of life is a lila, or dream in the consciousness of God. However happiness and sadness, life and death, good and evil — these are very potent realities within the dream. We have to act according to our highest potential consciousness and reason within this Divine Dream. Let us not get lost in bypaths of philosophy, but offer the highest that is within us, our love, compassion and kindness to all; let us live for a great Joy through daily meditation and selfless service; and let us seek Wisdom in God, in our own soul, and thus find the answer to all questions we are seeking.

Many blessings on your path.