3. Should any bhikkhu intentionally deprive a human being of life, or search for an assassin for him, or praise the advantages of death, or incite him to die (saying): “My good man, what use is this evil, miserable life to you? Death would be better for you than life,” or with such an idea in mind, such a purpose in mind, should in various ways praise the advantages of death or incite him to die, he also is defeated and no longer in affiliation.
This rule against intentionally causing the death of a human being is best understood in terms of five factors, all of which must be present for there to be the full offense.
1) Object: a human being, which according to the Vibhaṅga includes human fetuses as well, counting from the time consciousness first arises in the womb immediately after conception up to the time of death.
2) Intention: knowingly, consciously, deliberately, and purposefully wanting to cause that person’s death. “Knowingly” also includes the factor of —
3) Perception: perceiving the person as a living being.
4) Effort: whatever one does with the purpose of causing that person to die.
5) Result: The life-faculty of the person is cut as the result of one’s act.
Object. The Vibhaṅga defines a human being as a person “from the time consciousness first becomes manifest in a mother’s womb, up to its death-time.” It follows from this that a bhikkhu who intentionally causes an abortion — by arranging for the operation, supplying the medicines, or giving advice that results in an abortion — incurs a pārājika. A bhikkhu who encourages a woman to use a means of contraception that works after the point of conception would be guilty of a pārājika if she were to follow his advice.
There is a series of cases in the Vinita-vatthu in which bhikkhus provide medicines for women seeking an abortion, followed by two cases in which a bhikkhu provides medicines to a barren woman who wants to become fertile and to a fertile woman who wants to become barren. In neither of these two latter cases does anyone die or suffer pain, but in both cases the bhikkhu incurs a dukkaṭa. From this, the Commentary infers that bhikkhus are not to act as doctors to lay people, an inference supported by the Vibhaṅga to Sg 13. (The Commentary, though, gives a number of exceptions to this principle. See the discussion in BMC2, Chapter 5.)
The pārājika offense is for killing a human being aside from oneself. A bhikkhu who attempts suicide incurs a dukkaṭa.
A bhikkhu who kills a “non-human being” — a yakkha, nāga, or peta — or a devatā (this last is in the Commentary) incurs a thullaccaya. According to the Commentary, when a spirit possesses a human being or an animal, it can be exorcised in either of two ways. The first is to command it to leave: This causes no injury to the spirit and results in no offense. The second is to make a doll out of flour paste or clay and then to cut off various of its parts (!). If one cuts off the hands and feet, the spirit loses its hands and feet. If one cuts off the head, the spirit dies, which is grounds for a thullaccaya.
A bhikkhu who intentionally kills a common animal is treated under Pc 61.
Intention & perception. The Vibhaṅga defines the factor of intention in three contexts — the word-analysis, the non-offense clauses, and the Vinita-vatthu — analyzing it with one set of terms in the first context, and another set in the last two. There are two ways of interpreting the discrepancy: Either the two sets differ only in language but not in substance, or they actually differ in substance. The Commentary, without seeming to notice what it is doing, adopts the second interpretation. In other words, it defines the factors of intention in markedly different ways in the different contexts, yet does not assert that one set of terms is more authoritative than the other or even take note of the differences between them. In fact, it takes one of the terms common to the non-offense clauses and the Vinita-vatthu and defines it in one way in one context and another in the other. All of this creates a great deal of confusion.
A more fruitful way of analyzing the two sets of terms, which we will adopt here, is to assume that they differ only in language but not in substance. We will take as our framework the set of terms used in the non-offense clauses and the Vinita-vatthu, as it is clearer and more amply illustrated than the other set, and then refer to the other set, along with some of the explanations from the Commentary, when these help to give a more refined understanding of what the non-offense clauses and Vinita-vatthu are saying.
The non-offense clauses state that there is no offense for a bhikkhu who acts unintentionally, not knowing, or without aiming at death. In the Vinita-vatthu, unintentionally is used to describe cases in which a bhikkhu acts accidentally, such as dropping a poorly held stone, brick, or adze; removing a pestle from a shelf and accidentally knocking off another one. Not knowing is used in cases in which the bhikkhu deliberately does an action but without knowing that his action could cause death. An example would be giving food to a friend not knowing that it is poisoned. Not aiming at death is used in cases where the bhikkhu deliberately does an action but does not intend that action to result in death. Relevant examples include trying to help a bhikkhu who is choking on food by slapping him on the back and inadvertently causing his death; telling a bhikkhu to stand on a piece of scaffolding while helping with construction work, only to see the scaffolding collapse; describing the joys of heaven to an audience, only to have a member of the audience decide to commit suicide in hopes of going there.
Thus, to fulfill the factor of intention here, a bhikkhu must be acting intentionally, knowingly, and aiming at death.
The word-analysis covers all the same points — although it shuffles the terms around — when it defines intentionally as “having willed, having made the decision knowingly and consciously.” Without teasing out the differences in terminology, we may simply note the important point added in its analysis, which is that an act of manslaughter counts as intentional here only when the bhikkhu has made a clear decision to kill. Thus if he were to strike a person unthinkingly in a sudden fit of rage, without being clear about what his intention was, it would not qualify as “intentional” here. The Commentary seconds this point when it defines having made the decision as “having summoned up a reckless mind state, ‘crushing’ through the power of an attack.” The Sub-commentary does not explain crushing or attack here, but apparently they mean aggressively overcoming, through a brute act of will, any contrary or hesitant thoughts in the mind.
The Vinita-vatthu contains a few cases where bhikkhus kill people in situations where they did not even know that there was a person there: throwing a stone over a precipice, not knowing that there was a person standing below; sitting down on a pile of cloth on a chair, not knowing that a child was underneath the cloth; and setting fire to a grove, not knowing that there were people in the grove. The Buddha dismisses the first two cases without explanation as not coming under this rule. The last he classifies as an example of not aiming at death. We can conclude from this example that aiming at death must include the perception that there was someone there who could die. The Commentary seconds this conclusion in its analysis of the phrase knowingly and consciously in the word-analysis’s definition of intentionally. Although it again shuffles the terms around — using consciously to describe what the Vinita-vatthu describes as knowingly — the important point in its conclusion is that an essential element in the factor of intention is the factor of perception: In its words, one must be aware that, “This is a living being.”
Note that, given this definition, one need not know that the living being is a human being for the factor of perception to be fulfilled. The Commentary illustrates this point with an example in which a bhikkhu who, seeing a goat lying down in a certain spot during the day, decides to return to that spot to kill the goat that night. In the meantime, however, the goat gets up and a man comes to lie down in its place. The bhikkhu approaches the man in the dark, still thinking him to be a goat, and kills him. The verdict: a pārājika.
Although this judgment may seem strange, there is nothing in the Canon to contradict it. The closest case in the Vinita-vatthu concerns a bhikkhu who digs a pitfall with the intention that whatever living beings fall into it will perish. The penalty, if an animal dies as a result, is a pācittiya; if a human being, a pārājika. In this case, the intention/perception of killing a living being is broad enough to include a human being, and so fulfills the relevant factors here.
In discussing this last case, the Commentary notes that if one digs the pitfall but then renounces one’s intention to cause death, one has to completely fill in the pitfall in such a way that it cannot cause injury — even to the extent of causing someone to stumble — if one wants to avoid the penalty coming from any injury the pitfall might cause. If the pitfall is only partially filled in and a person stumbles into it and later dies from his injuries, the bhikkhu incurs the full offense under this rule. The same judgment applies to any other attempt to kill not aimed at a particular victim. For instance, if a bhikkhu harboring this sort of general intention builds a trap but then changes his mind, he has to destroy the trap so thoroughly that it cannot be reassembled. Similarly, when a bhikkhu writes a passage describing the advantages of dying (see below) with the thought that anyone who reads it might decide to commit suicide, if he then changes his mind he has to destroy the writing so thoroughly that it cannot be pieced together. If, instead of writing the passage himself, he simply picks up a pre-existing written passage of this sort and then — with a similar intention — puts it in a place where it might be easily seen, he can avoid any penalty simply by returning the passage to the place where he found it.
In discussing the topic of pitfalls, the Commentary also treats the issue of how much of an intention counts when setting up a situation that might cause death. Specifically, it asks whether — while one is digging a hole for another purpose — a passing thought that “this hole could kill anyone who fell into it” would fulfil the factor of intention under this rule, or whether this factor would be fulfilled only if the original purpose for digging the hole was to cause death. The Commentary notes that opinions are divided on this point, but it sides with the latter position.
The Vinita-vatthu contains an unusual case of a bhikkhu who uses a friend as a guinea pig for testing poison. The friend dies, and the bhikkhu incurs only a thullaccaya. The Commentary explains this by distinguishing two types of test: one to see if a particular poison is strong enough to kill a person; the other, to see if a particular person is strong enough to survive the poison. In either of these cases, the bhikkhu incurs a thullaccaya regardless of whether the victim dies. If, though, the bhikkhu gives poison to a person with the desire that it cause that person’s death, he incurs a pārājika if the victim dies, and a thullaccaya if not.
The Vinita-vatthu also includes a case in which bhikkhus, out of compassion for an ill friend, hasten his death and thus incur the full offense under this rule. This shows that impulse and motive are irrelevant in defining the factor of intention here.
Effort. This factor covers four types of action: taking life, arranging an assassin, describing the advantages of dying, and inciting a person to die.
a) Taking life. The Vibhaṅga defines taking life as “the cutting off, the ending, of the life faculty; interrupting the continuity.” The Vibhaṅga lists a variety of means by which one might try to do this, which the Commentary divides into four categories:
— One’s own person: hitting with one’s hands or feet; using weapons such as knives, sticks, clubs, etc.; handing poison to a person; giving a pregnant woman medicine that would cause an abortion; moving an ill person.
— Throwing: hurling a stone, shooting an arrow. At present, shooting a gun or hurling a grenade would come under this category.
— Stationary devices: setting a trap, digging a pitfall, placing a weapon in a place where a victim may fall, sit, or lie down on it; placing poison in food, etc. At present, setting out a land mine would come under this category.
— Commanding: telling another person to commit a murder. This category includes recommendations expressed in the imperative as well as express commands. A few examples:
Telling B to kill C. The way in which a bhikkhu is penalized for getting another person to commit a murder — through sign or verbal command — can be inferred from the discussion of accomplices under the preceding rule. The Vibhaṅga here, as under that rule, states that if one’s accomplice does not follow one’s instructions precisely, one is absolved of an offense. In discussing this point, the Commentary goes into great detail concerning the six ways the command to kill can be specified: the object [the person to be killed], the time, the place, the weapon to use, the action by which the weapon is to be used [e.g., “Stab him in the neck”], and the position the victim should be in [sitting, standing, lying down] when the act is to be done. If the instigator specifies any of these things and yet his accomplice does not carry them out to the letter, the instigator does not incur the penalty for the actual murder. For instance, Bhikkhu A tells his student B to kill C while C is sitting in meditation at midnight. The student gets into C’s room at midnight, only to find C asleep in bed, which is where he kills him. Bhikkhu A thus incurs only the thullaccaya for convincing his student to accept the command.
As under the preceding rule, the Commentary tries to argue that if B will certainly succeed in killing C in line with A’s command, A incurs a pārājika when giving the command, but again, this opinion does not conform with the Vibhaṅga.
The case of the innocent accomplice — one who does not know that the action he is being told to do will result in death — also seems relevant here, as in the case where a bhikkhu prepares a syringe of poison and tells his accomplice, who thinks the syringe contains medicine, to inject it into a patient. There seems every reason to impose a pārājika on the bhikkhu if the patient then dies.
Recommending means of euthanasia. The Vinita-vatthu includes a case of a criminal who has just been punished by having his hands and feet cut off. A bhikkhu asks the man’s relatives, “Do you want him to die? Then make him drink buttermilk (§) (!).” The relatives follow the bhikkhu’s recommendation, the man dies, and the bhikkhu incurs a pārājika.
Recommending means of capital punishment. Again from the Vinita-vatthu: A bhikkhu tells an executioner to kill his victims mercifully with a single blow, rather than torturing them. The executioner follows his advice and the bhikkhu incurs a pārājika, for the recommendation to kill mercifully is still a recommendation to kill. According to the Vinita-vatthu, if the executioner says that he will not follow the bhikkhu’s advice and then kills his victims as he pleases, the bhikkhu incurs no penalty. The Commentary adds that if the executioner tries to follow the bhikkhu’s advice and yet needs more than one blow to do the job, the bhikkhu incurs a thullaccaya.
Indirect statements. The Canon and Commentary differ as to whether indirect statements that are not imperatives would also qualify as commands or recommendations under this rule. The Commentary maintains that a bhikkhu cannot get around a penalty by phrasing his wish for a murder in more roundabout ways, and gives an example in which a bhikkhu tells people, “In such-and-such a place a bandit is staying. Whoever cuts off his head will receive great honor from the King.” If any of the bhikkhu’s listeners kills the bandit as a result of his instigation, the Commentary says, the bhikkhu incurs a pārājika.
Examples of commands and recommendations in the Canon, however, are all expressed as imperatives: “Do this!” “If you want him to die, do this.” The only examples of indirect statements are those in which a bhikkhu expresses a wish, “O, if only so-and-so were murdered.” According to the Vibhaṅga, this statement incurs a dukkaṭa regardless of whether it is made in public or private, and regardless of whether one knows that anyone else is overhearing it or not. There is no discussion, however, of what one’s intention might be in making the statement, nor of the consequences for the speaker if anyone, inspired by his remark, actually kills the person in question. This implies that the authors of the Vibhaṅga did not regard statements of this sort as fulfilling the factor of effort under this rule. This may seem unduly lenient, but given that a bhikkhu whose express command to kill is followed but not to the letter would also incur only a thullaccaya, this judgment seems consistent with the Vibhaṅga’s pattern of assigning penalties.
In addition to the four above categories of means of killing, the Commentary includes two of its own:
— Magical formulae: reciting passages that call on malevolent spirits to bring about a person’s death, using voodoo, etc.
— Psychic powers: using the “evil eye” or other similar innate powers.
The Canon contains a number of passages — MN 56 is one example — describing people who, “developed in mind,” use their powers to kill. The Commentary notes the existence of these passages and of “some teachers” who cite them as proof that meditative powers can be used in this way, but it dismisses the idea on the grounds that meditative powers are skillful and based on pleasant mental states, whereas the act of killing is unskillful and based on painful mental states. The Sub-commentary adds that the powers described in the Canon are actually based on magical formulae. Still, because the success of these formulae depends on a certain level of concentration, it would seem that using one’s powers of concentration to kill would fulfil the factor of effort here.
b) Arranging an assassin. As the rule indicates, a bhikkhu may commit an offense under this rule not only by using any of the six above-mentioned means of taking life but also by “searching for an assassin.” The Vibhaṅga explains this phrase in the rule simply with a list of weapons: a sword, a spear, a harpoon (§ — BD omits this item), a skewer/stake, a club, a stone, a knife, poison, or a rope. There are two ways of making sense of this list. One is that, because the Pali word for assassin is literally “knife-carrier” (satthahāraka), the Vibhaṅga is taking pains to explain that an assassin might also use other weapons aside from a knife. The other way of interpreting the list, favored by the Commentary, is to view the Vibhaṅga’s list as an attempt to define the word satthahāraka — which, according to the Commentary, is a general term for a murderous weapon. The Commentary then goes on to say that the entire phrase searching for an assassin means setting up a stationary device, as described above. There are two problems with this interpretation, the first being that the word satthahāraka clearly means “assassin” in other parts of the Canon (see, for example, MN 145); the second being that this interpretation makes the phrase entirely superfluous: setting up a stationary device is already covered by another part of the rule. Thus we will follow the first interpretation of the Vibhaṅga’s explanation of the phrase: It is indicating that an assassin may use any weapon at all.
The question remains, however, as to how this interpretation is not redundant with commanding under the explanation of the ways of taking life. The answer appears to be this: The word satthahāraka is most commonly used in the Canon in the context of an assisted suicide, in which a person who wants to die but cannot bring himself to commit suicide arranges for someone else, a satthahāraka, to kill him. This term may be related to a common phrase for committing suicide, “to take a knife” (see SN IV.33 — satthaṃ āharissāmi, “I will take a knife”). Thus the inclusion of this phrase in the rule makes the point that even if a person intent on dying asks for one’s help in arranging his death, one may not arrange for someone else to kill him. At present, this would rule out getting a doctor to arrange for an assisted suicide.
The Commentary’s most useful comment in this context is its assertion that searching here must mean actually arranging, for the simple act of looking for an assassin without actually finding one could not rightly fulfil the factor of effort under this rule. To apply this assertion to assassins, the factor of effort here would be completed when one arranges for an assassin actually to take the life of the person who wants to die.
Cases in which one arranges for an assassin not at the victim’s request would come under commanding, above.
c) Describing the advantages of dying. This, the third type of act covered by this rule, can include berating a sick person (“Why do you keep hanging on to life like this? Don’t you realize what a burden you are to others?”) or simply telling a person of the miseries of life or the bliss of dying and going to heaven in such a way that he/she might feel inspired to commit suicide or simply pine away to death. The Vinita-vatthu also includes under this type of act any statements that a nurse might make out of compassion to shorten the miseries of an illness by encouraging a patient to let go of life so as not to dawdle in the face of death. Thus, the Commentary notes, a bhikkhu talking to a dying patient should be very circumspect in how he chooses his words, focusing not on how to speed up the dying process but on how to inspire the patient with the following thoughts: “The attainment of the paths and fruitions is not out of the ordinary for a virtuous person. So, having formed no attachment for such things as your dwelling, and establishing mindfulness in the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha, or the body, you should be heedful in your attention.” The Vinita-vatthu to Pr 4 contains a number of stories in which bhikkhus comfort a dying bhikkhu by asking him to reflect on what he has attained through the practice, which was apparently a common way of encouraging a dying bhikkhu to focus his thoughts on the best object possible. The suttas also contain advice on how to encourage patients facing death. See, for example, MN 143, SN XXXVI.7, and AN VI.16. In all of these cases, the advice is aimed not at precipitating death but at inspiring calm and insight.
The Vibhaṅga notes that a statement describing the advantages of dying would fulfill the factor of effort regardless of whether delivered by gesture, by voice, by writing, or by means of a messenger. The same holds true for any statements under the next type of act.
d) Inciting a person to die, the fourth type of act, covers:
— Recommending suicide. This includes not only telling a person to commit suicide but also giving advice — whether requested or not — on the best ways to commit the act.
— Telling a person to go to a dangerous place where he/she might die of the dangers.
— Arranging a terrible sight, sound, etc., to frighten a person to death, or a beautiful, “heart-stirring” one to attract a person who will then pine away to death when it fades.
Four issues arise in relation to the above ways of killing:
Command. Giving a command or recommendation to get another person to perform any of these last three types of action — arranging an assassin, describing the advantages of dying, or inciting another person to die — would also fulfill the factor of effort under this rule.
Inaction. Given the Vibhaṅga’s definition of taking life, we can infer that inaction does not fulfill the factor of effort here, for it does not cut off the life faculty. Thus if a bhikkhu sits idly when seeing a flood sweep a person downstream, he commits no offense — regardless of his feelings about the person’s death — even if the person then drowns. Recommending that another person sit idly as well would also not fulfill the factor of effort here, because the category of command covers only the act of inciting the listener to do any of the four actions that would fulfill the factor of effort under this rule.
Medical care and life-support. The same holds true if a bhikkhu decides not to give a patient a treatment — or to discontinue treatment — that might conceivably extend the patient’s life: It does not fulfill the factor of effort, for such acts do not cut off the life faculty. At most they simply allow it to end on its own. The Canon supports this inference by treating such actions not under this rule but under Mv.VIII.26.3-4, where it imposes only a dukkaṭa on the act of refusing to give any treatment at all to an ill bhikkhu, or of discontinuing all care for an ill bhikkhu prior to his recovery or death. This shows that the compilers of the Canon did not regard these acts as cutting off the life faculty. (Mv.VIII.26.8 lists the ideal characteristics of a bhikkhu who tends to the sick, but does not impose a penalty on a bhikkhu who cares for the sick but lacks the ideal qualities; at no point does the Canon impose a required level of care for the sick. The compilers’ refusal to mandate a level of care is wise. If there were a case in which the bhikkhus did not feel that that level of care was appropriate for their patient, they would have only one option: to abandon the patient, so as to incur only a dukkaṭa and not the potentially higher penalty for not measuring up to the mandated care. Thus, instead of protecting the patient, a higher level of mandated care would expose the patient to abandonment.) For this reason, deciding to withhold or discontinue a particular treatment — while still continuing otherwise to care for the patient — would not be grounds for an offense.
If, however, a bhikkhu caring for a patient acts in a way to cut off the patient’s life faculty, that would fulfill the factor of effort here. The Vinita-vatthu makes this point with a set of cases in which bhikkhus give patients treatments that are actually harmful for the patients. In the instances where the other factors for an offense are present — the bhikkhus mean to kill the patient, and the patient dies — the bhikkhus incur the full offense. In another set of cases, a bhikkhu feeling pity for a friend in severe pain praises the pleasures that await him after death. Again, in the instances where the bhikkhu intends to bring about the patient’s death and the patient dies, the bhikkhu incurs a pārājika.
For more on the topic of medical care, see BMC2, Chapter 5.
Shared responsibility. Unlike the Vibhaṅga to the preceding rule, the Vibhaṅga here does not explicitly discuss the issue of how to allot penalties when a group of bhikkhus acts together to commit a murder but only one of them delivers the fatal blow. However, the Vinita-vatthu contains a series of cases in which bhikkhus act as a group to give a treatment to a sick bhikkhu with the aim of ending his life. When the bhikkhu dies, all of them incur a pārājika. In one of the cases the bhikkhu dies from a medical treatment to the nose, in another he dies from eating food. None of the texts discuss whether all the bhikkhus in question took turns giving the fatal dosage, or if only one of the bhikkhus did while the others helped to prepare it. Given that arranging an assassin would fulfil the factor of effort under this rule, it seems reasonable to infer that actively assisting in a murder would also fulfil the factor, even if one does not deliver the fatal blow. From this inference we can conclude that the discussion of shared responsibility under the preceding rule would also apply here.
Result. This factor is fulfilled if, as a result of the bhikkhu’s action, the victim dies through the cutting of his/her life-faculty. Because the life-faculty is something that inevitably ends, there is a need to define clearly how far the influences of a bhikkhu’s actions should be traced for him to be considered responsible for a death.
The Commentary treats this issue by posing two scenarios under its discussion of pitfalls. In the first, an intended victim survives a fall into a pitfall, manages to climb out, but later dies of a disease incurred from the fall. In this case, the Commentary says, the factor of result is fulfilled. The same holds true if the disease goes into remission only to return and take the victim’s life many years later. If complications arise from the disease, however, and the victim dies from a combination of the disease and its complications, then if the original disease was the predominant factor in the death, the bhikkhu would be responsible for the victim’s death; if the complications were the predominant factor, he would not.
In the second scenario, an intended victim falls into the pitfall while being chased by thieves but does not die in the fall. Instead, the thieves catch up with him, drag him out of the pitfall, and kill him. In this case, the bhikkhu is still responsible for the victim’s death because his pitfall was instrumental in enabling the thieves to catch and kill the victim.
The Commentary also considers a different sort of case related to the factor of result: If a bhikkhu means to cause the death of a group of people, then when any member of the group dies as a result of his efforts, the Commentary says that he incurs a pārājika. In other words, he does not have to fulfill his intention of killing the whole group in order to fulfill the factor of result here.
Derived penalties. The Canon assigns lesser penalties in cases where a bhikkhu tries to cause a person’s death through any of the four means mentioned in this rule and yet the person does not die. If the person experiences pain or injury as a result of the bhikkhu’s efforts, the penalty is a thullaccaya. If the bhikkhu’s efforts result in neither pain nor death, the penalty is a dukkaṭa for each separate action involved in the attempt.
If a bhikkhu intends simply to injure the victim or cause him/her pain, and yet the victim dies as a result of the bhikkhu’s actions, the case is treated under Pc 74.
There is an apparent contradiction in the Vinita-vatthu concerning the penalty for a bhikkhu who tries to kill one person but ends up killing another instead. In one case it says that a bhikkhu who means to kill X but kills Y instead incurs a pārājika. In another case it tells of a bhikkhu who gives medicine to a woman who wants to commit an abortion near the end of a full-term pregnancy. The woman takes the medicine but, instead of the fetus’ aborting, the woman dies and the infant survives. In this case, the bhikkhu incurs a thullaccaya, presumably for the pain he caused the infant.
The Commentary tries to resolve this contradiction with an illustration: A bhikkhu with a grudge against A decides to ambush him. He sees B coming down the road and, mistaking him for A, shoots him dead on the spot. Because his intention was to kill the person he was aiming at, he incurs a pārājika. We can call this a case of mistaken identity. In cases of this sort, whether the “right” or the “wrong” person dies is of no consequence to the offense.
If, however, the bhikkhu is a poor shot, takes aim at B but misses him, and inadvertently kills C instead, he does not incur a pārājika, for he did not intend to kill C during any part of his action. His only penalties are the dukkaṭas he incurs while preparing for B’s murder.
Special cases. The Vinita-vatthu includes three special cases that touch on this rule but inspired the Buddha to formulate separate rules to deal specifically with them:
A bhikkhu, for the fun of it, throws a stone from a precipice and accidentally kills a person standing below — no penalty for the death, but a dukkaṭa for throwing a stone in fun. (The Commentary states that stone here also covers sticks, bricks, and other similar objects; and that throwing also includes rolling. It also states that if a bhikkhu has a valid reason for throwing or rolling a stone not in fun — for example, he is engaged in construction work and rolls a stone to someone else on the job; he is eating his meal and throws a piece of wood to chase away crows or dogs — he incurs no offense.)
A bhikkhu, hoping to commit suicide, throws himself over a cliff. Instead of dying, he lands on and kills a hapless basket-maker standing at the foot of the cliff — again, no offense for the death, but a dukkaṭa for throwing oneself from a high place.
A bhikkhu, sitting down hard in a chair without first checking it carefully, kills a child lying in the chair and covered with a blanket — again, no penalty for the death, but a dukkaṭa for sitting down without first checking carefully.
Non-offenses. As stated above, there is no offense for a bhikkhu who kills a person unintentionally, not knowing, or not aiming at death.
As for the standard exemptions, the Thai edition lists all four under this rule: a bhikkhu who is insane, possessed by spirits, delirious with pain, and the first offenders (in this case, some group-of-six bhikkhus who, in a follow-up to the origin story, described the advantages of death to a man with a beautiful wife, in hopes that he would commit suicide so that she could be theirs; he did commit suicide, but she denounced them). Other editions of the Canon omit exemptions for a bhikkhu possessed by spirits or delirious with pain. The Commentary refers to the standard exemptions as a set simply with the word, “insane, etc.” There is reason to believe that if these two exemptions were missing in the time of the Commentary, it would have noted their absence.
Summary: Intentionally bringing about the death of a human being, even if it is still an embryo — whether by killing the person, arranging for an assassin to kill the person, inciting the person to die, or describing the advantages of death — is a pārājika offense.