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Re: Pro-Life

Post by Dharmasherab »

From post - Buddhism & Abortion

I want to begin by saying that I have no political affiliation or political loyalty. I am politically neutral. Politics is something which I dont want to know about and I am in the process of unlearning anything political that I know. I say this because people are very quick to assume that some statements come from political viewpoints - I assure there is nothing political in any of my posts including the content within this post.

This is about abortion and karma according to my understanding of the teachings of Buddhism. When I say Buddhism, I mean what is common to all traditional forms of Buddhism (Sravakayayana (including Theravada), Mahayana and Vajrayana).

This post is not about the rights of women. This post does not cover rights. Bringing rights into question will not be raised here.

In Buddhism, sentient life is a bundle of 5 aggregates. There is the physical form of a living being (Rupa), and the rest of the other aggregates which form the mind and sensory consciousness (Nama and Vinnana).

For human beings life starts in the womb. The 5 aggregates start to assemble soon after conception. The Sensory Counsciousness (Vinnana) from the previous life appears in the Rupa (the Form at this stage which is the embryo) and afterwards, the aggregates of Feeling (Vedana), Perception (Sanna) and Mental Volition (Sankhara) take place - and now this is a sentient being.

Buddhist monks who have gone into deep states of meditation, sometimes experience their past, including the time when they were in the womb of their mothers. When the mother moves they feel the discomfort. When the mother drinks something hot, they feel the hotness and the discomfort that comes along with those sensations. When the mother drinks something cold they feel the cold sensation as well as the discomfort that comes along with that. This is to show that the experiences felt by the embryo/foetus whiles in utero was something that was real.

When someone ordains as a monastic, then 9 months is added to their age and it is this age which is recognized for individuals withing the monastic sangha. This is not to say that one can know exact birth date in utero but its just gives a rough idea as to when this individual started as a 'bundle of 5 aggregates'. For example, I am 30 years old according to convention. But had I been a monk, I would be considered to be 31 years old within the monastic sangha. Because since the time of Buddha, it was recognized that the actual birth an individual, the actual assembly of the 5 aggregates takes place in utero for human beings.

In Buddhism, the first precept is to avoid killing/harming any sentient living being. Killing generates bad karma according to Buddhism. Killing means to identify a living sentient being and then to deliberately bring about an action to end the life of that living sentient being. It means that we are aware that the sentient being was living. It was recognized that the sentient being was alive, and then the necessary actions to bring about the end of life of that sentient being was thought of and then those thoughts were put into action to bring about the death of that living sentient being.

This is different from living beings dying from the unintended consequences of our actions (such as ants dying when we are walking or small insects being crushed when we are driving without our knowledge or awareness).

"Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect."
AN 6.63 Nibbedhika Sutta

'Intention' here does not mean intention about consequences (like the new baby being born will not have anyone to look after and therefore I will do an abortion). Intention here means whether the intention involved that act of killing or not.

What is recognised as life in Buddhism is different in Buddhism as compared to science. For example in science, bacteria is a type of living being. But in Buddhism, bacteria and other microorganisms are not sentient beings. If they were sentient beings then we commit bad karma every time we have antibiotics to get rid of an infection. Whenever we are in the shower we will be destroying so many of our body cells and our body cells are much more advanced than any type of bacteria, but does this mean we commit bad karma when we wash ourselves in the shower? This is why Buddhism uses the word 'sentient' to distinguish between beings which consist of 5 aggregates compared with non-sentient yet scientifically living organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Bacteria and fungi do not consist of 5 aggregates, therefore to get treatment to get rid of bacteria or fungi from the body does not generate bad karma or violate the first precept.

What is recognized as sentience and consciousness in science differs from Buddhism. This is not to say that they are completely mutually exclusive. What is accepted as sentience and consciousness in science is that which is observer-based. As for Buddhism, Vinnana is not identical to the scientific expression of consciousness. Therefore what is understood as 'sentience' or 'consciousness' from a scientific viewpoint does not form any part of the moral criteria as far as Buddhist ethics are concerned in relation to abortion.

Given that 5 aggregates assemble a few days after conception, to bring about the end of this by doing an abortion is to violate the first precept of Buddhism. It generates bad karma in all circumstances without exception. To deliberately bring about an action to put an end to the interaction of the 5 aggregates within the living sentient being is what includes the act of killing.

If a monastic (nun or monk living under Vinaya) was to perform the act of abortion on someone, then this is a reason to be expelled from the monastic order. One can either go back to their lay lives or join as a novice (Samanera) but within that life one is not allowed to become a Bhikkhu/Bhikkhuni again. This also includes explaining the advantages of death. To explain the advantages of abortion as a monastic includes a Parajika offense - to be expelled from the order permanently. This is because even from the time when the Buddhist Vinaya was implemented, it was agreed that abortion was a form of killing no different from killing any other sentient being.

As for lay Buddhists, they are not under the Vinaya, but not living under Vinaya rules does not give immunity from bad karma. Whether monastic or lay, the karma is the same, its only that monastics get expelled from their orders for doing that, suggesting that or encouraging that.

Like I mentioned earlier, this is not about women's rights. I want to reiterate that this is not about whether women should have a right to do abortions or not - they can decide that for themselves. Its just that regardless of whether there are rights for abortions or not, according to the Buddhist law of karma, there will always be bad karma which gets generated from the act of abortion. Buddhism does not have the 'thou shalt not' concept for Buddhists. Lay people can break precepts as much as they like. Monastics are also free to break their Vinaya rules as long as they accept the consequences of breaking such rules. In Buddhism, anyone is free to do what they like.

I am from Sri Lanka, and fishing is popular over there where there are plenty of Sri Lankan fishermen who are Buddhists, who kill fish to make a living. There are Buddhist butchers in Sri Lanka as well as in the rest of the world. There are Buddhist gynecologists who do that career for a living and part of that occupation also includes performing abortions. Likewise there are Buddhist women who get abortions on themselves and generate the karma from such actions. So in Buddhism anyone is free to do what they like. Nothing is forbidden in Buddhism. Whatever the precepts and practices we do as Buddhists come from our own initiative rather than the 'thou shalt not' concept. Catching fish for consumption, animal slaughter as well as asking for/performing abortions all generate bad karma. Individuals have the freedom to do that. But freedom to commit such actions is not the same as the freedom from the bad karma that is generated from such actions. The karma generated from such action will come into fruition either in the present life or in future lives.

It is not encouraged to shame or harass those who are in favor of abortion. It is best not to be judgmental about those who have different viewpoints. In Buddhism, we do not judge and condemn people based on their past actions, because we also have accumulated so much bad karma from our near-endless past lives. Those who do fishing or work as butchers should not be judged and condemned for the career choices they made. It is good to discourage such people from being involved in such livelihoods but at the same time it is not for us to judge and condemn.

We have to understand that women who have made the choice of abortions do so because they probably did not have any other choice. We have to generate feelings of compassion for such people given that they did that because of limited options as well as realising that they will be facing the ripening of their bad karma in this life or future lives whiles understanding that we may have done worse things than abortion in our past lives.

"Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!"
Sn 1.8 Karaniya Metta Sutta
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Re: Pro-Life

Post by Dharmasherab »


As an addendum to my above post I like to further expound on the topic to make something more clear.

A common argument that I came across was that "if one is against abortion, then they have to be vegan". Actually they dont. Firstly if we look at the Buddha and his closest disciples not all of them were vegan or vegetarian, but the Buddhist teachings in the Suttas are clear that birth starts with conception (hence abortion being equivalent to killing a human). One of the disrobing offences (Parajika) is to intentionally kill another human being which also inculdes performing an abortion as well as getting an abortion done on oneself whiles one is a Bhikkhu or a Bhikkhuni. Killing an animal is not a disrobing offence and falls under the category of offences that does not require disrobing. This shows that killing of a human (including performing abortions) has higher weighting compared to the killing of an animal. The Buddhist vinaya even though not followed by lay people, some of the offences (especially those that are do with killing) also is an indicator of the karmic weighting of such actions regardless of one's ordination status. As for consuming animal meat, this is not even killing. The Buddha is known to have ate meat when it was offered by lay people. Eating meat becomes an offence only when one is aware that the animal was specifically slaughtered to produce the meat for that person who is about to consume it.

Another argument I came across sometime back on Facebook, was when a Buddhist (who claimed to be committed to Seon (Korean equivalent of Japanese Zen)) told me through a comment, that a sign of a living sentient being is breathing. She went on to say that when in the uterus the baby does not breathe, and therefore it is not living (implying that it is alright in Buddhism to to abortions at any trimester as long as the baby is not delivered). This argument is not true even from a scientific point of view (I mentioned in my earlier post more specifically as to when Buddhism recognises the start of life for a sentient human being). According tot he scientific viewpoint, the foetus/embryo does respire even though it does not engage in what we typically recognise as 'breathing' in the anatomical sense. The foetus is attached to the inner wall of the uterus through the umbilical cord which emerges from the placenta. The placenta - uterus interface serves as the exchange medium between the pregnant mother and foetus. This is also includes that transfer of oxygen from mother to foetus as well as carbon dioxide from foetus to the mother. Therefore respiration in the foetus does happen in the physiological sense of the word, even though not anatomically (I mean how can it? Its surrounded by amniotic fluid.) The foetal cells are all respiring where it is utilising the oxygen from the foetal blood and giving carbon dioxide back into the blood stream. Therefore not only as a physiological level that respiration is taking place but also at a cellular level. If this did not happen then the foetus would no longer be viable, and will result in a still birth. If its at the phase of the embryo then it will lead to a miscarriage. But as long as the embryo/foetus is viable it will continue to respire physiologically and cellularly because its survival depends on this factor among many things. Therefore the statement that birth starts after delivery (where the first breath is taken) is both scientifically incorrect as well as being incorrect from the viewpoint of Buddhist teachings.

A common argument by pro-choice activists is to justify abortion based on the idea that women can do anything that they like with their own bodies. Ofcourse women are free to do what they like with their own bodies and this should be respected. However next comes the question as to how much of the foetus is actually a part of the pregnant women's body? Lets take it one by one. Firstly a zygote (when an ovum and sperm meet and fuse) is not genetically identical to the mother. So on this basis, from the moment the zygote comes into being, it is no longer part of the mother, but it is its own organism. Then later the trophoblast is formed where the syncitiotrophoblast attached to the inner uterine wall. Neither the syncytiotrophoblast or the cytotrophoblast is identical to any maternal tissue. Therefore even that is not part of the mother. Then comes the actual formation of the embryo which is once again forms from the trophoblast which comes after the zygote. Therefore this is not part of the mother. Then comes the foetal stage where the foetus is attached to the placenta via the umbilical cord. The foetus, placenta and umbilical cord all descend from the zygote and are genetically identical to the zygote and not the mother. Therefore neither the placenta, the umbilical cord or the foetal tissue is identical to the mother. Its a simple underlying principle - that to be part of an organism the cells should share identical genetics. In pregnancy in all stages starting from conception where the zygote is formed, the genetics of the zygote, embryo and foetus is not identical to any type of tissue of the mother in its genetics. If the there is a breach between the feotal-maternal interface then this is where a possible rejection of the feotus can occur because the maternal immune system now has access to the feotus where the mother's immunity attacks it and and kills the feotus. This is all because the maternal immune system provided there is a breach recognises foetal tissue as being foreign from the mother's tissue. If the foetus was truely part of the woman's body, then the woman's immune system would not attack the foetus and reject it. Therefore saying that a foetus/embryo is part of the woman's body is scientifically incorrect. The Buddha recognised that from the moment of conception, that the new being is separate from the mother, long before science proved it.

This next part is an anecdote. Its from a clairvoyant monk (I have left out names and location because I think he has the right to remain anonymous). He tells that that a girl who was under the care of her grandmother, because her father died when she was young and her mother went to a foreign country for work. She fell in love with a boy (they were both in their teenages). The boy's family did not accept this because of family differences. So he committed suicide and wrote a letter to this girl to do so. She being overcome with sorrow did so and the clairvoyant Buddhist monk saw that she took rebirth in one of the hell realms. The monk looked even further and saw that her immediate past life she died in infancy. In the life before this, she aborted her foetus and this was the karma that later ripened so that she died young in infancy in her next life and then later even though she survived infancy she was deprived of the love of her parents (father died when she was young and mother going to a foreign land). Such is the bad karma of getting abortions done, the karma ripens in more than one life and can carry on till it wears away. Clairvoyant monks such as this are not lying. They share these anecdotes out of compassion to save people from bad karma.

The Buddha himself did say that with time people will become more tolerant towards bad karma and non-virtuous acts which are the cause of bad karma. We see so many things that were not acceptable that are now becoming normalised. Songs with foul language, films where killings are made more graphic. Abortion is also one of those examples. In the past doing an abortion would be equal to killing a human being. In 2018, abortions were top reason being deaths. That was the Buddha's prediction and we see it happening it all around us - that people will have a very cavalier and non-nonchalant attitude towards non-virtue.

Therefore it is clear on so many levels that abortion is a killing of a human being and hence generates bad karma without exceptions. And this applies to all forms of Buddhism for all schools of Buddhism recognise the beginning of life for human being with conception (and not delivery).
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Re: Pro-Life

Post by Mrs Malaprop »

Given that it's generally a doctor who terminates the foetus, rather than the woman herself, does the woman actually break the first precept?
In debates about buying meat, people often argue that the person buying the meat isn't breaking the first precept, because somebody else has killed the animal. Would a similar line of reasoning apply to abortion?
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