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Buddhist views on abortion

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Buddhist views on abortion
Answer
10/10/08 10:14 AM
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

I wonder what DhO (Dharma Overground) members think about the abortion issue and what their views are on the same. More generally, how does one apply Buddhist 'principles' in "resolving" this thorny issue.

Also, there are a host of questions that I have been struggling with for quite some time.

1) Does the foetus have the same rights as humans?

2) When is a foetus a foetus? Is it right after conception? If not, then how long should one have to wait before the fertilized egg can be called a foetus?

RE: Buddhist views on abortion
Answer
10/10/08 10:38 AM as a reply to Vishal Lama.
Author: thorjackson

hello vishal
1) I feel that these days humans don't have any rights, or what rights they do have can be dismissed at the whim of the government. so what chance does a foetus have.
2) I don't think it matters when a foetus is a foetus. Its subjective, when one knows they have a baby on the way what difference does make weather it is a single cell or a complete baby, the outcome is still the same. I think it's all a matter of what state one is in at the time of decision.

RE: Buddhist views on abortion
Answer
10/10/08 1:18 PM as a reply to Vishal Lama.
Maybe it seems like I am dodging the issue but I don't think Buddhist principles can be used in this way. As I see it, the Buddhas teachings have the purpose of ending suffering – this is what he taught. In that sense, his teachings have this specific goal and to try to use them to resolve these sorts of issues would be a misapplication. For example: the precept of 'not killing' might seem to apply but the purpose of the precepts is to guide a person in their worldly activities so as to leave the mind in a state conducive to developing concentration. To try to take this precept and apply it to 'resolving' the abortion issue would probably lead to even more suffering (people have already died over this issue). As far as someone personally facing such a decision (to have or not have an abortion) perhaps the Buddhas advice to his son (MN 61) would be more useful (“bodily actions, verbal actions, & mental actions are to be done with repeated reflection”).

Perhaps the best application of Buddhist principles would be to use them as intended - to awaken - and then revisit the issue from that perspective.
-Chuck

RE: Buddhist views on abortion
Answer
10/10/08 6:39 PM as a reply to Vishal Lama.
Thanks to those members who responded to my post! I found thor's response to be a tad cynical [emoticon] - thor, please don't take it any other way - and CheleK's response to be along lines that I felt dodged the issue! Lest my queries sound too metaphysical or out-of-the-blue, please allow me to describe in brief (hopefully) how I was led to the question on abortion.

A couple of days ago, I happened to read a small book, titled "The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra" by Thich Nhat Hanh, that dealt with 'Dependent Arising'. Toward the end of the book, I had the most amazing and soothing feeling (understanding?) when I felt I "understood" how Emptiness and Dependent Arising followed from one another, and the accompanying sensation(?) was one of great relief and subtle joy, realizing that there is no "I" that was going to die! The book also touched on the topic of The Five Aggregates (Skandhas) stating what the Buddha himself had mentioned: any one of forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness cannot exist without the others, i.e. each of them is Empty. With the above in mind, I was naturally led to the question, "Does a fetus have consciousness?" If yes, then all the other aggregates must also be present in the fetus, which in turn would imply that it would be highly improper (if not immoral) to abort any fetus at all. If no, then perhaps the fetus doesn't enjoy the same rights as humans or other living animals, which would mean it should be perfectly okay to abort fetuses!

As you may see, my motivation in pursuing the abortion issue arose from my contemplation of Dependent Arising and Emptiness. Any political or metaphysical perspective on this issue is the least of my concern.

(to be contd.)

RE: Buddhist views on abortion
Answer
10/10/08 7:06 PM as a reply to Vishal Lama.
CheleK remarked that "<em>...but the purpose of the precepts is to guide a person in their worldly activities so as to leave the mind in a state conducive to developing concentration.</em>"

I think that developing concentration or even "getting" enlightened is not the end of everything. By that, I mean, concrete issues that humans collectively have or need to deal with do not vanish even if everyone on this planet were to be enlightened, for people will still need to struggle for food and other basic necessities. We will still need to build houses, establish an economy, find out if a massive meteorite is going to hit the earth in another fifty years, and so on, and we will still need to develop judgments (based on sound reasoning and wisdom) on certain issues such as abortion. After all, we do have books, such as <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Politics-Buddhist-Making-Better/dp/0861712986/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1223704315&sr=1-1">Mindful Politics</a> that deal with even broader (and somewhat "universal") issues like politics. Given that even the Buddha had to constantly deal with issues other than meditative practice during his lifetime (and we know that it wasn't an easy task for him), surely there must be a Buddhist way of looking at or examining things based on Buddha's teachings. It was with these things in my mind that I ventured to ask those questions on abortion.

So, would anyone like to respond to the abortion issue in a more concrete and constructive way (based on Buddha's teachings)? Or, am I simply asking the wrong questions? (I would appreciate any candid answer) [emoticon]

(I will risk saying that the Buddha himself had the luxury of not addressing the abortion issue during his time. So, a Buddhist response today cannot be a repetition of what the Buddha might have said 2,500 years ago!)

RE: Buddhist views on abortion
Answer
10/10/08 7:10 PM as a reply to Vishal Lama.
Forgive me for trying to embed HTML tags in my previous post. I thought it would work but clearly I was wrong. Come to think of it, the posts on the forum would have looked (aesthetically speaking) a little better if HTML tags were allowed!

RE: Buddhist views on abortion
Answer
10/11/08 4:31 AM as a reply to Vishal Lama.
Author: josh0

I've seen a number of discussions like this and they usually end up being no different than they would be if you substituted 'Christian' for 'Buddhist'. Some people believe that 'Buddhist principles' demand they be pro-life, others believe that they demand they be pro-choice. Ajahn Brahm wrote a piece on it which you can see here: http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:GdqIx8lgcGIJ:www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books7/Ajahn_Brahm_When_Does_Life_Begin.pdf+ajahn+brahm+abortion&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=7&gl=us&client=firefox-a in which he used some sutta quotes to basically say that until 'consciousness arises', measured basically by the ability to perceive and react to uncomfortable stimuli, it does not meet the qualifications for sentient life and therefore the first precept is not applicable.

Whether or not you buy that is up to you.

RE: Buddhist views on abortion
Answer
10/11/08 7:09 AM as a reply to Vishal Lama.
Hi Vishal
Your queries do not 'sound too metaphysical or out-of-the-blue'. They seem quite reasonable. In another thread (Some thoughts on Daniel’s Essay about Arahats) haquan presented an analogy of awakening as being caught up in a movie and then realizing that you are actually in a theater - not really in the movie. The Buddhas teachings are oriented around guiding you toward that realization for yourself. And what you are in a sense asking is how the Buddhas teachings can be used to resolve an issue in the movie. I think to some extent they can be: Right speech and generosity if truly practiced would help the world immensely. But greed, hatred, and delusion are formidable foes if the mind does not have the strength and insight to comprehend them for what they are.

“I think that developing concentration or even "getting" enlightened is not the end of everything. ... concrete issues that humans collectively have or need to deal with do not vanish even if everyone on this planet were to be enlightened”

I agree with you but your relationship and freedom in dealing with these issues will change tremendously. And that is my point. True, Buddha did not deal with abortion but he dealt with many difficult issues in his life and there are examples in the Suttas of how he approached them. Really, I am not trying to dodge the issue but trying to approach it from a different angle.
-Chuck