Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

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Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Viriya » Fri Sep 24, 2010 12:28 pm

I've heard two different versions of when life begins, i.e., the stream of consciousness entering the womb, from Buddhist teachers.

1) At conception, or soon after

2) When the embryo develops sense faculties.

Option 1 seems unlikely to me, because why would the citta, craving sensual stimulation, hang around the womb without the means of contact with the world it so loves? Does it 'possess' the as-yet-senseless cells?I keep getting told it's the sexual act which sparks the citta's interest and draws it into the womb...but I wonder how the minds of ordinary people can exist for extended periods of time without sense-contact.

Option 2 seems implausible, also, because DNA recombination occurs when the oocyte (egg) is fertilised. If the stream of consciousness doesn't enter until later in embryonic development, how could the person's kamma effect their genetic make up? A person's genetic make-up is responsible in whole and in part for how they physically exist. If DNA recombination occurs before the citta has contact with the pre-embryonic cells, does that mean that a person's kamma has NO influence on their inherited genetic make-up?

For those of you familiar with the commentaries, is DNA recombination and one's genetic makeup biija niyama, (in accordance with the laws of heredity) and NOT a result of one's one actions? What is the canonical basis of the idea of biija niyama?

...oh, and when DOES life begin?
I'm not very good at right speech, although I try, so please guide and correct me if necessary so I don't make bad kamma for myself and cause others to be annoyed. (=

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Individual » Thu Oct 14, 2010 7:23 pm

I'd like to hear an answer to this too.

And no, not something corny like, "Life begins here and now, with the practice of mindfulness."
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Laurens » Thu Oct 14, 2010 7:35 pm

Depends how you define living.
"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Sobeh » Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:58 am

Viriya wrote:I've heard two different versions of when life begins, i.e., the stream of consciousness entering the womb, from Buddhist teachers.


I get off the train at the bolded portion.

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Viriya » Fri Oct 15, 2010 11:54 am

Sobeh wrote:
Viriya wrote:I've heard two different versions of when life begins, i.e., the stream of consciousness entering the womb, from Buddhist teachers.


I get off the train at the bolded portion.


I hate the expression, too. I've been looking for the appropriate Pali expression and a less painful English expression but haven't found it yet. I like to learn. If anyone can tell me what to call 'what it is that gets reborn', I'd be deeply appreciative.

So, please, let's move beyond the garnishing of words to the meat of the question...which still remains unanswered.
I'm not very good at right speech, although I try, so please guide and correct me if necessary so I don't make bad kamma for myself and cause others to be annoyed. (=

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:10 pm

Ok the meat of the question....what does it matter ? Why do you care ?
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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Viriya » Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:24 pm

Having given this an inordinate amount of thought, I'm inclined to put my bet firmly on 'at conception' in line with the orthodox Theravada viewpoint. It may be precisely the instability of consciousness (that is, of ordinary people who still crave sensuality) existing without contact with the sensual world which drives the formation of sense faculties. (To my great relief) this view appears to me to be delightfully in accordance with the teaching of dependent origination.

It also means that it is possible for DNA recombination to be subject to kammic influences (although I'm still entirely convinced that it doesn't just fall wholly under the commentarial category of 'biija-niyama', i.e., in accordance with the laws of heredity and not as a result of one's actions). If DNA recombination is not influenced by kamma, how to the Blessed One acquire his handsome demeanor and auspicious marks? >_< (That is, of course, assuming we haven't been hoodwinked.)

***********************************************************************************************************************************

:shrug: I couldn't tell you. I pretty much failed embryology and I don't know zilch about abhidhamma. Reaching the kind of meditative concentration to be able to know this things isn't going to happen any time soon either. This is exactly the kind of speculation which Buddha clearly didn't think productive. However, when my friends lob these questions at me and I can't answer, it discourages people from having faith in the Buddha's teachings.
I'm not very good at right speech, although I try, so please guide and correct me if necessary so I don't make bad kamma for myself and cause others to be annoyed. (=

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Viriya » Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:27 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Ok the meat of the question....what does it matter ? Why do you care ?


The answer to this question impacts on how Buddhists view abortion.
I'm not very good at right speech, although I try, so please guide and correct me if necessary so I don't make bad kamma for myself and cause others to be annoyed. (=

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Hanzze » Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:32 pm

_/\_
Last edited by Hanzze on Sun Oct 31, 2010 7:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:33 pm

I am not saying that you shouldn't care. Merely pointing out that as the Buddha put it, if you have an arrow sticking into your ribs, rather than speculating about the nature the wood and the type of bird the feathers came from and the motivation of the archer it might be a good idea to get the arrow out....For which see the Eightfold Noble Path..
As to those who lob awkward questions some people find it more expedient to refrain from identifying ourselves as Buddhists until we are confident that we can be exemplars...which leaves me out. ;)

I think you will find Viriya that even if you find a form of words that satisfies you...the abortion debate will still remain unresolved.

:anjali:
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Viriya » Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:54 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:I am not saying that you shouldn't care. Merely pointing out that as the Buddha put it, if you have an arrow sticking into your ribs, rather than speculating about the nature the wood and the type of bird the feathers came from and the motivation of the archer it might be a good idea to get the arrow out....For which see the Eightfold Noble Path..
As to those who lob awkward questions some people find it more expedient to refrain from identifying ourselves as Buddhists until we are confident that we can be exemplars...which leaves me out. ;)

I think you will find Viriya that even if you find a form of words that satisfies you...the abortion debate will still remain unresolved.

:anjali:


:anjali: Sanghamitta, my friend in the Dhamma, I sincerely appreciate your concern, and I think often about the arrow analogy before I post questions.

Before I packed my bags with the intention of going forth, the beginning of life was not as much mere speculation for me as much as a real future professional concern - for me, as a future doctor, it was not at all unlikely that I would have personally had to have made ethical decisions about the beginning of life. Not a spiritual question, but a practical one.
I'm not very good at right speech, although I try, so please guide and correct me if necessary so I don't make bad kamma for myself and cause others to be annoyed. (=

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Oct 15, 2010 12:58 pm

Viriya wrote:Option 1 seems unlikely to me, because why would the citta, craving sensual stimulation, hang around the womb without the means of contact with the world it so loves? Does it 'possess' the as-yet-senseless cells?I keep getting told it's the sexual act which sparks the citta's interest and draws it into the womb...but I wonder how the minds of ordinary people can exist for extended periods of time without sense-contact.


Interesting questions, Viriya! I'd also like to know more.

If we speak of the citta "hanging around the womb", doesn't this imply a kind of continuity which was rejected by the Buddha? That is, it sounds like we are turning the citta into a quasi-atman, that is capable of hanging around places.

Whereas my impression is that it's more a case of things bubbling up again and again when conditions are optimal for them to do so.

As for the minds of ordinary people existing without sense contact, there seem to be varying interpretations. One answer is that the mind never does this. It's either in the body of the dying person, or it's in the womb -- i.e., it sort of "arcs" from one to the other, like a spark between wires. There's no intermediate state, in other words.

Others do posit an intermediate state. However, this intermediate state also comes with a "subtle body" and sense organs, so it's not a case of purely immaterial consciousness.

I think you're right about Option 2 presenting a problem with regards to genetic makeup. Have to say, though, that I've found "kammic influence on genetic makeup" to be one of the less convincing teachings. Not that I reject it. But in my personal, and probably misguided view, the dhamma would be just fine without it. I can't say I'm a huge fan of ascribing kammic causes to people's height, girth, disability/ability, susceptibility to diseases, etc.

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Will » Fri Oct 15, 2010 2:29 pm

Viriya wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:Ok the meat of the question....what does it matter ? Why do you care ?


The answer to this question impacts on how Buddhists view abortion.


I think not. Killing in the womb or out of it is still negative kamma. "When life begins" is not relevant.
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 15, 2010 4:15 pm

Hanzze wrote:When the sperm enters egg cell.

Why?

Why not this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis
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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Stephen K » Fri Oct 15, 2010 4:33 pm

With metta,
Upāsaka Sumana

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Oct 15, 2010 4:41 pm

Of course Ajahn Brahm stops short of the latest developments which include the possibility that the fertilized egg will be developed without recourse to a human womb at all......If we take a literalist view of the Suttas are we prepared to say that the resulting baby developed without a human womb is not human ? To say nothing of the very real possibility of human cloning which will involve no egg or sperm or womb.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Shonin » Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:23 pm

There may be doctrinal 'lines in the sand' that can be drawn but in reality, there is no black and white answer because 'life' is a word we use for a set of processes that is conditional, fuzzy and empty of essential self.

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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:34 pm

Quite so. and if and when human cloning from stem cells occurs, and the means already exist, it has huge implications for a black and white view of kamma too. How does the new person have a kammic link with cells that have no volitional possibility ?
Its not just the Theistic religions that are being confronted by a brave new world.
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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 15, 2010 6:14 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Of course Ajahn Brahm stops short of the latest developments which include the possibility that the fertilized egg will be developed without recourse to a human womb at all......If we take a literalist view of the Suttas are we prepared to say that the resulting baby developed without a human womb is not human ? To say nothing of the very real possibility of human cloning which will involve no egg or sperm or womb.

I agree.


Ajahn Brahm's words looked great until the end.

One of the unstated but necessary ingredients for rebirth is the sight of one’s future mother, which acts as a magnet to draw the stream of consciousness in. Such an attractor would be
absent in a laboratory.

Not necessarily. He seems to assume the "sight of one's future mother," as being the literal physical body of the mother. The mother may still be seen indirectly by seeing the egg. Although it may confuse the gandhabba, when they enter what they think is the mother, only to find themselves in a test-tube, it seems reasonable to me to regard them as humans.

Also, I don't even see why there need to be two parents: The idea of the union of parents, as the basis for sentient life, is a strictly human phenomenon. It is theoretically possible for sentient forms of alien life to produce asexually, in which case there is merely a "mother" without a father. If we encountered such extraterrestrials, would Buddhists regard them as non-sentient? Ajahn Brahm says he is talking about "humans," but humanity and sentience and civil rights tend to all go hand-in-hand. We have to first dehumanize our enemies before we are prepared to deny them rights.

In the 21st and 22nd century, I foresee a great deal of hatred -- even by Buddhists -- being directed towards artificial life, including sentient machines and genetically-engineered humans and sentient extraterrestial life (if it exists), merely because they are so very different. Because of conservative views like this:

Conclusion: embryos outside of a mother’s womb are not reckoned as human life, and thus the ethical considerations specific to human beings do not apply.

If I am reborn as a genetically-engineered baby grown in a lab or a sentient robot (assuming it's possible), I hope the Buddhists of the future don't deny me rights on the basis that I did not come from a human womb.

It seems very much like denying an animal rights because they did not come from a human womb, or denying blacks rights because they did not come from a caucasian womb, or denying homosexuals rights again for the similar reason that it "goes against the natural order".
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Re: Biija niyama, Kamma, DNA, and when does life begin?

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Oct 15, 2010 6:19 pm

This is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The only thing holding back parthenogenetic embryo development which does not even require a sperm and egg are scientific protocols which are not universal.
There is avery real possibility that the younger readers of the forum will see in their lifetime people created directly from cells.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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