Abortion

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).

Abortion

Postby Will » Sat May 11, 2013 3:55 pm

I did not find a thread on this important topic. So here is a little from Harvey's Introduction to Buddhist Ethics (313) to start us off. The definition of a human being is clear.

Given the Buddhist view of embryonic life, it is not surprising that causing an abortion is seen as a serious act:

When a monk is ordained he should not intentionally deprive a living being of
life, even if it is only an ant. Whatever monk deprives a human being of life,
even (antamaso) down to destroying an embryo (gabbha-patanam·upadaya), he
becomes not a (true) renouncer, not a son of the Sakiyans.

The penalty for a monk intentionally causing an abortion is permanent expulsion from the Sangha:

Whatever monk should intentionally deprive a human being of life . . . he is also
one who is defeated [in the monastic life], he is not in communion . . . Human
being means: from the mind’s first arising, from (the time of) consciousness
becoming first manifest in a mother’s womb until the time of death, here meanwhile
he is called a human being.
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta
User avatar
Will
 
Posts: 384
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 11:26 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Lazy_eye » Sat May 11, 2013 4:08 pm

Well, it seems pretty clear that Theravada Buddhism does not condone abortion as a form of birth control.

Things get trickier, though, when situations arise that involve the health or life of the mother. Because in such cases, the decision to save the fetus may amount to killing the mother.
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Sat May 11, 2013 4:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
Lazy_eye
 
Posts: 778
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:23 pm
Location: Laurel, MD

Re: Abortion

Postby Will » Sat May 11, 2013 4:12 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Well, it seems pretty clear that Buddhism does not condone abortion as a form of birth control.

Things get trickier, though, when situations arise that involve the health or life of the mother. Because in that case, the decision to save the fetus may amount to killing the mother.


Let us not get 'tricky' then and please avoid public policy debates. I just would like to focus on what the Dhamma taught about abortion.
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta
User avatar
Will
 
Posts: 384
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 11:26 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Coyote » Sat May 11, 2013 4:20 pm

I think it is pretty clear. Abortion (even as contraception) is willfully putting an end to the life of an unborn, which, undeveloped though it might be, would continue to grow and develop until it is ready to be born.
I think this is different from "pro-life" as that often comes with a whole load of political and philosophical baggage that may be alien to the Dhamma.
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
Iti 26
Coyote
 
Posts: 537
Joined: Mon Sep 19, 2011 12:42 pm
Location: Wales - UK

Re: Abortion

Postby daverupa » Sat May 11, 2013 5:02 pm

Will wrote:I just would like to focus on what the Dhamma taught about abortion.


The modern ethical question centers on a medical possibility which was utterly beyond the pale ca. 5th Century BCE. The Buddha never discussed it.

Two gametes form a diploid zygote (or 'morula'), which later becomes a blastocyst, consisting of ~85 cells. Since hundreds of thousands of skin cells fall off a grown human body every few hours, I'm hoping people with strong opinions have a consistent definition of "life" which they are willing to share alongside their views on embryos.

Bhante Sujato discussed some of these issues once. The texts cited seem to show 'abortion' (if it can be translated thusly) being used as a sign of an extreme: no sex even to the depth of a sesame seed, no stealing even as much as a blade of grass, no killing even of a little embryo. So it's not very clear that we can equate a born child to a blastocyst, though for a monastic there is a stricture in place in any event because that's what monastics watch out for.

In terms of lay ethics, consistency would demand equating bank robbery with taking a pencil from a jar of them at the post office. They do both run afoul of the precept, but there nevertheless seems to be a difference...
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
User avatar
daverupa
 
Posts: 4015
Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:58 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sat May 11, 2013 5:19 pm

A less conservative approach to the Dhamma, also touches on abortion:

Dennenappelmoes
 
Posts: 48
Joined: Thu Apr 25, 2013 10:34 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Will » Sat May 11, 2013 5:25 pm

Sure is difficult to focus on what Buddha taught - evidently.
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta
User avatar
Will
 
Posts: 384
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 11:26 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby daverupa » Sat May 11, 2013 5:46 pm

Will wrote:Sure is difficult to focus on what Buddha taught - evidently.


Well, he didn't formulate a teaching to address a grey area which has only arisen in the context of modern medicine, so the difficulty is certainly present when talking about these matters. We can attempt inference, of course, but "what the Buddha taught" is only the starting point in such cases, not the conclusion.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
User avatar
daverupa
 
Posts: 4015
Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:58 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Lazy_eye » Sat May 11, 2013 6:17 pm

If we're talking about personal opinions, mine is that abortion in the first few weeks after conception doesn't present a moral problem, for the reasons Daverupa mentioned. And I also think it is justifiable when the mother's health is at stake.

However, my view is informed by secular ethics rather than Theravada moral norms, and I believe Will was asking an informational question about what (Theravada) Buddhism teaches. It seems difficult, to me, to find a basis in the suttas for justifying abortion at any stage of pregnancy, except when the mother's life is in danger. Again, let me stress that I'm simply trying to answer Will's question, not promulgate my own views.

The issue seems entangled fairly deeply with everyone's favorite dhamma topic, rebirth. If we go by the orthodox Theravada teachings, which not only assert that rebirth takes place but provide a detailed outline of how it takes place, then abortion clearly violates the first precept. Worth remembering here, perhaps, that even intentional killing of a bumblebee is a breach of the precept, at least from an orthodox point of view.

Unfortunately, if one is agnostic about rebirth, there is still a potential moral problem. Being agnostic means you accept the possibility that rebirth might be true, in which case abortion isn't ahimsa.

If one rejects rebirth, then we 're left with the need to define a starting point for "life" in an ethically meaningful sense. Maybe the viability threshold.
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Sat May 11, 2013 6:58 pm, edited 2 times in total.
User avatar
Lazy_eye
 
Posts: 778
Joined: Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:23 pm
Location: Laurel, MD

Re: Abortion

Postby Will » Sat May 11, 2013 6:31 pm

Will wrote:I did not find a thread on this important topic. So here is a little from Harvey's Introduction to Buddhist Ethics (313) to start us off. The definition of a human being is clear.

Given the Buddhist view of embryonic life, it is not surprising that causing an abortion is seen as a serious act:

When a monk is ordained he should not intentionally deprive a living being of
life, even if it is only an ant. Whatever monk deprives a human being of life,
even (antamaso) down to destroying an embryo (gabbha-patanam·upadaya), he
becomes not a (true) renouncer, not a son of the Sakiyans.

The penalty for a monk intentionally causing an abortion is permanent expulsion from the Sangha:

Whatever monk should intentionally deprive a human being of life . . . he is also
one who is defeated [in the monastic life], he is not in communion . . . Human
being means: from the mind’s first arising, from (the time of) consciousness
becoming first manifest in a mother’s womb until the time of death, here meanwhile
he is called a human being.


Perhaps if the mods would move this post to Classical Theravada the subject of abortion could be discussed exclusively from the classic Dhamma texts.
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta
User avatar
Will
 
Posts: 384
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 11:26 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby cooran » Sat May 11, 2013 6:51 pm

hello all,

This previous thread may be of interest:

Theravada's Teaching on bioethics:
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=1392

With metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
User avatar
cooran
 
Posts: 7321
Joined: Tue Jan 06, 2009 11:32 pm
Location: Queensland, Australia

Re: Abortion

Postby daverupa » Sat May 11, 2013 7:19 pm

cooran wrote:hello all,

This previous thread may be of interest:

Theravada's Teaching on bioethics:
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=1392

With metta
Chris


Very useful.

Ven. Dhammanando mentions that the parajika discussion in the Vinaya concludes that the first citta in the womb is the start of life for purposes of calculating related breaches of the precept.

However, I anticipate controversy over associating citta with a given stage of the neurological development of the embryo. Discussion seems destined to become mired in this speculative detail.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
User avatar
daverupa
 
Posts: 4015
Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:58 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Zakattack » Sat May 11, 2013 9:24 pm

Will wrote:Let us not get 'tricky' then and please avoid public policy debates. I just would like to focus on what the Dhamma taught about abortion.

I have never read any specific teaching given by Buddha, for laypeople, about abortion. I have only read Buddha give the general teaching to train to refrain from killing living beings but the laypeople in Buddha's time obviously did not practise this 100% because they would have killed to eat. I have only read Vinaya about abortion but Vinaya is for monks & is not for laypeople. I have read Vinaya forbids a monk or nun recommending & participating in an abortion but I have not read Vinaya instruct that monks & nuns must embark on moral crusades against abortion. Buddha taught kamma is intention &, based on this general principle, it is the intention motivating an abortion that defines whether the act in a given circumstance is unwholesome & harmful. This is the general view of modern teachers of Dhamma.

The Dalai Lama has said that abortion is "negative," but there are exceptions. He said, "I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_and_abortion


Regarding abortion, people argue until black and red in the face about whether or not it should be done, without investigating to find out in which cases it should and in which cases it should not. Once we follow the principles of the Buddhist way of reasoning, each situation itself will tell us what is proper and what is not. Please stop insisting on one-sided positions.

Kalama Sutta, Help Us!
Zakattack
 
Posts: 53
Joined: Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:07 am

Re: Abortion

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sat May 11, 2013 10:30 pm

Will wrote:Sure is difficult to focus on what Buddha taught - evidently.


Yes :) And isn't that just a good thing? It forces us to think and contemplate for ourselves, which is in my opinion precisely the point :anjali:
Dennenappelmoes
 
Posts: 48
Joined: Thu Apr 25, 2013 10:34 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Aloka » Sun May 12, 2013 2:41 am

There was a sad case of a woman being refused an abortion in Ireland recently.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/08/inquest-savita-halappanavar-abortion

.
User avatar
Aloka
 
Posts: 3435
Joined: Wed Jan 21, 2009 2:51 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Ben » Sun May 12, 2013 5:15 am

That is indeed, sad, Aloka. I just think its a little bizarre that the doctors did not remove the dead foetus.
I wonder whether all the relevant facts have been reported.
kind regards,
Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global Relief

Buddhist Life Stories of Australia

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
User avatar
Ben
Site Admin
 
Posts: 15889
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: Land of the sleeping gods

Re: Abortion

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sun May 12, 2013 9:26 am

Will wrote:Perhaps if the mods would move this post to Classical Theravada the subject of abortion could be discussed exclusively from the classic Dhamma texts.

While I understand your desire to get at "what the Buddha taught" here, trying to form an opinion on abortion in today's world based on the suttas is like trying to form an opinion on modern warfare by reading Sun Tzu - you might get some generalities and vague suggestions regarding timeless ethical questions, but the cultural and technological gaps leave any specific judgments up in the air.

We know that obviously abortion was considered killing a human being in the Buddha's time, and we know that the classic Theravada position is that citta arises at conception. However, modern medical science shows fairly distinctly that this is not the case, while newly developed theories regarding the rights of women over their own bodies also add dimensions to the issue that simply did not exist 2,500 years ago. If ethical teachings, or even monastic rules, were formulated based on a flawed, pre-scientific understanding of how human life develops, then there is no reason why we as Buddhists must necessarily adhere to them once more accurate theories are developed. This is not to say that we must declare abortion to be 100% okay immediately, but we should be open to discussing exactly why it is considered killing in traditional Buddhist thought, and whether or not the justification for such a classification still holds up today - and, most importantly, we should be honest enough to admit that, "Well, because the suttas say so" is not always the end of the conversation.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
User avatar
LonesomeYogurt
 
Posts: 900
Joined: Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:24 pm
Location: America

Re: Abortion

Postby Dennenappelmoes » Sun May 12, 2013 11:10 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
Will wrote:Perhaps if the mods would move this post to Classical Theravada the subject of abortion could be discussed exclusively from the classic Dhamma texts.

While I understand your desire to get at "what the Buddha taught" here, trying to form an opinion on abortion in today's world based on the suttas is like trying to form an opinion on modern warfare by reading Sun Tzu - you might get some generalities and vague suggestions regarding timeless ethical questions, but the cultural and technological gaps leave any specific judgments up in the air.

We know that obviously abortion was considered killing a human being in the Buddha's time, and we know that the classic Theravada position is that citta arises at conception. However, modern medical science shows fairly distinctly that this is not the case, while newly developed theories regarding the rights of women over their own bodies also add dimensions to the issue that simply did not exist 2,500 years ago. If ethical teachings, or even monastic rules, were formulated based on a flawed, pre-scientific understanding of how human life develops, then there is no reason why we as Buddhists must necessarily adhere to them once more accurate theories are developed. This is not to say that we must declare abortion to be 100% okay immediately, but we should be open to discussing exactly why it is considered killing in traditional Buddhist thought, and whether or not the justification for such a classification still holds up today - and, most importantly, we should be honest enough to admit that, "Well, because the suttas say so" is not always the end of the conversation.


:goodpost: Very well put! :anjali:

As I've mentioned around here before, there is reason to believe some teachings are deliberately vaguely put (e.g. right livelihood or sexual misconduct) so that they can be adapted to fit any (future) society. And of course, then the key thing is to be very careful only to approve things purely out of sincere conviction in their wholesome result. A conviction, in turn, derived from the teachings.
Dennenappelmoes
 
Posts: 48
Joined: Thu Apr 25, 2013 10:34 pm

Re: Abortion

Postby Zakattack » Sun May 12, 2013 11:33 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:We know that obviously abortion was considered killing a human being in the Buddha's time...

Evidence? Does the Vinaya view about citta conform with any sutta attributable to Buddha? If this matter has the "obvious" importance being inferred, why only teachings for monks & nuns about abortion?

Dennenappelmoes wrote:As I've mentioned around here before, there is reason to believe some teachings are deliberately vaguely put (e.g. right livelihood or sexual misconduct)...

Are the teachings vague or is our understanding vague? The teachings about these matters seem quite straightforward.

:alien:
Zakattack
 
Posts: 53
Joined: Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:07 am

Re: Abortion

Postby Will » Sun May 12, 2013 2:18 pm

As yogurt put it: "trying to form an opinion on abortion in today's world based on the suttas". Very true, but I was not trying to form my opinion or anyone's else's. I simply wanted to get many Theravadin sources on the subject and discuss how abortion was viewed THEN not now.
This noble eightfold path is the ancient path traveled by all the Buddhas of eons past. Nagara Sutta
User avatar
Will
 
Posts: 384
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 11:26 pm

Next

Return to Ethical Conduct

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests