Cloning and Gandhabba

March 5, 2018

1. Cloning of various types of animals has become common since Dolly was cloned in 1996.  Three sheep contributed to the birth of Dolly: one provided the egg, another the DNA (donor), and a third (surrogate mother) carried the cloned embryo to term.

  • Obviously, the clone has most similarities with the donor and there is no “father” involved (no sperm is needed). Are these consistent with the buddha Dhamma, and how does a gandhabba play a role?
  • Also there are some myths associated with cloning, such as whether totally unexpected “creatures” can result from cloning.
  • Therefore, it is good to review the key steps in the cloning process and to clarify these issues.

2. The basic procedure involved in the conception or the fertilization of a female egg by a sperm from a male, and the subsequent incorporation of a gandhabba  is discussed in the post, “What does Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) say about Birth Control?“.

  • However, in the case of cloning, a sperm from a father is not involved. So, we need to examine the steps involved in the cloning process in order to see where a gandhabba would fit in. A new animal or human life cannot be initiated without a gandhabba.

3. The basic process involved in cloning is nicely represented by the following diagram:

  • By the way, if you really need to understand this process, you need to print the post and read. At least print this figure and have it ready while you read the material below.

This figure is from the article, “20 years after Dolly: Everything you always wanted to know about the cloned sheep and what came next”.

  • You may want to read that article too. But let us go through the basic steps involved in natural conception and in cloning process first, in order to see the commonalities and differences.

4. The main thing from the above figure on cloning for our discussion is that the yellow cell is the egg from the mother. The cell on the top is from the “donor”; it is not a sperm.

  • The unique feature of the egg from the mother is that it allows the growth of a whole animal with many body parts for doing very different things just starting with that single cell.
  • When an egg starts cell division, it splits — first into 2, then 4, then 8, 16, 32, 64, and so on — it is not merely splitting. It is a complex process that produces descendant cells with a huge variety of shapes and functions: bone cells, nerve cells, red and white blood cells; the cells of the eyes, fingernails, stomach, skin, etc.

5. Eggs are the most remarkable of animal cells: once activated, they can give rise to a complete new individual within a matter of days or weeks in some animals. No other cell in a higher animal has this capacity; see #4 above. Egg cells also contain many mitochondria which supply the energy required for cell replication and division.

  • The activation (or start of the cell division) is initiated differently in cloning compared to the natural conception, as we will discuss below.
  • So, it is important to realize the vital role played by the yellow egg in the above diagram.
  • You can read more about the role of the egg at, “How Does a Single Cell Become a Whole Body?“.

But, first we need to look at what happens in a “normal conception” where an egg and a sperm combine to form the unique cell called zygote, see also “What does Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) say about Birth Control?“.

6. I could not find a figure like the above for the normal formation of a zygote by the combination of an egg and sperm. So, let us use that above figure first to see what happens in a natural conception.

  • In the case of a normal conception, the top cell in the figure (with the red nucleus) would be the sperm and of course the lower yellow cell with the green nucleus would still be the mother’s egg.
  • Instead of the removal of the green and incorporation of the red nucleus shown in the figure, in this case of a normal conception, those two nuclei from mother and father will combine to form a single nucleus in the yellow cell.
  • When that process is complete, the zygote is formed and the cell division is activated.
  • The only difference in Buddha Dhamma is that the cell division starts when a gandhabba descends to the womb and merges with that zygote.

7. This is a key point. A cell whether animal, human, or of a plant, has no “sentient life”. The zygote that results from the merger of the egg and the sperm is not a “new life”.

  • It is only when the gandhabba descends to the womb and take possession of that zygote that it “becomes alive”.
  • And it is not a new life. The gandhabba already existed!

8. Most cells in a body have 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. The egg and sperm are different. Each egg and each sperm has only one set of 23 chromosomes, not a pair. When fertilization occurs, the 23 chromosomes from the egg combine with the 23 from the sperm to create a zygote or a fertilized egg with the full complement of 23 pairs of chromosomes.

  • In the case of a natural conception, the matching gandhabba will descend to the womb and will be merged with that fertilized egg to complete the conception.
  • So, we see that in a normal conception, the nucleus of the zygote — or the result of the merger of the egg with the sperm — will be a cell with a nucleus that has half chromosomes from the mother and other other half from the father.
  • Therefore, a matching gandhabba would have gati that are a mix of gati of mother and father.

9. It is therefore clear that in a natural conception, the offspring will have bodily features and also mental features resembling those of mother/father, since half the chromosomes comes from the mother and other half from the father.

  • There is a small added contribution from the mother via the mitochondrial DNA that is in the egg outside the nucleus. That is like a 1% contribution.

10. Now let us see what happens in cloning, which is the process shown in the above figure.

  • Here the nucleus of the egg is REMOVED, and the nucleus of the “donor cell” with the full set of 46 chromosomes is INSERTED in the egg. That is the key difference in cloning. So, now the nucleus of the egg has the full set of chromosomes needed to start cell division.
  • However, it seems that is not enough to initiate the cell division. An electric shock is required to activate the process or to initiate cell division of this artificially created zygote. This is the second difference compared to the natural process.
  • The artificially modified egg is placed in the womb of the surrogate mother, and an electrical shock is applied to start the cell division.
  •  Therefore, once the cell division starts with the application of the electric shock, which eventually gives rise to an animal body made according to the DNA from the donor.

11. Even though that is the whole picture according to science, Buddha Dhamma says, there MUST be a gandhabba merging with that cell in order to “give it life”. It is likely that the gandhabba enters the womb and merges with the zygote at the time the electric shock is applied to initiate cell division.

  • Just like in the case of natural conception we discussed above, there is no “new life” created with cloning. It  just created a suitable “temporary home” for the gandhabba.
  • When that physical body dies, the gandhabba would come out and wait for another womb to be ready, if still has more kammic energy left for that existence (as a sheep in the case of Dolly). Dolly actually died and it is possible that she was reborn as another sheep somewhere.

12. Now, in the case of cloning, the following should be clear, according to science:

  • Mother that provides the egg, provides the all important platform for cell division that leads to the formation of the new offspring.
  • However, 99% of the DNA comes from the donor. Therefore, the physical resemblance of the offspring would be to the donor, as is the case with Dolly the sheep.
  • The surrogate mother who carries the embryo to term would provide no real contribution to the physical appearance of the offspring, according to science.

13. That is pretty much the picture in Buddha Dhamma too, but with the following exceptions:

  • All three would contribute to some extent to the “mental qualities” in selecting a matching  gandhabba (which happens automatically), even though the major contribution is likely to come from the donor.
  • Of course, we can only make a guess, since the Buddha never had to explain this particular case. The Buddha specifically mentioned that the “mental state of the mother” at the time of gandhabba descending to the womb is a factor. This is why even the most moral mother may, in a few cases, end up with a baby who turns out to have immoral gati.
  • Therefore, the surrogate mother — within whose womb the actual descending of the gandhabba would occur — could play some minor role in determining the behavior of the baby, but not the physical appearance, i.e., the developing embryo would be affected by the mood and health of the surrogate mother.

14. Studies done over the past 20 years with different types of animals show that:

  • The success rate is low, around 10%.
  • No monstrous creatures can be expected to form due to cloning. This is because the source of DNA is the donor. Therefore, the clone will look like the donor.
  • It is not possible to clone an animal that is identical to the donor. Even if they look similar, their character traits are different.
  • That observation from the cloning studies over the past 20 years, is consistent with our picture of the gandhabba having gati close to that of the donor. No two animals can be the same. In the case of a natural birth, gandhabba‘s gati will be close to those of both parents.

15. The main point from Buddha Dhamma is that a new life cannot be created by any means, whether in a laboratory or anywhere in the universe. This is the only inconsistency with science here, and it is a major inconsistency; the actual cloning process is compatible.

  • All living beings in existence now have been in the rebirth process forever. The Buddha said that there is no discernible beginning to any living being.
  • Living beings just keep switching from realm to realm, but most are trapped in the lower realms. While in the human or animal realms, they spend a lot of time as gandhabbas; see, “Gandhabba – Only in Human and Animal Realms“.
  • So, an animal like Dolly would be switching from a “sheep gandhabba” to a sheep to a “sheep gandhabba” to a sheep…until the kammic energy for the “sheep bhava” or “sheep existence” runs out. When a matching womb becomes available either due to natural conception of via cloning, the “sheep gandhabba” will descend to the womb and be born with the body of a sheep.

16. So, I hope it is clear that cloning itself is consistent with Buddha Dhamma and specifically with the concept of gandhabba.

  • I wrote this post in response to a question at the discussion forum: “Gandhabba and Cloning“. If there are more questions or comments, we can discuss them there.
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