Moral issues regarding birth control and abortion have very clear answers in Buddha Dhamma. In particular, at what stage of pregnancy does a living human exist in a womb?
- A critical point to first understand is that a human will be born in existence (human “bhava“) multiple times before that kammic energy is exhausted and one will be born in a higher or a lower realm; see, “Bhava and Jati – States of Existence and Births Therein“.
1. Our bodies are just “shells” that are discarded at death. We are born human in this life due to a past good kamma, and until that kammic energy is exhausted we will remain in the “human bhava” or the “human existence”. Our physical bodies last only about 100 years or so, and if the kammic energy for the “human bhava” is not exhausted at the time of the death, a “human gandhabbaya” will leave the body and wait until a new womb becomes available; see, “Ghost in the Machine – Synonym for the Manomaya Kaya?“
- This “human gandhabbaya” has a very fine body and thus cannot be seen.
- The gandhabbaya may have to wait for a few days or even a many years until a suitable womb becomes available; at that time, it will be pulled into the womb by the kammic energy, and the gandhabbaya takes hold of the zygote in the womb that was created by a sperm fertilizing an egg. This is what the modern science calls a “conception”, and in Buddha Dhamma it is called “okkanthi” of a gandhabbaya in a womb.
- However, if the “kammic energy for the present human bhava” is exhausted at the time of death, then the transition to the next “bhava” or existence happens at the dying moment, and if that new existence is that of a cat, a “cat gandhabbaya” will emerge from the dead body; of course this gandhabbaya has a very fine body that cannot be seen.
- Here again the “cat gandhabbaya” will have to wait until a suitable “cat womb” is ready, and that time it will get of the newly formed “cat zygote” in the womb of the “cat mother”. And a baby cat will be born later on.
2. Thus in either case, what happens in a womb at the time of conception is just to provide the “material basis” for the gandhabbaya to form a physical body. The “blueprint” for that physical body or the gandhabbaya was created at the dying moment in the previous life; this formation of a new gandhabbaya is the “real birth” or “jati” in Buddha Dhamma.
- All this is discussed in more detail in several posts, including “Ghost in the Machine – Synonym for the Manomaya Kaya?“, “Manomaya Kaya and Physical Body”, and a more technical description in “Cuti-Patisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description“.
3. Now let us see what is the procedure of contraception does. Whether it is done via either the use of a condom or by the mother taking birth control pills, the outcome is that a zygote will not be formed for a gandhabbaya to start a new life. Thus it is clear that there are no moral issues involved here; terminating a life is not involved at this stage.
4. On the other hand, once the gandhabbaya “is in the womb” and has taken possession of the zygote, then there is a living being in the womb. Any procedure done after this “real conception” is equivalent to taking a human life; it does not matter whether the procedure was done a month before birth of the baby or just a day after the gandhabbaya came into the womb.
- Thus any procedure done to abort the birth after the “actual conception”, i.e., gandhabbaya taking possession of the zygote, involves the termination of a human life.
- The only uncertainty is when the gandhabbaya takes hold of the zygote after it is formed; this could happen immediately after intercourse or a few days after intercourse. By the time the zygote arrives at the womb, it is done; see #6 below.
5. Thus Buddha Dhamma provides a fairly unambiguous picture of the moral issues involved in the birth control process.
- Of course, there are other moral issues that could be discussed. For example, on the use of birth control procedures, there are thorny questions associated with whether it is a good idea to make those available to school children.
6. It is important to note that science does not have an answer to the question of why all zygotes do not result in pregnancies, and some couples who could not have babies for many years all of a sudden have success. The actual conception time is also controversial; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beginning_of_pregnancy_controversy
- The steps in the conception process can be summarized as follows: During mother’s menstrual cycle, one egg (ovum) is usually released from one of the ovaries and is swept into the funnel-shaped end of one of the fallopian tubes. If a sperm penetrates the egg there, fertilization results and the fertilized egg (zygote) moves down the fallopian tube toward the uterus. The cells of the zygote divide repeatedly as the zygote moves down the fallopian tube. The zygote enters the uterus in 3 to 5 days. In the uterus, the cells continue to divide, becoming a hollow ball of cells called a blastocyst. Inside the uterus, the blastocyst implants in the wall of the uterus, where it develops into an embryo attached to a placenta and surrounded by fluid-filled membranes; see, http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/womens_health_issues/normal_pregnancy/stages_of_development_of_the_fetus.html
- Thus conception happens during the time the life-less zygote transforms to the “live” blastocyst. It is during this time that a gandhabbaya enters the zygote. However, a gandhabbaya with “gathi” matching that of the mother (and father) must be “pulled in” by the kammic energy, for the conception to occur (do a search for “gathi” on the top right search box to find about “gathi“).
- What matters most is the “gathi” of the mother at the time a gandhabbaya moves in to the womb. This is why in some cases, a child may have very different character (“gathi“) compared to the parents; furthermore, this is also why mothers who could not get pregnant for years, get pregnant during a time period when the mother most likely had a “personality shift” or a significant change in her mental state.
- However, the DNA of the newborn will have those matching the new parents, because their DNA is in the physical body.
- Furthermore, if the mother (and father) are prevented from having a child due to a previous kamma vipaka, the resulting zygote will be a “dud” and thus no gandhabbaya can “descend to the womb”, i.e., pregnancy is not possible.
A deeper analysis of how the next existence is grasped at death is given in, “Cuti-Patisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description”
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