Bad vs. Good | False vs. True | Wrong vs. Right

But I do not say, “celibacy (or even contraception) is also destroying such potentiality (even if more indirectly)”.
I said “we do not say for example that celibacy destroys life”.
I do not think there is a responsibility to breed, as in the JudaicChristian scriptures’ command of God “be fruitful and multiply”. I recognize that as a (at least partly) non Buddhist you might have a complicated mix to resolve. My sympathies, sincerely. Not all concepts are compatible, and that 's difficult, I think, for one drawn to the conceptual heritages of not entirely compatible views.

There is no Buddhist precept to avoid diminishing potential or conditions for fertility and breeding/procreation. And that is all contraceptions, conception-preventions, do.

I am grinning at your phrase “just some kind of dependent origination chain of causality.” Yeah; it’s kinda key, and not just a challenging philosophic side issue, for me. :slight_smile:
Gandhabba is imo not key (and I have no interest at this time in the animated discussions of that!) Afterthought edit: in some ways, gandhabba vs soul shows an important contrast; for without eternal souls, those religions which depend upon it make no sense; it is a fundamental concept, in all its theology; gandhabba is not imo not a fundamental concept, which defines everything, in the way soul concept does. But dependent origination is such a key concept.

I live in a country in which parts of the population push an agenda of religiously divisive definitions and mandates into laws and foreign policies. And I was reared a Christian; I think deconstructing conditioned ideas and definitions is part of how I have to examine thoughts, as a Buddhist.

It’s very unfortunate in my opinion to create doubt, guilt, shame, alienation, divisiveness over this topic. I don’t think it helps; I think it actually harms and obscures. This factors into the side of caution I might tend to come down on.

I appreciate the discussion. @suaimhneas may we both, and any other readers, benefit. I think I have; thank you.

That reality itself changes according to one’s belief?

Since both are holding diametrically opposite and mutually exclusive view,

  1. both cannot be representing the Buddha accurately
  2. both cannot be representing what is actually the case accurately since view A refutes view B and view B refutes not just view A, but also itself (the view that there is not absolute truth and that reality and truth itself is impermanent and changeable is self-contradictory because it refutes the possibility that this view itself can be an absolutely true statement).

The solution seems simply: to deeply study and practice the Dhamma-Vinaya as a whole.

I find those who believe relativism to be true to either have not studied the Dhamma-Vinaya broadly or deeply enough, either preferring later Buddhist texts or eschewing the study of any texts at all.

Furthermore, I think the Buddha himself rejected “relativism” (the camp the believes reality/Truth is an impermanent and changeable thing).

The fact that the Buddha himself seemed to clearly discern and delineate between bad and good, false and true, wrong and right, yet people portray him as relativist was the raison d’être or reason for this post!

I think the Buddha’s view might be that “life” begins at the time of conception, what you say when you refer to “a fertilized egg.”
So taking the life of a being at any of these stages seems to fall under the category of killing.
The purpose of Buddhism is not of debate, but lead away from dukkha.
My current understanding seems to be that killing a being from conception up until their last breath seems to lead to dukkha and away from Nibbana.
Of course the choice to kill, abortion or otherwise, seems always up to each individual to do any any time.

Perhaps there are other options in which both “abortion” and “letting the woman die.”
The Buddha doesn’t seem to allow or approve of killing even at the cost of one’s own life, if life does begin at conception, it doesn’t seem like the Buddha would approve of an abortion even if the woman’s life is threatened (i.e. under any conditions at all).

You seem to misrepresent my position as endorsing “non-action” as opposed to as “non-doing of bad deeds and doing of good deeds” - I only accept the latter position.

The Buddha clearly said that he does teach non-action - the non-doing of bad actions. Interestingly, he also said this in response to someone who tried to slander and accuse him of endorsing non-action. This seems to include abortion because monastics who convince a pregnant woman to get an abortion are to be expelled permanently from the Sangha. This seems to clearly imply that abortion counts as killing.

This is not the same as the straw man argument of “complete non-action under all conditions” - which was taught by another ascetic at the time of the Buddha and rejected by the Buddha.

The first precept seems to be to refrain from intention acts of killing - I don’t think that would be an intentional act of killing and thus not breaking the first precept.

However, the Buddha doesn’t just teach the non-doing of bad deeds, he also teaches the doing of good deeds.

Thus, not notifying another person of faulty car brakes may not be the same as killing them intentionally, but notifying another person of faulty car brakes would likely be a good deed - which the Buddha seems to teach should be done.

The Buddha’s view on the trolley problem seems clear: do not re-route the trolley with the intention of killing the one being - that would be an intentional action of killing.

The one being could be a Buddha and the group could be a group of beings who live their lives relatively contrary to Dhamma-Vinaya.

Let the trolley proceed as per it’s course, those who live their lives in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya shall be protected from even a large, powerful army, let alone from a trolley.

Devadatta tried to send soldiers, an elephant, and a boulder down to kill the Buddha - none were able to kill him because the Buddha is one who lives his life perfectly in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya and not otherwise.

Actually, this is where the common, ordinary worldly person’s understanding of the golden rule seems to break down.

At this time King Pasenadi of Kosala was on the upper terrace of the palace with Queen Mallikaa. And the king asked her: “Mallikaa, is there anyone dearer to you than yourself?”

“Your Majesty, there is no one dearer to me than myself. And you, sire, is anyone dearer to you than yourself?”

“Nor is there anyone dearer to me, Mallika, than myself.”

Then the king went down from the palace and visited the Blessed One [ and told him the whole story. ] and the Blessed One, understanding, thereupon uttered this verse:

Though in thought we range throughout the world,
We’ll nowhere find a thing more dear than oneself.
So, since others hold the self so dear,
He who loves himself should hurt no one.
Mallikaa Sutta: Mallikaa

For example, a man or woman might think, I would like it women or men cat-called or signaled appreciation at me - but that does not mean that other women or men would appreciate being cat-called at or being approach with sexual intent - including but not limited to those who are monastics, Arahants or otherwise.

Thus, the golden rule itself must be understood with wisdom and not carelessly applied.

Instead, one who loves themselves should not hurt anyone else, neither pregnant woman, unborn baby, doctor who performs abortion, the being who impregnated the woman, or any other being at all in the world - an abortion would be hurting the unborn being who has been conceived in the form of a fertilized egg.

This my understanding of the golden rule, which differs from the understanding of many who support abortion thinking only of the dukkha experienced by the female being (pregnant woman) - though this might be a retaliation against sexism against females by the Catholic Church and other beings, this form of reasoning itself is motivated by sexism to some degree too - it prioritizes the life of the female being over that of the unborn being. The Buddhist perspective seems to call for non-killing, non-harming, and non-hurting of any and all beings, which includes not just the female being (pregnant woman), but of all beings, including the unborn being (fertilized egg, fetus, etc. - at any stage of pregnancy until the last breath of that being).


I think the Buddha’s view on this issue is that life begins when the egg is fertilized by sperm - “at conception.”
I think this because a monastic who convinces a pregnant woman to undertake an abortion is to be “permanently” expelled from the Sangha for the duration of that entire lifetime.

I agree that science views this issue on a continuum, say from conception to birth, and then from birth to death.
I don’t think there is a scientific consensus on this issue, perhaps because it may fall out of the scope of science’s domain - or there isn’t sufficient evidence yet to clearly side with one over the other.

This spectrum is of a different nature though lol but definitely related for sure.

Based on my understanding so far (which I wholeheartedly admit is imperfect and limited), I think that even this spectrum of kamma is simply from zero (accidental abortion) to negative infinity - with there being no positive outcome at all for abortion (or any other form of killing for that matter) ever under any conditions at all…though it may appear to be so. If there didn’t appear to be any benefit of doing bad deeds, beings would rarely do bad deeds. But bad deeds is significantly more common than good deeds!

I think that the Buddha says that three conditions are necessary for a being to be born: female being must be fertile, sexual intercourse, and a gandhabba (that is to take birth).
I think all 3 are fundamentally necessary for the birth to occur - the occurrence of all three are the necessary and sufficient condition for birth to take place. Without any of the three, birth will not take place.

Thus, I don’t think that a suitable discussion of this topic can take place without considering all three factors, right?

:pray: I think that enduring the discomfort of having such fundamental, important, and valuable discussions seems to show wisdom since those who do not do pleasant, harmful actions and do unpleasant, beneficial actions can be recognized has having wisdom to that extent.

What about the sutta where the Buddha compares himself to an abortionist? (AN 8.12)

Depending on your perspective, you can call the Buddha and his Dharma a lot of things.

To just not believe that things can be relative strikes me as equally untenable a position to hold as “everything is always maximally relative.”

The Buddha didn’t deal in absolutes with simple answers. The Buddha could have given many simple answers to do with absolutes. He could have said to Venerable Mahākātyāyana that everything/the all exists, like in the Sabbasutta. What did he say instead?

Kaccāna, this world mostly relies on the dual notions of existence and non-existence. But when you truly see the origin of the world with right understanding, you won’t have the notion of non-existence regarding the world. And when you truly see the cessation of the world with right understanding, you won’t have the notion of existence regarding the world. The world is for the most part shackled to attraction, grasping, and insisting. But if—when it comes to this attraction, grasping, mental fixation, insistence, and underlying tendency—you don’t get attracted, grasp, and commit to the notion ‘my self’, you’ll have no doubt or uncertainty that what arises is just suffering arising, and what ceases is just suffering ceasing. Your knowledge about this is independent of others. This is how right view is defined. ‘All exists’: this is one extreme. 'All doesn’t exist’: this is the second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Realized One teaches by the middle way […]

(SN 12.15)

Dependent origination is like the original relativism. This is a good basic sutta for that. Ven Mahākātyāyana presents the Buddha with a black-and-white zero sum binary choice between A and B. For the sake of this conversation, we could call them “absolutism” and “relativism” instead of A and B. If A is true, B is not, on a fundamental level, and likewise.

I wonder if Ven Mahākātyāyana was disappointed in the Buddha’s refusal to play his game of “either A or B, choose one now.” I imagine his answer was possibly quite frustrating for someone who wanted a straightforward either/or type answer, where one choice is right and the other is wrong.

Indeed, even the linguistic formula for dependent origination can be seen as eschewing independently or absolutely defined identities for dependently or relatively established identities.

“Y-paccayā X”

We have two identities (nouns) that this phrase must establish: an identity Y and an identity X. We find Y defined by way of X, X defined by way of Y, not confused with eachother, but not existing in absolute indenpendence of eachother either. Relational identity.


What about it?

Yes, but not necessarily correctly.
One can incorrectly misrepresent or correctly represent the Buddha and his Dhamma.

Luckily, I do no hold such a position.
Notice that I did not endorse that position of absolutism, partly because I am not sure if the Buddha would actually endorse that position unconditionally, and partly because I think that he might have rejected both as extremes as you seem to proceed to also state.

However, I did point out that relativism is both “self-contradictory” (and thus false) and also rejected by the Buddha. Absolutism could also be false, but it is not self-contradictory and thus not necessarily false on logical grounds the way relativism is.

I think we might be in agreement that both “relativism” and “absolutism” might have been rejected by the Buddha as false or at least as incomplete views of reality.

I can agree that some things can be view relatively (eating food is beneficial - if it is healthy and eaten to a moderate degree) and some things can be view absolutely (harmful actions can never lead to benefit and beneficial actions can never lead to harm - these are absolutely impossible!).

I see what you mean.
And perhaps it can be seen that way.
But it is not the same as what people mean when they argue that there is no absolute, unvarying ultimate truth.
The Buddha himself claims dependent origination to be such an absolute, unvarying ultimate truth which definitively is the case and is not otherwise!
That being said, yes, there does seem to be a sense of relativism, but it is not “proof” for the position for philosophical relativism.

The Buddha argues that the sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch that a being finds most pleasing and agreeable is considered foremost for that individual - this is definitely relativism.
But this principle that what is most subjectively pleasing to one is what is foremost for one is itself is a absolute principle - this is definitely absolutism.

Both seem accepted by the Buddha to the degree that they are true - which seems like relativism, but does not seem to be the case as the Buddha did declare certain things in a very absolute sense, such as the Noble Eightfold Path is necessary and sufficient to achieve Nibbana.

This is absolute because he seems to clearly state that:

  1. deprivation is not sufficient to achieve Nibbana.
  2. indulgence is not sufficient to achieve Nibbana.
  3. Noble Eightfold Path is sufficient to achieve Nibbana.

This is relative because he seems to clearly state that:

  1. some deprivation is necessary to achieve Nibbana.
    (e.g. sexual intercourse - Bhikkhuni Sutta: The Nun)
  2. some indulgence is necessary to achieve Nibbana.
    (utilization of basic necessities)
  3. all paths to the degree that they overlap with the Noble Eightfold Path is conducive to achieve Nibbana.

I think the point of AN 8.12 is that the Buddha is correctly representing himself, not incorrectly representing himself or misrepresenting himself, from multiple points of view and with multiple ways of thinking of things. This, to me, is one of the Buddha’s relativisms.

Here, this reference is better, it was actually the one I was thinking about. DN 15 Mahānidānasutta:

Iti kho, ānanda, nāmarūpapaccayā viññāṇaṃ, viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpaṃ
So: name and form are conditions for consciousness. Consciousness is a condition for name and form.

One of the presentations of DO where links have mutual conditioning, reminding one of similar paradoxical statements like that of the later Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya, “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.”

Yes, but at the same time, IMO at least, it seems that the “dependent” in “dependent origination” is a kind of relativity and a kind of eschewing of “one (absolute) thing,” even while being that one ultimate itself.

And this is because dependent origination is a series of things established by their relations to eachother, their dependencies, these things being the dependently arisen dharmas (pratītyasamutpannā dharmāḥ). Of course, one can speak of dependent origination in the singular to generally refer to these sets of relations, then we have a “one principal” of dependent origination, but dependent origination is also at least “12 things” in addition to being “one thing.”

When the Dharma was translated into Chinese, the term “the pratītyasamutpāda dharma” was invented. I don’t think this term appears in scriptures in Indian languages, but I could be wrong. Either way, the term was coined IMO as a convenience to speak about dependent origination as “one general (universal) principle.”

So yes, dependent origination is a kind of absolute truth, but it is sort of like a truth that states “things are absolutely relative,” because their origination (i.e. the origination of the “things”) is ultimately dependent, not independent.

What would be “proof of the position of philosophical relativism” to you? How are you defining that position?

I think the Buddha’s view might be that “life” begins at the time of conception, what you say when you refer to “a fertilized egg.”

I think the Buddha’s view on this issue is that life begins when the egg is fertilized by sperm - “at conception.”

This topic has been discussed in numerous threads here (as well as being a topic of discussion elsewhere for a long time. AFAIK what YOU think about fertilized eggs is not what the Buddha said, as far as we can know based on the EBTs. If you disagree, please offer citations. It could be of interest to many.

Some of the relevant discussions here

I think that the Buddha says that three conditions are necessary for a being to be born: female being must be fertile, sexual intercourse, and a gandhabba (that is to take birth).
I think all 3 are fundamentally necessary for the birth to occur - the occurrence of all three are the necessary and sufficient condition for birth to take place. Without any of the three, birth will not take place.

Thus, I don’t think that a suitable discussion of this topic can take place without considering all three factors, right?

If your statement in bold were true, it would prove a fertilized egg as is cannot have all three; it cannot born. Nor is birth is possible for a fertilized egg, a zygote, a blastocyst, an embryo, or fetuses; the stages are not sufficient. This is not just true for human life, but all birthed life forms, and analogously true for all others; recall the simile of dry seeds without nourishment.
Time and nourishment and conditions matter. Were this not the case, human life would not be fortunate. AFAIK this is not just physically or materialisticly true, but it is true on that level.

MN 38 examination:


The Buddha doesn’t seem to allow or approve of killing even at the cost of one’s own life

Killing is an intentional act, correct? Let us parse, not conflate or assume or declare, intentions in sensitive matters. Without a divine eye and full liberation from craving, ill will, and delusion, trying to define others’ intentions is a tricky business, likely in some situations at least, to not be harmless.

Regarding conception, we have four kinds:

DN33:1.11.166: Four kinds of conception. Someone is unaware when conceived in their mother’s womb, unaware as they remain there, and unaware as they emerge. This is the first kind of conception. Furthermore, someone is aware when conceived in their mother’s womb, but unaware as they remain there, and unaware as they emerge. This is the second kind of conception. Furthermore, someone is aware when conceived in their mother’s womb, aware as they remain there, but unaware as they emerge. This is the third kind of conception. Furthermore, someone is aware when conceived in their mother’s womb, aware as they remain there, and aware as they emerge. This is the fourth kind of conception.

Regarding killing, we have the serial killer who became a disciple:

MN86:3.6: On this road there is a bandit named Aṅgulimāla. He is violent, bloody-handed, a hardened killer, merciless to living beings.

The Buddha said:

MN86:5.9: “I’ve stopped, Aṅgulimāla—now you stop.”

And so he did.

Regarding ectopic pregnancy the Buddha is silent as far as I know.



@karl_lew thank you for sutta. Edit: is it words of the Buddha? appears to be lists, a reference for monastic chanting…
You don’t think “in their mother’s womb” refers specificly to ectopic pregnancy or non uterus stages - perhaps because AFAWK that medical specificity was unknown at that time? A cultural historical term of speech only? Pardon my extrapolating, not trying to put words in your mouth, just want to understand your thoughts.

1 Like

I am inclined toward compassion. And the apex of compassion is:

SN46.54:13.6: The apex of the heart’s release by compassion is the dimension of infinite space, I say, for a mendicant who has not penetrated to a higher freedom.

To me this says quite simply that the space of compassion is infinite, as are the situations and conditions we all might face. And if we embrace each situation with open heart and infinite compassion, then it will be clear in each situation what to do or not do.

DN33 was spoken by Sariputta during the night as the Buddha lay down to stretch his back. When the Buddha got up, he approved Sariputtas talk. This verse is repeated in DN28 also with Sariputta in the presence of the Buddha. It is part Sariputta’s Lion’s Roar declaring his confidence in the Buddha.

I’ve been listening to it for over a year not knowing why Sariputta talks about conception. This thread is actually the first time I’ve quoted it.

When Sariputta gets things wrong, the Buddha corrects him immediately. He did not object to Sariputta’s summary of conception, thereby giving approval via silence.


Is this a soul? At what point is there a being, is perhaps the key and unknown point. I find the discussion of what is a being also relevant.

One obvious area in which the Buddha didn’t state things as relative, for instance, is in clear cut moral decisions. It’s always bad to kill your mother, to steal from someone. There is never a “noble and wicked, these things are relative,” but being reasonable people we can also imagine situations more complicated where good and evil are relative, like in issues of violence or even murder for the greater good. Do you kill a man who is about to kill three others? What if the others are murderers themselves? What if the man is a state-sanctioned executioner? What if the others to be killed are enfeebled and vulnerable as opposed to likely to fend off the murderer? These are all factors that could potentially weigh in on a moral decision to act or not, and yet we can also, more generally, say that it is generally absolutely bad to kill other beings.

I don’t have a stake in the abortion debate, but the issue as always is over whether it is a simple clear-cut moral quandary or not, whether the being is unambiguously a sentient being or not.

I think he means the gandharva, the being-to-be, is a guess, but maybe I am having trouble navigating this forum’s functionality. Where did he write that? I am trying to use the search functions to search this topic/thread but no luck.

1 Like

I think my use of the word “potentiality” was poorly explained (hadn’t the Christian idea of “go forth and multiply” in mind in the least). I suppose I had it in mind as a possible counterpoint to the idea of a sliding scale (the hypothesis of abortion being more kammically serious the further along it takes place). If there are a few cells, then perhaps it is equivalent to killing some tiny microorganism? One counterargument to that is the difference is that this is a clump of cells that are part of a process that if uninterrupted will potentially, actually likely (bar miscarriage) end up as a human. A possible counter to this “potential human life” argument is that contraception or celibacy kind of does the same thing (children are not born that might be born) and that obviously is not kammically bad. That was the only point I clumsily tried to make.

I don’t really try to resolve such things. My attitude is, generally, if things are incompatible, then they are incompatible. The universe may be this way or the other way or perhaps neither, and hopefully someday I’ll be discerning enough to see which is which! :slight_smile:

It is one of the most divisive issues. Probably was not entirely successful in keeping that out of my posts! Buddhism is a broad tent. There are quite a range of viewpoints in different traditions on this I think (from the most conservative to the more socially liberal) so I think there are several ways the basic texts can be interpreted.

Thank you too!


I kind of suspected that your preferred action on the “trolley problem” would be not to pull the lever, which is very consistent with your view on my car brake example and also your views on the ectopic pregnancy example. I’m not sure I’d agree on what seems your basic premise that precepts can only be broken by commission (active action) and not omission. Your thinking on these examples does certainly seem very clear and consistent though!

1 Like

I agree that the Buddha would agree with this form of relativism.
However, I think that many relativists often overshoot and overreach - and claim that all views regarding the Buddha are true…to that individual. Truth is relative.
What seems true to me is true for me. What seems true to you is true for you.

This overstep ignores the fact that the Buddha pointedly rejected many attempts at representing the Buddha as, to paraphrase, " they misrepresent me, they are not speaking what is true, they are speaking what is contrary to what is true."

Yes, it does seem to support relativity to some degree, I agree, but it seems to be problematic drawing a conclusion to support relativism as whole.
This principle applies to conditional phenomena.
The attainment of Nibbana is conditional. It seems to depend on the development of the eightfold path.
However, the element of Nibbana itself is not conditional - it is unconditional.
Even so, I think this would be grounds to support absolutism only to some degree.

Furthermore, perhaps one would need to argue that relativism (everything is relative) and conditionalism (everything is conditional) are one and the same - perhaps these are distinct position, no?

Proof of the position of philosophical relativism seems to require that all the things that beings hold as true would have to somehow prove to be true even when they are mutually exclusive with and contradictory (or even diametrically opposite) to what others hold to be true.

For example, the statement all paths lead to God is one expression of relativism that is often used in the religious context - there would have to be proof that all paths do indeed lead to God and not otherwise. Killing and non-killing, stealing and non-stealing, etc. should all lead to God - if these as well as all forms of “different views” all somehow hold up as true - this would prove to me that there is no absolute truth and relativism is absolutely true - but again, this would run into the problem that relativism being absolutely true when it is itself saying that “nothing is absolutely true” runs into a logical contradiction the refutes itself: saying that relativism is absolutely true refutes relativism itself because it says that relativism is not absolutely true.

On what basis do you think that what my view on abortion is contrary to the Buddha’s view regarding fertilized eggs?
Please offer citations as it would likely be of great help to me.

@karl_lew helpfully cited this text which relates to the acknowledgement of conception (when conceived in their mother’s womb), pregnancy (as they remain there), and birth (as they emerge).

Should any bhikkhu intentionally deprive a human being of life, or search for an assassin for him, or praise the advantages of death, or incite him to die (saying): “My good man, what use is this evil, miserable life to you? Death would be better for you than life,” or with such an idea in mind, such a purpose in mind, should in various ways praise the advantages of death or incite him to die, he also is defeated and no longer in affiliation.
The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volumes I & II

The Vibhaṅga defines a human being as a person “from the time consciousness first becomes manifest in a mother’s womb, up to its death-time.” As DN 15 makes clear, the presence of the new being’s consciousness is necessary for the embryo to survive in the womb. Thus the survival of the embryo in the womb is a clear sign that consciousness is present. This means that consciousness is manifest from the moment of conception.

From this it follows that a bhikkhu who intentionally causes an abortion—by arranging for the operation, supplying the medicines, or advising a woman to get an abortion and she follows through—incurs a pārājika. A bhikkhu who encourages a woman to use a means of contraception that works after the point of conception would be guilty of a pārājika if she were to follow his advice.

This part is the commentary by Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Furthermore, it is not clear to me which parts of the Vibhanga, if any part at all, is considered early/accurate/representative of the Buddha’s view.

For these reasons, I think that the Buddha’s view on the issue of abortion was that it is definitively and unconditionally (under any and all conditions) harmful and unbeneficial. The only thing that seems relativistic here would be the difference in degrees of or extent to which how much harm an abortion would lead to.

Sorry, I think I might have misrepresented the Buddha here - perhaps he said “the occurrence of all three are the necessary and sufficient condition for conception to take place” - which in turn might be considered a condition for birth? I am not sure, I hope someone can find the reference to this.
Either way, regardless of whether it is a necessary condition for conception or birth or both, the point is that all three factors are considered relevant to this overall issue regarding abortion.

Hehe, I do.
I think I read that the wheel-turning king imposes 5 conditions on his subjects - the five precepts - which includes the protection of animals and birds, etc.
Thus, I do think all forms of killing, stealing, adultery, lying, and intoxicating (consuming judgment-impairing substances) are harmful and should all be made illegal. If it is not illegal and is legal, then the government is implicitly saying that such and such actions are okay and should be allowed and is a “protected right” - the right to kill xyz, etc.
I do not think this in a “legalistic morality” sense though, but out of compassion for the many “law-obeying” and “law-abiding citizens” who often blindly or otherwise try to follow the law, regardless of whether the laws are harmful (e.g. Jim Crow/Nazi laws) or beneficial.

Having been this myself previously, I think views regarding abortion often stem from American or Western liberalism and less from actual Buddhism.
My reasoning as a former liberal was that conservatives seem to be wrong about so many issues…probably this one too. As you can see, this is not exactly sound reasoning though.
It seems more helpful to learn Buddhism first and then evaluate the existing spectrum of social and political views in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya as opposed to projecting one’s own views onto Buddhism, something I think most of us agree on.

Yes. I guess, I can clarify: The Buddha doesn’t seem to allow or approve of intentional killing even at the cost of one’s own life

I agree.

I’m not sure I understand what this is reference to.
But the way I understand it, I was simply concerned with is an act of killing unintentional/accidental or intentional/purposeful.
Unless one is an Arahant who is suitably taking one’s own life, I don’t think there are any conditions under which the intentional, purposeful act of killing is consider okay, harmless, beneficial, leading to a good outcome at all ever.
Furthermore, I don’t think there is any “good intentions” that can lead to killing…even though it appears that such a thing is possible.
It is always the motivation of delusion or misunderstanding which makes it seem like such actions of killing can actually be good or lead to some good outcome - but it is actually impossible.
True compassion is not merely “not judging those who do bad deeds” - but like the Buddha’s own example, helping guide others away from the doing of bad deeds and non-doing of good deeds towards the non-doing of bad deeds and the doing of good deeds.

I am still learning about the issue of abortion, so I can’t give a definitive answer.
However, if abortion were actually harmful, I think someone would be more grateful to someone who didn’t judge them and guided them away from the harm they might have otherwise faced by undertaking an abortion (whether as a pregnant woman, partner of one, doctor performing it, etc.) than someone who was merely non-judgmental, but failed to guide them to steer clear of such harm.

:pray: Thank you :pray:

He was also silent about killing by means of guns, missiles, bombs, advanced weapon technologies, strange objects used as weapons, among other means of killing - that doesn’t mean that he was okay or approved any of these.

I’m not sure if this is actually true because wisdom, not compassion, is the faculty and quality of mind that needs to be developed in order to discern what should not or should be done.
In at least one sutta (in DN) the Buddha says that in a previous life, he found and developed the way to the Brahma realm (which includes compassion), but this was not enough to lead to Nibbana. He further states that in his present life as the Buddha, he discovered the way to Nibbana, the Noble Eightfold Path - which encompasses more than just compassion alone.

I am sorry for the lack of clarity.
I was specifically referring to the being between the time of conception and birth, i.e. during the entire duration of pregnancy.
I wasn’t referring to the gandharva because that would be pre-conception and I am not exactly sure how one can kill a gandharva - though, if that was possible, I’d be against that too! lol
I said “unborn being” this way because someone (seemingly correctly) clarified the differences in the various stages of pregnancy (zygote, blastula, fetus, etc.). Having been a biology major in undergrad, I am familiar and respect these distinctions, so I stopped using the term fetus due to its very specific meaning. I wanted to find a general term to describe a possible being from the time of conception to birth, but unborn seems too unclear because it could imply a gandharva too, which was not what I meant.

Which begs this question:

(Soul seems both loaded and unclear in terms of definition.)

This is the crucial question.
On this, we agree.
None of my bio classes ever clarified with definitive certainty “at which point life begins.”
It might be beyond the scope of science.

I think another important point, regardless of what the answer is, is the purpose of posing this question:
If abortion is harmful, then undertaking, approving, or encouraging others to perform abortions would lead to one’s own harm.
If abortion is harmless, then undertaking, approving, or encouraging others to perform abortions would not lead to one’s own harm.

Thus, getting this question right is not about winning the debate (which I am sure that we all agree on in this forum), but to avoid further perpetuating dukkha for ourselves and others. All beings fear dukkha.

This relates to the point about compassion:
True compassion would entail not misguiding beings away from what is beneficial and towards what is harmful, but rather ti guide beings away from what is harmful and towards what is beneficial.

If abortion is actually harmful and leads on one’s harm, someone who says “abortion is okay and harmless” would be speaking for the harm of both themselves and others if they persuade others that this is in fact the case (assuming that is actually is not).


I think that the entire Dhamma-Vinaya is very clear and consistent.
My hope :crossed_fingers: is that my thinking and actions are not merely clear and internally consistent, but also not contrary to and in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya.

It seems to me that both intention and action are necessary for an action to be considered killing.

I think that the Buddha said (to paraphrase) that if harmlessness alone was all that was necessary to be considered the best, then even a baby would be considered the best because aside from a little bit of hurt by their soft kicks or bites, they don’t really hurt anyone.

However, it doesn’t seem completely in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya to simply be harmless - being beneficial seems important too.

Thus, I agree that helping others (say, by informing someone of their defective brake), would be in accordance with the Dhamma-Vinaya.

1 Like

I absolutely endorse this attitude :smiley: And while doing so, avoidance of any fixed views, as far as possible, is recommended. The path is easier with a free and flexible mind :pray:


On the basis of your statements about you think the Buddha thinks, i.e.

I think the Buddha’s view might be that “life” begins at the time of conception, what you say when you refer to “a fertilized egg.”

I think the Buddha’s view on this issue is that life begins when the egg is fertilized by sperm - “at conception.”

I asked for EBT citations from you on which you might have formed these opinions. You have now offered @karl_lew 's citation, but as as I pointed out to him, that appears to be a list of what should be recited; it does not appear to be identified as words of the Buddha. Perhaps there is one or more, but it seems an inadequate foundation for a statement of views the Buddha may have had (if any) about fertilized eggs. At most, it is a basis for extrapolation, and I think that should be cautiously applied to the Buddha’s thoughts.

The citations from vinaya or commentaries are interesting but seem to include a lot of extrapolations, and as you say,

This part is the commentary by Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Furthermore, it is not clear to me which parts of the Vibhanga, if any part at all, is considered early/accurate/representative of the Buddha’s view.

But it includes this:

Thus the survival of the embryo in the womb is a clear sign that consciousness is present.

Based on this reasoning, an ectopic pregnancy (or any other natural miscarriage) cannot have conscious present because it is not in or cannot survive in the womb. That is farther than I would ever argue (and I do not think that it is so).

AFAIK the argument that the point of conception is exactly the point when sperm and ovum unite is a materialist view, and not right.

The quote about laws on spraying cockroaches , and the one about socially liberal or progressive attitudes are not mine, are they? I cannot find them in the threads I offered you on previous discussions so not commenting on your comments to those writers.

I agree. The missing bit, I think, is that I think killing is intentionally destroying life… and thus it would be useful to understand both what is a life, and what is intention.
Sperm has motility but I hope we can easily agree, It’s not a life, either scientifically or Dhammic-ly. But you seem to think a fertilized egg is conception and life, and I don’t. Further the intention of contraception or saving the life of a woman with ectopic pregnancy is not an intention to destroy life, any more than celibacy is. The conditions for life are not present, and they were not removed from any life.

In medicine, and as a word, abortion has many meanings. Pilots abort landings; spontaneous miscarriages are in medicine historically called abortions, even if no human action or inaction caused or could have prevented their occurance. Conception, too, as a word carries technical medical, religious and historical meanings. So let’s recognize its limits to define Buddhist ethics. This is why I asked about EBT citations; the contemporary and historical charges carried in these words in huge, and not entirely compatible with what the Buddha taught.

I’m pretty sure no one here has said this in this thread. I have never said or written it, and I don’t think I’ve actually heard anyone say this anywhere.

Strong agree. :pray:

1 Like

My wife obliterates cockroaches. I pick them up and put them outside and let them be. We both want them elsewhere for sanitation. Same problem. Different solutions.

What is interesting is that I feel no animosity towards cockroaches. They are definitely alive. My wife definitely feels animosity towards cockroaches. Perhaps I should return as a cockroach just to tease her. :rofl:

The rules teach us compassion. They guide us to mindfulness. We get headaches trying to determine how to follow a rule. Yet to follow a rule blindly is not mindful. To follow a rule blindly is prae-judicium. It is prejudice. So let us open our hearts and minds and live without prejudice:

AN4.18:1.1: “Mendicants, there are these four ways of making unprejudiced decisions. What four? Making decisions unprejudiced by favoritism, hostility, stupidity, and cowardice. These are the four ways of making unprejudiced decisions.


Here is an interesting video clip that clearly provides an example of mixed outcomes and intent. It is both horrifying and heartening.

AN4.233:1.5: dark and bright deeds with dark and bright results; and


:flushed: :flushed: :flushed:

And what are dark and bright deeds with dark and bright results?
It’s when someone does both hurtful and helpful actions by way of body, speech, and mind.

1 Like

Although I haven’t understood much of what has been said I have enjoyed this thread very much. I still don’t think I understand the difference between the two views of absolutism and relativism but I’m not so sure that it is so important.

One thing that I don’t think that’s been mentioned is the simile of the raft (mn22) where the Buddha insists that his teachings are for the purposes of crossing over. So you build a raft of the teachings, use it to cross over and then abandon it once the job is complete.

As a side thought: If people don’t want to cross over (yet) then it’s probably inappropriate for them to build a raft in the first place, so (committed EBT) Buddhists shouldn’t be regarded like non (EBT) Buddhists (or fledgling EBT Buddhists) even if we do consider it is “for their own good”. Is it appropriate to make laws based on our religious teachings if we have the power to? What punishments would we give to people who broke our religious laws because they felt they were doing the right thing?

Anyway, we also see that even views/teachings as sublime and fundamental to the EBTs such as ‘kamma and rebirth’ or ‘dependant origination’ begin to break down at stream entry and are gone at the attainment of arahant. So although for some of us rebirth is a very real and true eventuality, for others it is not - if we believe what the Buddha and the arahants say that is - and rebirth is truly ended at full awakening. If the teachings are true for one individual but not true for another does that make them relative rather than absolute? I don’t know.