Why Are 82% of American Buddhists Pro-Choice?

This makes me wonder to what extent American culture plays a role in this survey, as American Buddhists tend to be fairly socially and politically liberal.

I think the more interesting question is why or how it came to be that so many American Buddhists lean to the political left. Especially American ‘convert’ Buddhists.

I suspect that a certain amount of it is a matter of self selection. How much western convert Buddhism tends to select for persons with certain political ideologies. How much of it is due to political minorities not feeling welcome.
Depending on the sangha, how long it takes for a new member to find out that unless you ascribe to a certain political orthodoxy you are not going to have a good time.

I know of a teacher in a lineage who put the question of what the group would and should do if a member said they voted for Donald Trump. That was a skillful and compassionate question in my mind. But I was shocked to find that this teacher was a outlier compared to other teachers in the lineage.


This is an important distinction, which is not acknowledged in the public discourse. Example: What I see as a humane and compassionate way of running society is ‘pro choice’; I think that ‘choice’ in the public arena is desirable because legalised abortion keeps the dirty backstreet operators and stand-over people out of business. However, the certain knowledge during my own fertile years that I could never request an abortion means that, personally, I am ‘pro life’. This is one instance where the personal is not political.

‘Life’ and ‘choice’ are not opposites. ‘Pro choice’ and ‘pro life’ are expedient labels partly because each side can appropriate a positive-sounding label for itself and imply a negative-sounding stance (‘anti-life’, ‘anti choice’) to the other side. It seems that confusing the semantics in this way has another function (that I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted): of cutting away the middle ground and making it very difficult to sustain a nuanced position.


Please keep posts to the thread topic.

Feel free to start a new thread about buddhist ethics and harm, if you wish to continue this part of the discussion.


Indirectly, as the plants are the home of living beings.


No, I think it is clear. What is not clear is when an embryo is considered to be a sentient being. In the Vinaya it is said to be when the first thought arises; but when is that? In the human realm, mind is normally at least associated with a brain, so this might only be when a brain is sufficiently developed, which again is unclear. On the other hand, perhaps it is from the time of conception, but this is not a moment it is a process.

Indeed! And in the modern context in developing countries, the fanatical opposition to abortion rights cannot be divorced from demographic anxiety. Population growth is practically zero, and Christians feel they are being swamped by atheists on the one hand and Muslims on the other. The history of the issue of abortion is a fascinating one: up until the mid-70s in the US, it was felt to be basically a Catholic thing, and the Protestant churches never made much of it.


One thing we can say about pregnancy in the human species is that only human females experience it, and know what that experience is like from a first-hand perspective. The fact that the Buddhist moral tradition is almost entirely the creation of human males, who lack that experience - and even more strikingly, by human males who for the most part lack direct experience of child care and family life - makes most of what that tradition has to offer in this department fairly negligible, in my opinion.


I wonder if the Pew considered a distinction between Asian Buddhists living in the USA and Western “converts”? The close parallel between “Buddhist” and “Jewish” might hint that the latter, as the most publicly visible, was the population surveyed, as the sphere of Western Buddhism in the USA has a predominant presence of “JuBu-s”, e.g. the IMS (Goldstein, Salzberg et al) and SRMC (Kornfield et al) led network of Insight-Meditation groups.

Another dimension to this might be that in the two major Asian cultures (by population) – China and India – active selection for male children, by abortion among other means, is a dominant cultural value.

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This was the gist of my comments a few posts back. As a political scientist (and not to get too political here), I will observe that recent elections in the United States have provoked a bit of an existential crisis in the polling industry. Strictly speaking the Pew organization’s polling is focused more on cultural matters than political ones, but many organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) have had to contend with a variety of challenges brought about in large part because of digital technology. Put simply, it’s not as easy as it once was when the standard polling practice in the United States was to conduct polls by calling people on their landlines. With fewer people actually having a home phone, pollsters are having to cope with figuring out how to determine a random sample.

I suspect the problem with the Pew poll in question has to do with the fact that it’s easier to identify and poll American Buddhist converts than Buddhists of Asian ancestry, particularly among recent immigrants. There is also a reluctance among some individuals to respond to polls. I suspect that the high percentage of Jewish Americans who responded to the poll are Reform (and perhaps Conservative). Some of the Orthodox groups, which include individuals who oppose abortion, live in fairly insular communities and therefore probably are under-represented in the polls.

See above. If you assume that the Buddhists polled under-represented Buddhists of Asian ancestry, and if you assume Reform Jews outnumbered Conservative and Orthodox in the poll, it makes absolute sense that Buddhist and Jewish Americans fall side-by-side in the poll. And if respondents were able to identify with multiple religions, well, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the Jewish and Buddhist respondent pool includes some of the same people! Hence the difficulty of accurate polling these days.

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At the BSWA anyone can walk through the door and benefit from the meditation, teachings and, social interaction it provides to anyone who takes an interest. Some people come because of health issues and the meditation and teachings helps them to relieve and understand their suffering and discover how the Buddha’s profound wisdom can help them to live with greater peace of mind. May all beings benefit from Buddhism - without discrimination. Mr. Trump is welcome to attend the meditation and teachings at the BSWA if he feels like it. If he turns up and I am there I will offer to make him a cup of tea and be of assistance in any way I can. :slight_smile:

(This discussion might be seen as bordering on off-topic here, but for the fact that “American Buddhists” is not entirely well-defined.)

I’ve seen a few commentaries to the effect that the largest grouping of Buddhists in the USA are immigrant Asians (and their descendants), tho hard numbers are difficult to come by. According to recent numbers (Wikipedia), there are some 14.6 million Asians in the USA, of which ca. 2 million are Buddhist – computed from Wikipedia “Demographics of Asian Americans”, citing Pew research that 8% are Buddhist, “…of those that responded…”.

I suspect that, as in many other ways, American Asians are s/w reluctant to put themselves in the spotlight, due to inherent cultural modesty, one might say, or also due to caution, as in the mid-20th-century – with WWII and the Korean War – the Japanese and Chinese, respectively, were considered national enemies.

(In recent times, the Chinese are attempting to overcome that past, in fact throughout the West, promoting “harmony” with massive immigration and institutional infiltration – one might say colonization. But if one looks at the official public statements of the PLA – People’s Liberation Army – over the years and still today, the USA is considered the arch-enemy. The American defense establishment is well aware of that also, particularly of the virtual all-out cyberwarfare the Chinese have waged against the USA for the last couple of decades.)

That all as it may, I suspect that, in spite of the dominant media visibility, the modernist Western “Import Buddhists” do not represent the majority of Buddhists in the USA.

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If I got pregnant - unintentionally - I would have to give some serious consideration as to whether I would want to bring a child into this world now that its future is in question. If I could see a clear way forward for a new-arrival on the scene then, it may seem like a good idea. If the ecosphere begins to unravel ‘big time’ it may be kinder not to put a human being through that kind of catastrophe. I was the last of 8 children - a late arrival in my family. My Mum and Dad were wondering whether they wanted to go through the parenting thing for an 8th time in a row. They decided to have me but I would not of resented them if they had decided that I was to much of a burden. I understand that bringing up children involves a lot of time, energy and, devotion - from personal experience. I don’t believe its something that anyone should consider doing unless they are ready and able to give themselves to the process - without reservations. Kindness can manifest in many unexpected ways? I wonder if the ‘state of the planet’ may feed into peoples considerations on this subject. If not consciously perhaps, unconsciously?

The thought of not being-here is not something I find that troubling. The thought of never having begun the journey - through this life - is not something I find troubling. Its true that this life is a wonderful opportunity for practice but not existing at all does sound like something that wouldn’t be a problem - free of dukkha. And if the awakened-one is right and there is rebirth I guess we benefit from holding this life ‘lightly’ and are ready to let it go whenever the time comes. What have we got to lose?

Laws often require ‘exceptions to the rule’ as moral decisions aren’t straightforward and change as variables change. Which means morality requires a uniquely able sentience.

There are no ‘commandments’ in Buddhism because that shuts down the ability to make a nuanced moral decision- the only requirement is that in that end one decides what is ultimately best for oneself AND others, and speech, actions and thoughts should spring from that. Don’t forget to give value to kamma in the consideration either.

Also killing a being vs making someone feel bad isn’t the same (assuming you had to chooose between the two options to make a decision). Fox chases bunny - bunny’s life is worth more than Fox’s lunch. It would seem there is a hierarchy in moral acts. It doesn’t seem wrong to say that the five precepts are in an order, starting from the most important to the less (but also) important precepts.

With metta


I think you may have missed a word in the (above) quote. I am not sure what you mean here - but I would like to know? I would be grateful to understand what it is you have shared - if you feel like clarifying. Perhaps, you could send me a PM if you like. I still don’t know how to do that! With Metta, Laurence

Sorry, re-edited my answer. It won’t be reflected in your quote. :shushing_face: :wink:.

With metta

I agree with those who say there is a difference between thinking something is wrong and thinking it should be illegal.

Heck, there are situations where I would hope my government DOESN’T follow the precepts. Case in point: If my country were invaded, I would hope my government employs military force against the invaders, even if the 1st precept is broken.

The unconfortable truth is that this will not stop involuntary impregnation or pregnancy, which, in places in which those acts are neither criminal nor considered immoral, DO involve the taking of life: the impregnated person 's, and possibly that of the impregnator, or their families.

And religious zealots, of various types, want to codify pregnacy itself as required by law and morals. Women in Ireland, for example, have died, being denied choice early in pregnancy. But this is not a Western or 1st world problem.

In America, those who want to destroy legal protection for choice also, for a generation now, have tried to stomp out honest sex education, have targetted ALL forms of contraception too.

I think involuntary pregnancy is not ok; this makes me pro contraception, pro honest sex education, and pro choice, at least for the time being. When a human life begins, is still in the realm of belief rather than science. And even if a scientific consensus gathers… it still may essentially rest on beliefs and politics.

As Buddhists, do we not know or believe that the physical body and brain and brain function cannot define a Self which can be grasped? So what does it say, to surrender that dhamma to take up a view which among non buddhists rests primarily on the belief in eternal souls and god?

Women, girls, boys, men, these are observably among us. May metta flourish.

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I tend to think of the first precept as to abstain from harming, which doesn’t omit killing yet covers a little more ground. Instead of focusing on just the embryo itself, what if we consider the impact of abortion over the entire scope of the lives of mothers and children in light of AN 4.95?

“Mendicants, these four people are found in the world. What four?
One who practices to benefit neither themselves nor others;
one who practices to benefit others, but not themselves;
one who practices to benefit themselves, but not others; and
one who practices to benefit both themselves and others.

Suppose there was a firebrand for lighting a funeral pyre, burning at both ends, and smeared with dung in the middle. It couldn’t be used as timber either in the village or the wilderness. The person who practices to benefit neither themselves nor others is like this, I say.

The person who practices to benefit others, but not themselves, is better than that. The person who practices to benefit themselves, but not others, is better than both of those. But the person who practices to benefit both themselves and others is the foremost, best, chief, highest, and finest of the four.

From a cow comes milk, from milk comes curds, from curds come butter, from butter comes ghee, and from ghee comes cream of ghee. And the cream of ghee is said to be the best of these. In the same way, the person who practices to benefit both themselves and others is the foremost, best, chief, highest, and finest of the four. These are the four people found in the world.”

If an uninstructed worldling teenage girl under the influence of evolutionary hormones gets pregnant, chances are it’s going to lead to dukkha for her and her child. Not necessarily, but I would probably predict it to go that way.

Could abortion be seen as compassion? Could getting a second chance and avoiding a lifelong struggle for both mother and child be considered looking out for the benefit of self and others?

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When does “child” or “mother” begin? (I cannot answer at this time.)

When does “father” begin, and shouldn’t that term also be within the context of pregnancy? (Again, not questions i can answer at this time… but it seems odd, that fathering actions and intentions, rarely get discussed…).

To start with “mother and child” predetermines an Answer to a complicated question, it seems to me.


Abortion isn’t the only alternative to giving birth to and raising a child, however. One teacher who I respect has often said that following the precepts as much as possible forces one to be more creative, and I always keep that in mind. Do I break this precept flat out, or can I figure out a way to keep the precept and prevent an uncomfortable/painful situation?

Someone mentioned a moment of stealing that they considered to be blameless. Well, what else could one have done other than stealing? Maybe jumped in the car and locked the driver out. Or made a huge commotion about it. Who knows.

Of course, as many have said, abortion and the circumstances around it are tricky. I’m sure many of us could think of a myriad of situations where abortion is quite simply the only option left to save the life of the mother, for instance.

But like others have said, rather than simply banning abortion (which doesn’t seem to help anyway), there are other routes to take… education, etc.


The drivers seat was occupied by my brother and his girlfriend. They were drunk and uncooperative and doing something dangerous. Something had to be done and quickly - it was logical appropriate and done with the best of intentions.

The point is, the intention to take something that was not freely given was not the result of greed, hatred and, ignorance. It was an act of non-greed - I stole in order to ‘give’ them safety from danger. It was an intention informed by ‘non-hatred’ (kindness) towards vulnerable/intoxicated people. It was an act that was not done out of ignorance. There was a clear comprehension of the situation and an understanding of what needed to be done - and quickly.

Therefore, not all acts of theft are a consequence of negative ‘kamma’ (intentions). It is the blind acceptance of the idea that all stealing is bad that needs to be questioned. It makes no sense!

We should not blindly believe that our intentions and actions are suspect because they are not sanctioned in a holy book or, by religious authorities. As Buddhists, we need to keep our thinking caps on - there is no other way to see clearly for ourselves what really matters.

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I believe this is akin to “clinging to rules and rituals” (sīlabbatupādāna)?