Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Proper Respect for Life, by Shang Rinpoche


Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Blog ImageA few days ago a young couple came to see me. They have been married for less than a year and have just found out the wife is pregnant. However, they have mortgage and car loans and their careers are not yet fully stable, so this sudden news of pregnancy gave them quite a bit of pressure. They kept coming back to the expenses of having a child and eventually felt it would be better to abort it, so they came to ask if that was alright. I had to reply that it is a matter of great importance and urged them to abandon this course of action. Actually, numerous people have posed the same question to me over the years. Unfortunately most people lack proper concepts and only take into account mundane considerations. Even with little understanding of Buddhist concepts, we know that in an invisible dimension, there exist innumerable beings in bardo (the in-between state after death and before rebirth) waiting for any opportunity to be reborn. In this bardo stage, the chance for a being to encounter the union of a sperm and an egg is akin to a blind turtle wandering in the boundless ocean only to surface at the exact right spot for its head to poke through a hole in a piece of driftwood--it’s an extremely rare coincidence in hundreds of thousands of years! So for such a rare karmic connection to ripen that enables a being to encounter its prospective parents, only to have their chance of a human life destroyed simply because of practical concerns--wouldn’t that soul be filled with immense loss and hatred? From my observation over the years, those who have undergone abortions are prone to obstacles in their marriage, career, family, and fortune. Some may even have chronic illnesses that no treatment seems to help. I’ve also seen some die very young. There is a Buddhist Sutra called The Dharani Sutra on Longevity, the Extinction of Offences, and the Protection of Young Children (a.k.a. The Longevity Sutra), which states that “there are five kinds of very heavy and irredeemable karmic actions; one of them is induced abortion.” In the text, Universal Light Buddha specifically warns, “The karmic retribution for aborting a fetus is descending into Avici Hell of indescribable suffering. One’s body is entangled with metal snakes causing more agony than being constantly burnt by fire. These flaming metal snakes enter the person’s mouth and slither out of the eyes or ears. The metal birds characteristic of Avici Hell will also come to peck at the offender’s body.” This is an excerpt from the above sutra. The Sutra of Karmic Retributions also explains that the reason for some premature death is due to their having had an abortion or having convinced others to do so, resulting in all manners of misfortune in this life, including illnesses, persistent bad luck, violent death, etc.

In Chinese history, the imperial harem had witnessed numerous shocking abortion incidents as a result of concubines fighting for emperor’s favor. Emperor Xianzong of Ming Dynasty could not sire a son for a long period of time. He worried himself sick over this predicament. His wife Empress Wan was 17 years his senior and couldn’t bare children. Because she deeply feared losing her coveted position, she bribed some of the palace eunuchs to give abortion-inducing concoctions to any concubine or court lady who seemed to be gaining favor and got pregnant. So jealousy can make the blood boil and raise people’s hand to such inhumane actions. At a later point, Emperor Xianzong unexpectedly fell for a palace maiden Ji who became pregnant. Although she was poisoned by Empress Wan but had miraculously survived unharmed. With the help of eunuchs, she was transported to a safe place beyond the palace walls where she later gave birth to a prince. Fearing Empress Wan’s thirst for power, Ji raised her child outside the palace for 13 years. Only then was the emperor notified in secret, and preparations were made for the prince’s return to the palace who later ascended the throne. Court ladies had also bought potions and incantations from witch doctors, causing countless stories of induced miscarriages. Women in wealthy and distinguished families had also conspired to personal gain by similar means. These are cautionary tales highlighting the need for human beings to guard against feelings of jealousy and hatred.

Modern people often carelessly indulge in physical pleasures, paying no heed to the preciousness of life. As soon as it’s found out the woman is pregnant, a decision for an abortion is made. There are young girls who’ve already had numerous abortions--this is very grave karma of taking another’s life. I often feel quite powerless and heartbroken over this kind of reckless behavior of young people. Some people have a miscarriage due to health problems and unwittingly lose a fetus without any disrespect to life. This karma can be abated by diligently reciting The Longevity Sutra, releasing life and protecting life, offering all forms of life assistance to be free from fear and repenting for all past regrettable deeds committed out of ignorance, until all the negative karma is purified. As for people who have little regard for the seriousness of karma acquired from taking another’s life, I sincerely hope that through reading about cause and effect and karmic retributions, these people will stop callously harming beings who are like our own fathers and mothers. Never opt for an abortion because the karmic retribution of such acts is truly harrowing.

These are humble recommendations that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, would like to offer after a conversation with a young couple, which affected me deeply.

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