Buddhist Ethics and Human Suffering. (Reflections on Tolerance)

Article excerpt

NO WOMAN MAKES HER REPRODUCTIVE health decisions in a vacuum. Instead, her attitudes and decisions regarding reproductive health are informed by her religious values and religious environment. Whether or not a woman limits the number of children she bears, and whether or not she enjoys the right to do so, are usually reflections of religious views and related ethical convictions. Within each of the world's major religions, views on religious values and reproductive healthcare vary widely, along a spectrum from orthodox to liberal. Regardless, it is increasingly obvious that for international health, population, and development efforts to be successful, the voices of the world's women need to be heard. Equally important, their religious, cultural, and ethical values need to be understood.

The Buddhist traditions represent a range of perspectives on reproductive health. Overall, the guiding principles in Buddhism are compassion and wisdom. The primary aims are to achieve human happiness and remove human suffering. The most fundamental Buddhist ethical precept is nonviolence--not to harm any living creature. At the same time, one is personally responsible for one's own actions, since one must experience the consequences oneself. With respect to termination of pregnancy, Buddhists do not condone abortion. Nevertheless, they respect the rights of human beings to make their own ethical decisions.

Buddhism does not prohibit contraception, but contraception is not actively promoted in many Buddhist societies, because of huge population losses in recent decades due to war and genocide. Over thirteen million Buddhists have been killed in Mongolia in recent decades, three million in Vietnam, two million in Cambodia, 1.2 million in Tibet, and untold millions in China and Laos. Because they feel ethnically and culturally endangered, many Buddhists in these societies feel that moderate population growth is justified. In other Buddhist societies, limiting family size is becoming more common, due to greater access to health education.

In the Himalayan regions where I frequently travel and work, women live in unimaginable poverty with no healthcare at all. …