Question: A couple does not desire to have a baby and the wife is on the pill. She still conceived. Fearing that the pill might have deformed the baby and that they would be burdened by it, they aborted it. Can this bring bad karma to them? How do they counteract this bad karma?
Contraception is a much-debated topic. The Buddhist stand is that it is all right to practise it because this is a measure that is taken before actual conception.
Science tells us that conception occurs when the sperm and the ovum fuse to form an embryo. However, when consciousness actually descends into the embryo is a controversial issue.
In this context, research has been done on children who could spontaneously recall their past lives. These were documented cases where the past events described by the children could be verified by respectable investigators. In the majority of cases, the time lapse between death and rebirth as a human being is a few years. However, there are a few cases where the time lapse is less than 8 months. This discovery poses the question: when does consciousness actually arise in the embryo?
There is the case of a Burmese boy who remembered his immediate past life as a calf that was being slaughtered for its meat. At that moment of its death, a couple was passing by. The wife felt compassion for it and remarked to her husband, “I wouldn’t have the heart to kill it.” Some time later, the woman had a child who could remember the incident. The calf had been reborn as the couple’s child.
This illustrates the difficulty in determining the moment when consciousness actually descends into the embryo. Therefore, it is not advisable to practise abortion. Nevertheless, if one has done so, one should do something constructive about it.
Constructive action, in this context, is embodied in the 4 Rs of Regret, Restore, Refrain, and Remedy.
Regret is automatic. It is a positive reaction in that you acknowledge your mistake. One of the first steps to wisdom is the ability to identify skilful and unskilful acts. But one should not stop there and indulge in remorse and feel sad, disappointed or depressed over it for a long time.
Regret is an unwholesome mind state although there can be wisdom following it. One should restore the wholesome state of mind by asking for forgiveness—in this particular case, from the being of which one has deprived life. One should also forgive oneself as an important first step, mindful that each one of us is mortal and subject to defilements. Some people can forgive others but find it difficult to forgive themselves; so they live in guilt for the rest of their lives. We should learn from a mistake, rectify it and then give ourselves another chance. Viewed positively, mistakes are the best of teachers because if one makes a mistake and suffers for it, one will remember it for life.
(To be continued next Sunday ……)