Last Sunday, I stopped halfway through the answer to the question by a devotee on the karmic effects of abortion. I said that the person, having been responsible for denying life to the unborn baby, should take the 4-fold constructive action of regret, restore, refrain and remedy. In fact, this formula can be applied to any situation in which one has wronged another, and not only to this particular act of abortion.
So to recap, I said that one should not dwell too long in the state of regret, as remorse is an unwholesome state of mind. One then moves on to restore one’s mind to a healthy state by forgiving oneself and the person one has wronged so that one can exercise restraint in future.
Confession and asking for forgiveness is standard procedure in the Buddha Vinaya. It is part of the discipline for a monk to ask for forgiveness for any act of foolishness so that he can be more restrained in future.
Then logically, one moves on to this next step. One learns not to repeat this same act.
In the case of an abortion, the parents actually denied the opportunity for a being to be born in this world. The baby-to-be may become a disembodied spirit and may haunt its intended mother or other family members.There is the story of someone who was haunted by the spirit of a little girl when he tried to meditate. Upon consulting a psychic, he was told that he would have to settle two problems in order to restore his impaired health: a weak organ and an unborn sister who was aborted (his mother confirmed the abortion). After that he made it a practice to share merits with this unborn sister and there was some positive effect.
Thus, three constructive steps can be taken to remedy the situation: ask for forgiveness, make offerings and dedicate merits to the disembodied spirit. On the subject of sharing merits, the scriptures do not dwell on ways to do so other than through Sanghadana. However, present day experiences have shown that merits shared after one has performed good deeds like meditation also bring positive effects. In the commentaries, we are told that after offering to the Sangha and sharing of merits, the spirit who rejoices may get instant relief.
At this point, a devotee posed a question: What is meant by ‘offerings’?
Several suttas talk about offerings. Do refer to my talk on Cheng Beng given last month for a more detailed explanation. Janussoni Sutta (AN X.177) states that only those in the realm of ghosts can receive offerings of food and drink.
Nowadays, it is a practice, especially in Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, to make offerings of food, flowers water, etc. to the Buddha image. Can the Buddha appreciate or make use of such material offerings? Obviously not. So, what’s the point of making such offerings? Why is it that the suttas mention that it is the duty of children to continually make offerings to deceased parents? Irrespective of whether the other party can appreciate or receive the offerings, this act of offering is an expression of respect. It is the quality of the mind here that matters. Respect is a wholesome state of mind praised by the Buddha and is listed as one of the great blessings in Mangala Sutta (Khp 5; Sn II.4).