Abortion and Buddhist texts

this topic can store texts and discuss the issue of abortion.


"When a monk is ordained he should not intentionally
deprive a living thing of life, even if it is only an ant. 2 Whatever monk deprives a human being of life even down to causing
abortion, 3 he becomes not a (true) recluse, not a son of the
Sakyans. As a flat stone, broken in half, becomes (scmething)
not to be put together again, even so a monk, having intentionally deprived a human being of life, becomes not a (true)
recluse, not a son of the Sakyans. 4 This is a thing not to be
done by you as long as life lasts

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In the Majjhima nikaya, the Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta: Sutta 38

  1. "Bhikkhus, the conception of an embryo in a womb takes
    place through the union of three things.410 Here, there is the
    union of the mother and father, but it is not the mother’s season,
    and the being to be reborn411 is not present - in this case there is
    no [266] conception of an embryo in a womb. Here, there is the
    union of the mother and father, and it is the mother’s season,
    but the being to be reborn is not present - in this case too there
    is no conception of an embryo in a womb. But when there is the
    union of the mother and father, and it is the mother’s season,
    and the being to be reborn is present, through the union of these
    three things the conception of an embryo in a womb takes place.
  2. "The mother then carries the embryo in her womb for nine
    or ten months with much anxiety, as a heavy burden. Then, at
    the end of nine or ten months, the mother gives birth
    with much
    anxiety, as a heavy burden. Then, when the child is born, she
    nourishes it with her own blood; for the mother’s breast-milk is
    called blood in the Noble One’s Discipline.

we see that the time the being spends in the womb is 9 or 10 months according to the Buddha. So the idea, sometimes put forward, that it is not killing if the foetus is only a month old is quite wrong.

Visuddhimagga VIII

  1. Herein, firstly the span has no sign because there is no definition such as:
    Just so much must be lived, no more than that. For beings [die in the various
    stages of the embryo, namely], at the time of the kalala
    , of the abbuda, of the pesi, of
    the ghana, at one month gone, two months gone, three months gone, four months
    gone, five months gone … ten months gone, and on the occasion of coming out
    of the womb. And after that they die this side or the other of the century.


52. But when that minimal amount arises in the two kinds of generation
termed egg-born and womb-born, it amounts to no more than a drop of cream of
ghee on a single fibre of new-born [kid’s] wool, and it is known as the “embryo
in the first stage” (S I 206).


  1. When the mother has an abortion, the pain that arises in him through the cutting and rending in the place where the pain arises that is not fit to be seen even by friends and intimates and companions—this is the suffering rooted in abortion.

The vsm has a quote about how cruel abortions are. I got the feeling that it was retold by someone who experienced it themselves in a past life.

I mention this in my article below:

I have pasted the article inline below since it is one of my shorter ones.

What do Theravada Buddhists believe in terms of abortion? Much of what has been written are liberal beliefs and overturning what is written down in the texts. They claim “Modern Buddhism” as a section heading, but there is no such thing as “Modern Buddhism” since there is no such thing as “Modern Kamma.” The rules of kamma do not change over time, and abortion has been around since the time of the Buddha. My job is not to make decisions or advice for others, but to give a “pure” classical Buddhist explanation on abortion.

In brief, the Theravada Buddhist texts (and probably all other schools) believe that an unborn child after conception is a living human being. Aborting it with intention is the same as killing a human living being. How the kamma works out is beyond my imagination. It does however play an important role in the Buddhist Rules which can be used as a bar for knowing if something was done wrong or not. If a monk directly says that abortion is OK or uses code words or even indirect speech with intention to say it is OK for a person to commit an abortion, and a person uses that speech as a reason to abort an unborn child, then it is a Pārājika offense; an offense of defeat and immediate expulsion. The monk is expelled automatically without a trial and may not even know it. The same is also true with topics on euthanasia. A Pārājika rule on killing is also found in the Mahayana, and Tibetan Schools as well.

How is that?
First let us take a quote from the rule book called, The Buddhist Monastic Code I, which is an English authority on the Buddhist Monastic Rules.

The translated rule for killing a human is as follows:

  1. Should any bhikkhu intentionally deprive a human being of life, or search for an assassin for him, or praise the advantages of death, or incite him to die (saying): “My good man, what use is this evil, miserable life to you? Death would be better for you than life,” or with such an idea in mind, such a purpose in mind, should in various ways praise the advantages of death or incite him to die, he also is defeated and no longer in affiliation.
    This rule against intentionally causing the death of a human being is best understood in terms of five factors, all of which must be present for there to be the full offense.
  1. Object: a human being, which according to the Vibhaṅga includes human fetuses as well, counting from the time consciousness first arises in the womb immediately after conception up to the time of death.

  2. Intention: knowingly, consciously, deliberately, and purposefully wanting to cause that person’s death. “Knowingly” also includes the factor of —

  3. Perception: perceiving the person as a living being.

  4. Effort: whatever one does with the purpose of causing that person to die.

  5. Result: The life-faculty of the person is cut as the result of one’s act.

Object. The Vibhaṅga defines a human being as a person “from the time consciousness first becomes manifest in a mother’s womb, up to its death-time.” It follows from this that a bhikkhu who intentionally causes an abortion — by arranging for the operation, supplying the medicines, or giving advice that results in an abortion — incurs a pārājika. A bhikkhu who encourages a woman to use a means of contraception that works after the point of conception would be guilty of a pārājika if she were to follow his advice.

As you can see, abortion is used as an example in this book and also the main source in Pāḷi. It should be noted that the first consciousness is defined as the rebirth-linking consciousness. This basically happens at conception. Some say that if you poke it and it does not move then there is no consciousness. So does that mean that a person who is in a coma does not have consciousness? There are monks who can feel themselves spinning in the womb seconds after the first consciousness arises. This means that consciousness happens before the egg attached to the uterine wall. That is why the author warns about contraception that can kill the fertilized egg. But there is more than just direct speech. There is a phrase in the original rule that is important.

“or praise the advantages of death”

This opens up the door just about anything, even a nod of the head or a grunt, etc that may praise the benefits of killing, or death. In this case, speaking up in praise of abortion for any case, even to save the life of a mother, is an offense as well. If someone were to listen to a recording of such words or read an article of such words, and then do the abortion, then it would be an offense for a monk all the same as killing himself.

Such a topic is sort of taboo for a monk to publicly speak on because there is no way of really knowing if someone had killed an unborn baby based on such words. Just as it is the penalty for monks on killing humans, it can be used as a model for the first precept for lay people on killing living beings.

Here is an account in an ancient text called The Path of Purification.

  1. When the mother has an abortion, the pain that arises in him through the cutting and rending in the place where the pain arises that is not fit to be seen even by friends and intimates and companions—this is the suffering rooted in abortion. (p512)

*Buddhist Monastic Code I by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight , June 7, 2009,
The work has been copied from the website www.accesstoinsight.org and made into
book format for free distribution.

*The Path of Purification: ©1975, 1991, 2010 (used without permission needed in exchange for this reference) Visuddhimaga/Buddhaghosa Himi; tr. by Nyanamoli Himi.- Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 2010, 794p.; 23cm.-(BP No 207) ISBN 978-955-24-0023-6

Excellent article!

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Why if an innocent girl was gang raped and become pregnant…

What should be done?

There are many such cases in developing countries…

Too difficult to say anything, right? Dilemmas are our existence because we associate with other people for all reasons as born in a society of good and bad. While we need good people, we can’t avoid bad people. When we defend ourselves from bad people, we must commit certain akusala kamma.
It’s the same to predators and preys in animal kingdom. The predators are starving and preys are suffering from losses. Both predators and preys are in grievances. Nobody can intervene between them.
Humans suffer the same manner in spite of laws and law-enforcement. Hungry people want to eat so there are many slaughterhouses and butcher shops.
All we can say is not to say anything because whatever we say will cause disagreement.
Consider a jataka:
Once bodhisatta was an ascetic. Venerable Ananda was a king. Bodhisatta paid a visit to the palace regularly by means of jhanic travel. One day on his arrival to the palace, through the window he saw the queen without upper cover in her room. And he lost control and grabbed the queen. Subsequently, he lost jhanic ability and could not go anywhere. The king forgave him as the king was a person who had been a support for bodhisatta to become a Buddha. After that bodhisatta left the palace, and regained jhanic ability, and flew back to Himalayas. The lesson is about association and being in human society.

Many couples looking to adopt if a parent can’t take care.


Modern western Buddhists need to stop reading their political opinions into Buddhism and pretending abortion is not killing. It is very clearly an act of killing and the textual support for it being the murder of a human being is pretty black and white.

Although i would never under any circumstance advise someone get an abortion (except maybe to preserve the life of the mother), abortion is just like any other bad deed in Buddhism. It is ultimately up to you whether or not to accept that kind of karma or not. Killing a lion to protect your own or someone elses life, killing termites to preserve your property, lying to protect someone, drinking alcohol because you just want to have a good time with your friends.

You are not automatically disqualified as a Buddhist if you do any of the above things (you just aren’t a “perfect one”), but any karma fearing Buddhist should know and accept the consequences of actions such as the above or abortion, rather than pretending it isnt killing when it is.


5 posts were merged into an existing topic: How to properly distinguish sentient beings?

I think the problem is that we have separate words for unhappy unwholesome things.
Here is a small list:

  • abortion = kill unborn human baby
  • pro-choice = one who is in favor of laws to all the killing unborn human children
  • euthanasia = kill human before he dies
  • spay neuter = remove the testicles or sew up the female organ
  • put to sleep = kill the dog or cat
  • alleged shooter = someone who has killed a bunch of people and got shot by police while holding a gun.

Bhante, Would you be willing to elaborate on why a spay/neuter operation would be considered unwholesome?
With metta

The answer is simple: The Golden Rule.
If you don’t want it done to you, then you should not do it to others (beings).

I think you forgot to think of the law of kamma when asking this question.
“fixing” animals is popular in the United States, but not so in Asia.

I often tell my fellow monks in Myanmar that dogs in the USA are more celibate than humans.
Nobody believes me until I explain that many dog owners have one dog. If they have two, they are usually brothers, or the same sex, always on a leash and kept indoors, or ehem… “fixed”. The mouth usually hangs open in amazement for several seconds with that last part.

If you think breeding dogs are “lucky”, think again.
Dogs that are commercially bred (I know a breeder), are actually injected with sperm by syringe.
You don’t see dogs stuck together in the USA, but if they try to separate, it can harm the prized breeding dog. I’ve never seen dogs stuck together until I went outside the USA.
The USA does not have street dogs because The USA and even PETA kills them. If PETA does not end up killing them, they certainly “fix” them.

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