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Innocent Little Ghosts

化老和尚開示 Venerable Master Hsuan Hua's Dharma Talks



On Abortion

Heng Yun Shi

According to the Shuragama Sutra, "Love flows out toward its object, and so, on the strength of shared karma, a seed is drawn into the womb during intercourse."
Once an embryo is formed in the womb, there is life!



Question: If after an ultrasound examination, a pregnant woman finds out that her fetus has a congenital disorder, such as Down’s Syndrome, is abortion allowed in this situation?




Answer: In terms of the precept against killing, to have an abortion is to kill a fetus. Therefore, it is considered killing a human being. Basically, in the case of a miscarriage or a fetus being stillborn, the mother doesn’t break the precept against killing because the fetus died naturally. However, if she intentionally has an abortion to terminate her pregnancy, she would have broken the precept against killing.




Question: Wouldn’t it be very difficult for the parents to raise a child with a congenital disorder?




Answer: Indeed, it would be really tough for the parents, but having such a child is due to some kind of causes and effects. The deficient child is born to this particular couple, because he or she has affinity with these parents. It is said that “Husband and wife are connected due to either wholesome or unwholesome affinities in the past; they would not become a couple without prior affinities. Sons and daughters are born into the family due to their past debts – they are either seeking repayment or paying back what they owe; they would not join the family without prior debts.” It requires three kinds of affinities for a fetus to come into being: the affinity with the father, the affinity with the mother, and his or her own affinity. The Shurangama Sutra states: “Some beings are born due to being bound together by shared karma; other beings are born due to union or else due to separation. Based on deluded perception, sense-objects are mistakenly understood to appear; and because of deluded understanding, deluded thought arises. Hatred is the response to incompatible points of view, while love is the response to compatible points of view. Love flows out toward its object, and so, on the strength of shared karma, a seed is drawn into the womb during intercourse. Due to these causes and conditions, the fetus develops, passing through the kalala stage, the arbuda stage, and the stages that follow.” Shared karma means that the child’s karma and the parents’ karma have the same causes and conditions. Due to this shared karma, emotionally love arises up between the parents and the child, and they become inseparable as if they were glued together. Consequently, beings are born from a womb, from an egg, by metamorphosis, or in the presence of moisture.




When a person comes into being, the eighth consciousness is the first to arrive; when a person dies, the eighth consciousness is the last to leave. Once the consciousness is gone, one’s body becomes cold. Thus, it is said that “Whoever leaves last but comes first is the master.” During the period of time between when one dies and when one gets reborn, the eighth consciousness is called the “intermediate skandha-body” or the “intermediate existence body.” To the intermediate skandha-body, everything is pitch-black, and it is unable to see anything. But if it has a parent-child affinity with its potential father or mother (i.e., having shared karma), even if it were tens of thousands of miles away, it would see a little point of light when its potential father and mother are having intercourse. As soon as its ignorance arises, no matter how far away it may be, strength like a powerful magnet will draw it into the womb! This process is described by the Shuragama Stura as “Love flows out toward its object, and so, on the strength of shared karma, a seed is drawn into the womb during intercourse.” 




The kalala stage refers to the first week of embryonic development. The word “kalala” means “slippery coagulation,” a form coagulated like milk. The second week of development is called the arbuda stage when the coagulated form takes on a globular shape. After this stage, the embryo gradually develops into the shape of a human body.




According to the Twelvefold Conditioned Arising, “Ignorance is the condition for karmic activity.” In this context, ignorance refers to the emotional love that arises between a man and a woman, which leads to sexual intercourse. “Karmic activity is the condition for consciousness;” after sexual intercourse begins, a consciousness arrives, which is “a seed (i.e., consciousness) is drawn into the womb during intercourse.” At this time, the intermediate skandha-body becomes an embryo. In other words, a life has come into being! There is a special kind of primary and secondary causes that exist between parents and their child. Accordingly, special karmic causes must exist for the parents to have a child with Down’s Syndrome.




Before there was ultrasound tests, people gave birth to the fetus they carried. Now with ultrasound, people can discover that their fetus has Down’s Syndrome, and abort the fetus. By doing so, they think they are avoiding troubles in the future. Usually the affinity between the deficient fetus and the parents is unwholesome. However, the parents need to accept this. If instead of giving birth to the child, the parents kills him or her, this action will increase the unwholesome affinity between the parents and the child. This negative affinity probably will be even worse in their future lives. According to the Shurangama Sutra, among the twelve categories of living beings, there is one category called “beings that lack and do not lack thoughts.” It does not mean that those living beings don’t have any thoughts; rather, they have abnormal thoughts. For example, after its birth, an owlet would devour its mother and nourish itself with its mother’s body and blood. Science has also found a small beetle (Micromaltus debilis) that eats its mother. 




Why does the bird or the beetle eat its mother? There was great enmity between the mother and the child in their past lives. For example, in the past, the child was the mother’s benefactor. However, instead of being grateful, the mother thought of various ways to kill her benefactor. The mother finally succeeded, and the benefactor died with everlasting regret, with no means to address his or her grievance. Therefore, in this life the benefactor is reborn as the killer’s child and eats her out of revenge. There are always some kinds of cause and effect that underlie seemingly unusual phenomena such as this one. However, since most people don’t understand the principle of cause and effect, they think it is o.k. to abort a deficient fetus. Unfortunately, by doing so, they are making things worse for themselves. Basically, one should not abort the deficient fetus. Instead, one should have the baby, and thereby settle one’s karmic debts and be free of negative affinities.




Question: If a girl were raped and got pregnant, is abortion allowed in such a case?  




Answer: This kind of situation really deserves our sympathy. However, if the girl aborts the fetus, she would be killing a life. Therefore, even in these unfortunate circumstances, she still should give birth to the child. Although the girl may encounter a lot of hardship by doing so, from the perspective of causes and effects, having the baby is a better alternative than killing.




In current society, abortion is quite excessive. Let me tell you a true story as a warning. One layperson mentioned that shortly before his mother died of cancer, she behaved as if there were three persons in her body. Sometimes she behaved like a little boy, sometimes like a little girl, and moments later, she was herself again. When she behaved like a little girl, she even acted like a spoiled child to get his attention. It turned out that his mother had aborted two fetuses in the past, one was male, and the other one female; now they have come to find their mother and attached themselves onto her body. It is really unfortunate that in this world, everyone can only see the consequence, but not its cause.




Let’s think about it, after children are born, their parents treat them as precious treasuries and take care of them with the upmost attention to detail. However, the fetus in one’s womb is also one’s own child, how can one bear to kill him or her? If your abort a child, even if the child originally has positive affinities with you, such affinities would become negative like that of an enemy. The aborted fetus turns into “a little ghost who is difficult to handle.”




The Shurangama Sutra pointed out that, “One should realize that debts should be settled, whether with money, goods, or labor, so that indebtedness can naturally come to an end. But if, in the process of repayment, beings take each other’s lives or eat each other’s flesh, then they may well continue through an infinite number of eons, eating each other and killing each other, as if they were turning ceaselessly on a wheel, now on top, now beneath. The wheel may never stop unless they undertake the practice of samatha, or unless a Buddha appears in the world.” This passage means that if the debts between living beings were financial in nature, then whether these beings are born as humans or animals, they would be able to settle their debts with money, goods or labor; and they can settle their debts either in this life or in future lives. Once the debts are repaid, the karma between the debtors and the creditors would cease to exist. Although there is no one controlling the whole process, the power of karma is such that no one is willing to accept a loss. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that no one tries to take advantage of others; only after fair repayments would the indebtedness naturally comes to an end.


可是如果是命債呢?在彼此結怨的中間,或者把對方殺了,或者吃對方的肉。那你吃我的肉,我就殺你的身;我吃你的肉,你又殺我的身;就像輪子轉來轉去,沒有停止的時候。除非得到楞嚴大定,或者有佛出世,給解除這種罪業的相;然後雙方互相都知道了,不再造業,這才能停止。 不然,這種血海深仇,是很難平息的。難怪宣公上人說:「我要勸大家不要再墮胎了,你想想看,一個生命還沒出世,就成冤魂,到處是要命的小鬼,你說社會會安寧嗎?這些小鬼需要不貪財、有道行的人才能超度。小鬼難纏啊!很難辦的,到處是罪業,你說能安寧嗎? 」


However, what if the debt involves taking of a life? During the process of mutual resentment, if one living being kills another or eats another’s flesh, then a cycle of eating and being eaten, killing and being killed will go on and on like the turning of a wheel. For example, you eat my flesh now, I will kill you later; I eat your flesh now, you will kill me later. This vicious cycle is endless, unless one attains the Shurangama Samadhi or a Buddha comes into the world and releases one from these karmic offenses. Only then would both the debtor and the creditor understand the need to stop creating further negative karma, and end this cycle of ceaseless mutual-indebtedness. Otherwise, it is very difficult to appease animosity that is as great as the sea. It is not surprising that the Venerable Master said: “I urge everyone not to have abortions any more. Think about it, if living beings become resentful spirits even before they are born, with these vengeful little ghosts of aborted fetuses everywhere, how can the society be peaceful? These little ghosts can only be crossed over by genuine cultivators of the Bodhi Path who are not greedy for wealth. These little ghosts are really tough to handle! It is very difficult to resolve these matters, and thus, with karmic offenses pervading everywhere, how can there be peace?”




Question: My relative is an OB/GYN. If a pregnant woman has financial difficulties or already has too many children, is it okay for the doctor to perform the requested abortion?




Answer: About thirty years ago, when I was still a layperson, I read a newspaper article written by a nurse. She said that at the hospital where she worked, young nurses were afraid to take the night shift. Why was that? In the evenings, cries of babies could be heard coming from the abortion clinic on the second floor, and these cries really scared the nurses. However, the author signed up for the night shift, because her family situation made it more convenient for her to work at night; besides, she was braver than others. What was her experience? Although she did hear cries coming from the abortion clinic late at night when no one was around, she ignored the cries and went about her work. 




One early morning, when her shift was about to end, a woman in labor arrived at the hospital. She looked very worried. When the nurse returned later that day for her shift, she found out that the woman had died during childbirth. Unfortunately, the baby’s father didn’t come to the hospital, so the baby was left alone in the nursery. The nurse didn’t know why but found herself taking extra care of the baby; perhaps she felt sorry for the motherless child. After the baby had been under her care for a while, the nurse arrived at work one evening and was told that the baby’s father had picked up the baby during the day. That evening, the nurse dozed off while she was at work; sometimes it was difficult to stay awake during the quiet hours of the night. While drifting in and out of sleep, she saw the mother who had died during childbirth. The mother said to her, “Thank you for taking care of my baby for so many days. I’m very grateful. I’ll help you to take care of the other children here.” From that evening on, the nurse never again heard babies’ cries coming from the second floor abortion clinic.




From true stories like this one, how can we claim that unborn fetuses are not alive? Are they just pieces of flesh? We too are made of flesh; what makes us alive and the fetuses not alive? If we cut a fetus from the mother’s body, where would he or she go? Will he or she wander around in the spirit world, forever homeless? Who will he or she hold responsible for taking his or her life?




There was another story about a young girl who had an abortion in a hospital when she was still a student. Although the baby left her body quickly, the physical and emotional scars remained. A few years later, she was involved in a car accident at the intersection near the hospital where she had the abortion. An abortion harms both the mother and the child physically and emotionally.




A woman once brought her husband, an OB/GYN, to the temple. He had been diagnosed with cancer and hoped that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas could help him. He told me that he took good care of his body and exercised everyday to maintain his health. Therefore he had no idea why he still got cancer. Actually, with abortions being so prevalent nowadays, OB/GYNs especially need to be careful. A doctor’s duty is to save lives, and performing abortions is contrary to this duty. Whatever causes we plant, we reap the corresponding effects. Karma results from our daily actions, while we create a cause only once in a while. Let me give you an example to illustrate these concepts. If we plant seeds in the spring, we need to wait until autumn for the harvests. 




The seeds and their resulting fruits are the “causes and effects.” “Karma” is all the events that occurred between spring and autumn or the things that we do frequently. Going back to the OB/GYN with cancer, a woman creates a cause when she has an abortion, while the OB/GYN creates karma when he performs abortions frequently. A person who creates karma constantly may face its retribution constantly. Wholesome actions create wholesome karma, while unwholesome actions create unwholesome karma.




The Brahma Net Sutra’s Bodhisattva precepts states that “A disciple of the Buddha must not kill by himself, tell others to kill, kill with expedient means, praise killing, or condone killing. He must not use any methods whatsoever, not even mantras, to kill. He must not create any causes for killing, effects of killing, methods of killing, and karma of killing. As long as the being has a life, he must not end its life intentionally.” “To kill by oneself” means not only to take other’s life, but also to take one’s own life. “Telling others to kill” includes advising others to kill or sending someone to kill on your behalf. Whether the act of killing is done by your own hands or by others’ hands because you told them to do so, the offense is the same.




Speaking of telling others to kill, let me tell you a true story. During the 1980s, a manager came all the way from Southeast Asia to visit the Venerable Master at CTTB. This man had cancer and hoped the Venerable Master could save him. In CTTB’s Buddha Hall, the Venerable Master helped this man by letting him repent in front of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Ten Directions and the Fourfold Assembly. The man talked about the evil karma he had created with his mouth, because he cruelly ate living beings’ flesh such as monkey brains and goose feet. The Venerable Master then asked him if he had ever killed a person. He replied, “Never. The only way I might have done so would be if I were driving what drunk and killed someone unknowingly.” The Venerable Master further asked, “How about your wife?” In surprise, the manager answered, “Oh, I remember now. I once talked my wife into getting an abortion!” All the lives he had taken were coming to him and demanding payments. Therefore, if someone asks you whether she should get an abortion, you should advise her against it. Don’t say things such as, “If you are in a difficult situation, just get rid of the fetus.” If you tell someone to get an abortion, it is considered as telling others to kill.




Upholding the precepts creates merit and virtue; breaking the precepts creates negative karma. However, causes and effects exist regardless of whether one has received the precepts. By killing a fetus, one will bear the consequences. I once saw rebirth plaques made by a mother who tried to cross over more than ten fetuses that she had aborted. It was frightening to realize how many lives she was indebted to! Our current ignorance creates a future full of ignorance, and a future full of ignorance causes us to be even more ignorant, thus creating a snowball effect. 




Question: Dharma Master, what is your view on “September as the month of abortion”?




Answer: This is a question that a radio announcer asked me about ten years ago. When I said that I didn’t understand why September is the month for abortions, the radio announcer told me: “Since during summer vacations, many students have sex and get pregnant. So when it’s time for them to go back to school in September, they get an abortion.” If things were this bad ten years ago, we can imagine how things are now. Actually, all of us share some responsibility in this matter for the following reasons:




First, our children’s diet. Human beings should be fed with human milk; however, most children nowadays grow up drinking cow's milk. Cow is an animal, and yet we feed our children milk produced by a animal. When children are old enough to eat solid food, they are fed with a lot of fish, meat, sweets and fried foods. Children on such a diet seem to grow taller and faster. However, even if their bodies were growing rapidly, this growth is not rooted in genuinely good health. In addition, due to their diet, these children tend to have strong desires, and their emotional maturity cannot keep up with their physical maturity.




Second, overwhelming influence of the media. While we are enjoying the conveniences brought by modern technology, the younger generations are being inundated by the media without any protection. These youngsters are extremely attracted by what they see; under such influences it is hard for them to keep their bodies pure and cherish themselves, and they also don’t know how to do so.




Third, our children’s education. Education should teach people how to understand the truth, instead of how to pursue profits and fame. Unfortunately, education nowadays is contrary to the Way. Without the nourishment provided by an education based on ethics and morality, the younger generations don’t have a strong foundation in how to be upright individuals. Instead, they are like rootless plants, being carried adrift by the tides.




Therefore, under the influence of these factors: a diet that increases desires, media that teach desires, and education that focuses on the wrong values, students naturally tend toward indulging in sexual desires without any restraint. By doing whatever they please, the month of abortion comes into being. If we can improve our children’s diet and education, realize the negative side-effects of modern technology, and strengthen our sense of ethics and morality, I think we definitely won’t have the phrase “the month for abortion” in the future!




Once I attended a conference on “The Role of Buddhism and its Impact on Society.” I believe that Buddhism’s greatest impact is how it transforms our minds. As a member of the Sangha, I have found that I don’t need to go around and do things for others in order to benefit the society. Rather, I can share the proper views with others, and help everyone to attain such views. For example, the issue of abortion we have been discussing is one of the serious problems in society today. If everyone can understand the proper view of no killing, many lives will be saved. Helping people to understand this true principle is one way of upholding the Buddhadharma.

法界佛教總會 • DRBA / BTTS / DRBU