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Buddhists/Christian Zande questions re stem cells

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QUESTION: Hi Laurie just an update on our situation. We have managed to find a practicing Buddhist who actually works as the librian at Christian's school so Christian is going to see her to see if she will answer his questions. So we don't need to trouble you any further unless that falls through. Thank you for your time though and kind regards

ANSWER: Hello Michael -

Thanks for getting back to me -

I am glad you found someone in Christian's school.

I have actually gone through and done a rough draft on the questions and would be happy to answer them for you (no charge unless you would like to donate something to aid the Nepalese Earthquake victims) but some of the questions I cannot answer because I simply don't know enough about the subject of stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, etc.  It has been far too long since I have been in school to recall much about this subject, I'm afraid.

So that said, given that caveat, I will be happy to help you if you are still in need.

I hope all works out with Christian and this project and he gets an A.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to help him - I just wish I was more up on my science so I could be of more benefit.

Namaste - Laurie

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Laurie one more update the Librian no longer works at the school but the mother in law of one of our staff here in the office is a practicing buddhist so we have put the questions to her but are not yet sure what answers might come back. Christian was actually due to travel to Nepal next month with a small school group staying in a small village 40Kms outside Katmandu so we are quite emotinally conflicted by the whole situation there! We have alreday donated the refund of his air fair and are working with his school to see what more can be done. We are happy to compensate you for your time or make a donation in your name through any organistaion you may wish to nomoinate but if possible may we please have those abswers you were able to give as a back up?

Answer
Hi there -

Sorry it took so long to get back to you

Hope it is not too late

The good news is that I was able to do some research into stem cell research and can give you as clear an answer as I can to each question.  Again I hope it is not too late.  So here goes.

First, a caveat - This is simply my opinion and does not in all cases reflect the view of other Buddhists or Buddhism in general

Question 1 - My ordained name is Gyalten Yangchen, I am 56 years old and I have been practicing Buddhism in my current community for 6 years but have been a Buddhist since 2002

Question 2 - As far as when human life begins, I don't believe anyone who is not clairvoyant can really know the answer to that question.  I am not clairvoyant. However, I believe His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama is.  Buddhism posits that body and mind come together to make a sentient being (which in Tibetan is defined as a mind possesssor) and both have to be present for there to be a human being.  So His Holiness says in the book called The Buddhism of Tibet "Both body and mind have direct causes and if we illustrate this with birth from the womb, the direct cause of the body is the semen from the father and egg from the mother. The mind likewise has a direct cause of a type similar to itself. The beginning in this life of the continuum of the mind is the 'linking' to the center of the mingled semen and egg of the parents."  Now clearly, in the case of cloning there is no egg and sperm coming together so I believe one would have to be clairvoyant to know when life actually starts for a being like that and since I have not reached any advanced mental state of Buddhist or other practice that affords me with accurate clairvoyance, I cannot give a true answer.

Question 3 - According to my Buddhist faith, my duty is to do whatever I am able to do to protect human life.

Question 4 - As stated above, His Holiness, and many other Buddhist practitioners believe that life begins when the mind enters the body and most of the time that is when egg and sperm are joined.  We are taught that when the mind is in the intermediate state (between lives), when the mind becomes aware of the parents egg and sperm joining, the mind is pulled to those particular parents by the force of their karma. So at the moment of conception, the embryo is no longer devoid oc consciousness

Question 5 - Again, since I believe that there is consciousness in the embryo, and there for it is sentient (a mind possessor) therefore it is human and doing scientific studies using ESCR is taking a life. I believe in stem cell research to help people but not at the cost of taking a life

Question 6 - The core value is that anything possessing a mind is a sentient being and therefore to end  its existence is killing a sentient being

Question 7 - I am in favor of any scientific research that can help sentient beings without hurting any in the process

Question 8 - It is possible that by doing ESCR, many lives could be saved in the process and therefore it would seem to me a good thing to kill a few people to save  a great many.  But until I am wise enough to know who to kill in order to save more lives, I must not condone the killing of even one embryo. Some day, when I am far enough along in my practice that I can be clairvoyant and know that the person in the embryo that is being killed is agreeable to it and might even be there for that very reason, to be used to help others in that way, then I can support taking a life - but it would be on a case by case basis.

Question 9 - If you are at all familiar with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, then you know that he is all for scientific research and has even gone far enough to say that if science proves that some of what Buddhists believe is incorrect then we should abandon it and go with the truth of science and change the Buddhist teachings to accommodate the truth. I believe what His Holiness is searching for is what is true.  And whatever can be proved beneficial by science should be adopted as long as it is not causing harm to sentient beings.

Question 10 - Again, whether the embryo is in a laboratory or in a mother's womb, it is still an sentient being as the mind has joined the egg and sperm already. And as I mentioned in Question 8  - It is possible that by doing ESCR, many lives could be saved in the process and therefore it would seem to me a good thing to kill a few people to save  a great many.  But until I am wise enough to know who to kill in order to save more lives, I must not condone the killing of even one embryo.

Question 11 - I guess I would be fine with IVF as long as every embryo goes on to become a life.

Question 12 - I do not believe the creation of IVF is an immoral act according to Buddhism - it is just that it should  be done so that no embryo is produced without having a chance to develop into a human. At least that is what seems logical to me

Question 13 - There are a great many things which are morally wrong, and immoral, as a single person, I feel I can only pick my battles of which morally wrong things I can devote my time to correcting.  But if I am practicing my faith correctly (as I understand it anyway) is work on myself to attain the wisdom and tools to help bring compassion and wisdom to all sentient beings so that no immoral act is ever committed again but to do that, I. myself first have to eliminate all my negative qualities and perfect all my positive qualities so that I can be most effective in helping others in all ways possible.  

Question 14 - If I were told that I could get medical treatment that would help me but that would be from ESCR, I would not take it as a Buddhist nun I have taken a vow not to kill.

Question 15 - That's a good question - I might take it in that case - for although I would create some negative karma by using something that came by someone dying to produce it, the karma would be less - I would probably talk to one of my gurus about this for advice before doing it for sure.

Question 16 - Well, I have no children but I cannot say one life is more important than another life even if it was someone close to me - I am not god and therefore cannot say that killing an embryo to save my child's life is right as that embryo was no different than my child - both sentient beings.

Okey - Again I hope this is not too late and that it helps is some small way

I wish you the best with your project and hope your life is full of happiness, wisdom and peace

Namaste - Gyalten  

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Laurie McLaughlin

Expertise

I can answer questions about basic Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism and meditation especially how the Buddha's teachings can help us in day to day living.

Experience

I have been studying Mahayana Buddhism and meditation since 2001. I have lead meditation classes and retreats for over 5 years. I have lived at a Buddhist retreat center for over 4 years and am currently ordained as a novice Buddhist nun. My nun name is Gyalten Yanghchen.

Education/Credentials
I hold a BA degree in technical theatre from the University of South Florida.

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