Friday, February 25, 2011

Abortion Reflections After Inquiry

Abortion brings up this fundamental matter of interdependence and interbeing which is the core of our life. It is so whether or not we recognize it or live it.

Abortion is a life death koan to clarify, actualize and manifest. It is a koan for the mother/father, and if the father is not involved, it is a koan for the mother.  It is very unfortunate that some of the time the decision about abortion has to be made only by the mother - as this adds to the difficulty of clarifying this. In truth, it is koan for the mother/child, but since the mother actualizes this I say it is for the mother. Abortion is this Great Matter, fundamental practice. 

Abortion is a personal choice that the mother, the father, must make; hopefully after deep consideration and reflection on causes and consequences. It is past, present, future causes and conditions coming together as this moment. There may be fear and suffering in the midst of unknown future consequences of action or inaction. And choices and actions radiate in all directions. It is not at all easy. This is not something someone else can do or even see clearly for the mother, for the father. We do not live in their moment, do not sense the cause/conditions/habits/fear that are their body mind world. And we must support and nurture them in this life practice, doing what is skillful and appropriate to enable them to do their life.

As a matter of public policy, of law and as a matter of practice, I do not want the government  involved, neither in forbidding abortion nor in encouraging it.

As I said, unfortunately, much of the time this decision has to be made only by the mother, which adds to the difficulty of the choice. Having a child has lifetime consequences – and having an abortion has lifetime consequences. Nevertheless, despite it being a personal decision in which I do not want the government involved, I also am clear that abortion is a form of killing. In fact, in living we are all in a web of killing living. This web of interdependence, of the interbeing manifested in our actions, is our opportunity to clarify and deepen our appreciation of what our life is. Where there is birth there is death, to paraphrase Shakyamuni Buddha.

In the Buddhist tradition the fetus is considered a life. Many, including myself, do funeral and memorial services for the fetus of a miscarriage and of an abortion. There are important practices at various Zen Centers which the parents can and do engage in for themselves, and as part of a Sangha community. This is being this life death process. This is not a simple matter; it has deep roots and consequences.

We are dependent upon the killing of other beings for the life we live. Do we truly appreciate this?

Even vegetarians and vegans are part of the web of killing beings in the growing and transporting of their food – just drive on a country road in the summer and see what your windshield looks like afterwards. Or do you privilege life to exclude the insects on the windshield, the road kill and the insects of the earth the food is grown in? This killing as part of living is just what we must do, is just what happens in the process of this body functioning - and we get to make choices of what to do and not to do. Often we think little of the vegetation we kill. And we can talk of the killing on a microscopic level that is part of animal life, vegetable life, of the flora and fauna within our body. 

Are you a vegetarian with a dog or a cat? Their food often has meat. And if you allow your cat out of the house to roam, that results in the killing of birds, small mammals, lizards and snakes.  The cat is doing it for sport, since you are feeding it and giving it medical treatment and so forth.  Therefore the cat does not really face the balance of nature’s web whereby only the best hunters survive, and others die due to hunger and disease, which would give the birds, small mammals, lizards and snakes a better chance of life.

And there are very real, very significant, differences between killing a human and killing other beings.  Just as there are very real, very significant, differences to be faced in comparing actions in different circumstances. This interbeing interdependent life in the midst of differences, in the midst of nonduality, is exactly what fundamental practice is.

So we all make choices about killing in living.  Being in the midst of this web of killing and giving life, being entangled in this web, what is the next step? Do we entangle more? Do we see the entanglements and how to live in the midst of them, to be and act freely in the midst of entanglements? Who to kill, what to kill, how to kill, when to kill; this is the fundamental matter at this moment to clarify and actualize.

Intention, choice and clear effort is the essence of this practice.

The choice of abortion is a most difficult one, since it involves a lifetime and a human life. Does the mother, or parents, have the ability and capacity to give birth and raise the child? What are the options? I do not say this is simple or easy. This is why abortion or giving birth needs to be deeply considered before it is undertaken. Having clarified this as best we can, we act – doing our best right now.

© 2011 Elihu Genmyo Smith