DOCTORS AND DEATH
I am writing in response to the special section on euthanasia (Winter Issue). I write from the perspective of a physician as well as a Buddhist practitioner. There seems a tenor to the arguments, both in the general media and also in the recent Tricycle issue, that I would like to address from these perspectives. It seems that euthanasia is discussed in almost consumer-driven terms. The patient is demanding the right for full self-determination of his or her time of death. The physician is then put in the place of deciding which patients are suffering enough to benefit by having their lives ended in an artificial way. This has nothing to do with pain relief or other necessities of nursing and medical care. From the physician's perspective, it seems impossible to be placed in the position of attempting to objectify what is adequate suffering to allow one person to die and what is insufficient to participate in an active death of another. From the perspective of a Buddhist practitioner, relieving suffering is certainly a noble concept but, at the same time, suffering is a natural part of human existence. To be granted the notion that if that reality somehow becomes too much for us, we can turn it off or transcend it in an artificial way by ending Our lives, seems to violate the Buddhist notion of the first noble truth. It seems to speak to a spiritual materialism that robs us of our relationship with death itself. To allow some patients but not others to exactly determine the mode of their exit seems to me to speak to the moral and spiritual bankruptcy in our civilization. While proponents of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are, for the most part, well-intentioned, loving, and caring individuals, the core of their argument seems to be a running away from the true experience of human existence.
David H. Shapiro, M.D.
In the last few issues of your review, much cleverness has been spent obscuring something obvious: opposition to abortion flows directly from Buddha's teaching, namely, the rejection of killing as a means of solving personal or social problems, the emphasis on the incalculable value of a human incarnation, and the teaching of compassion for all sentient beings.
In the Sutta Nipata, the Buddha teaches that "Just as a mother at the risk of her life loves and protects her child" so we must extend our protection to all living beings "without exception," including the small, the frail, the invisible, "those that are here, those seeking to exist." In the Jataka tale of the Banyon King, the Buddha declares that killing a fetus is exactly as serious as killing an adult.
Four thousand fetuses are killed each day in this country; in the four hundred second-trimester abortions daily the unborn child is often dismembered in the womb to preclude live birth. The Buddha, who fought to put a stop to animal sacrifices, would surely have considered this an appalling injustice. There can be no question that the Buddha would have concurred in Mother Theresa's assessment of abortion on demand: "When it becomes permissible for a mother to kill her child, all is lost." Nor can there be a question as to what we must do if socially engaged Buddhism is to be more than a series of fashionable moral postures.
Buddhism is pro-life.
Judith Crane and Jim Stone
The University of New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana
PRACTICE VS. PRESTIGE
I've been a feminist activist for twenty years and a Buddhist lay practitioner for five, but I found both the feminism and Buddhism in Rita Gross' article "Buddhism after Patriarchy" (Winter Issue) unrecognizable. My understanding and experience of Buddhism tell me that "sacred" and "mundane" are illusionary distinctions, and that practice is a matter of how I use my mind, not what I do. Working in the monastery garden or my own, sitting sesshin or taking care of a child can all be practice, if I make them practice. Feminism has taught me to see my preconceptions of people based on sex, race, nationality, and so on, and to try not to let them stand in the way of what I think people can do or be.
Rita Gross begins her article by saying that, "maintaining one's livelihood and taking care of one's environment and family needs to be accepted as an alternative that is not inferior to monasticism." Her real concern seems to be with the relative status of monastic and lay practice. She assumes that lay practice is female and monastic practice is male, and understands what she perceives as the lower status of lay practice as the result of the devaluation of anything that is primarily done by women in a sexist society. This is a standard feminist analysis of the status differential between male and female work within patriarchies, and I agree with the analysis. However I do not understand how lay practice can be considered female and monastic practice male, especially in this country at this time. This is an unspoken assumption in Ms. Gross' article, and she presents no information or argument to support it. In my experience both men and women are both monks and lay practitioners (and teachers) in this country.
Beyond that, why should we be concerned with the relative prestige of monks and lay practitioners at all? Does a seat closer to the altar bring us closer to realization? What was Buddha's status when he realized himself? In discussing this, Rita Gross mentions neither responsibility nor priorities, which seem central to the difference between monks and lay practitioners. Monks put aside the responsibilities and security of family and career and make their first priority practice and their first responsibility the good of the dharma and sangha. Lay practitioners put worldly priorities and responsibilities first and pursue theIr practice within that context. If some people believe monastic practice has more status than lay practice perhaps it is because they think it involves a higher level of commitment.
Personally, I find that the things which stand in the way of my practice are internal. I am grateful for the opportunities for lay practice in this country, including endless sesshins and retreats, lay lineages like Aitken Roshi's, and the seriousness with which my practice has been taken by my own teacher and others.
Linda Futai Peer
Phoenicia, New York
NOTE: Tricycle has received a number of letters regarding Keith Dowman’s article "Himalayan Intrigue: The Search for the New Karmapa," which appeared in the last issue. At this time. Mr. Dowman, who lives in Kathmandu, has not yet had a chance to respond. Letters relating to this article will be published in the next issue. -Ed.