Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Buddhists: Birth, Babies And Motherhood

Generally, no formal rituals are associated with birth for Buddhists, although some sects may have their own specific rites. Buddhists believe in rebirth, which is different from reincarnation. In the case of reincarnation, although the personality of a person and their fleshy body are newly created every time at the point of conception, their essence is eternal. However, a central Buddhist teaching is that of anatman, meaning no fixed self. Hence, although the new child will be influenced, both physically and mentally, by a being that lived previously, no fixed consciousness is transmitted. Depending on which branch of Buddhism is being followed, parents may choose to give their child a Buddhist name and have a naming ceremony at the local temple or community centre. In the interim, they may give the child a nickname or pet name; it is important that both names are recorded on the child's clinical notes. contraception Many Buddhists will see life as a continuum because the arising of a new being or person is dependent on the body–mind of the being that existed before, as indeed the being that comes after the person in this life is dependent on the body–mind of the current person. However, each individual is unique and is made afresh as an egg, sperm and consciousness come together. For many Buddhists, life begins at conception and thus they may not believe that contraception is acceptable.

For many Western Buddhists, however, the teachings about rebirth do not figure prominently in their practice of Buddhism, compared with Buddhists from non-UK countries, and the emphasis is likely to be on finding the most ethical forms of contraception, for example avoiding the coil (i.e. intra-uterine devices – IUDs). Although not fully understood, it is thought one mode of action of the coil could be to interfere with implantation of a fertilised egg in the womb. termination of pregnancy The termination of a pregnancy is believed to be unethical by many Buddhists, who generally consider that a foetus is alive from the moment of conception, or at least within several days. 'Aliveness' occurs when three conditions are present – sperm, egg and consciousness – and life is seen as beginning from the time that they join together. Most Buddhists would consider the decision to have an abortion a very serious one. If testing reveals that a foetus will be born with Down's syndrome, for example, some Buddhists may believe that the condition has arisen from the karmic actions in a previous life, and that the individual should be born to undertake the consequences of those actions. However, this position is considerably softened in Western Buddhism. Here, termination would still be seen as an unethical action, but may in some circumstances be less unskilful than, for example, allowing a woman to die during pregnancy. Cases may have to be examined on their individual merits, and it is worth consulting a Buddhist priest if this situation arises.

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