They were good Buddhists…

One would expect Buddhists to be more outspoken antinatalists than Hindus. While many Hindu sects do believe in a persisting soul which may achieve higher incarnations with every rebirth, there doesn’t appear to be such a thing as a persisting soul in Buddhism. Against this background Aldous Huxley’s elaboration on Buddhist antinatalim seems reasonable at first sight:

“They were good Buddhists, and every good Buddhist knows that begetting is merely postponed assassination. Do your best to get off the Wheel of Birth and Death, and for heaven’s sake don’t go about putting superfluous victims on the Wheel. For a good Buddhist, birth control makes metaphysical sense.” (Aldous Huxley, Island)

On closer examination, however, we find that many a Buddhist will not defend antinatalism. Why? Mahayana Buddhism might develop the following subterfuge: Mankind has to continue to help with other beings that otherwise would be lost in samsara. But what about simpler forms of Buddhism, why aren’t they more outspoken on antinatalism?

One thought on “They were good Buddhists…

  1. At least in the Pali Canon, the Buddha did not give the prescription for laypeople not to have children. But indeed, birth is judged as inherently problematic- for the dukkha that it inevitably contains. And by the monastic code (the Vinaya), it would be impossible for a monk to contribute to procreation. Indeed, I have known an elderly Thai monk who proclaimed that he feels lucky to never have been a father, because to do otherwise inevitably creates suffering. So why did the Buddha not teach an explicitly antinatalist doctrine? I’ve often thought about this as well. If it were taught, it would have been included among the precepts for virtuous action (sila). Since it would need to apply to laypeople, it would be an addition to the basic five. My best guess is that the Buddha imagined that it would be too controversial, leading to strife between adherents and non-adherents. Contemporary Buddhists follow this model for the same reason. The logic of antinatalism is present within the teachings, but it’s up to the individual to discern this fact and make choices accordingly.

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