Sunday, June 01, 2008

எல்லா உயிர்களும் புனிதமானவை- இங்கிலாந்து டைம்ஸ் பத்திரிக்கையில் இந்து விளக்க உரை

எல்லா உயிர்களும் புனிதமானவை- இங்கிலாந்து டைம்ஸ் பத்திரிக்கையில் இந்து விளக்க உரை
A Hindu view on the challenge to the sanctity of life
Anil Bhanot

The ancient seers, rishis, of Vedic India revealed that God’s divine spirit, Atma, enters the child in the mother’s womb during the “quickening” process, around the fifth month from conception. Hence, a pre-birth ceremony, Simantonayana Sanskar, is performed during the seventh month to mark this event. One of 17 ceremonies performed during the course of one’s life, this one is especially beautiful: mantras are recited to welcome the Atma and protect the mother and her child.

Its significance is illustrated in an event recorded at the end of the Mahabharata battle circa 1400BC. After the entire offspring of the warring dynasty had been wiped out, the villainous enemy, in a last, vengeful act, murdered the unborn child in Utrah’s womb, she being the hero Arjuna’s only daughter-in-law.

Utrah pleaded to Lord Krishna for her child’s life, reminding him that she had performed the pre-birth ceremony and welcomed the Atma. Krishna touched her in compassion and she felt the child — later King Preekshith — starting to kick again.

This Vedic precept, that all life is sacred, including plant and animal life, lies at the heart of the Hindu doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence. We believe that respect for life is intertwined with our love for God. However, to stay alive, we must kill. Creation works by sacrificing one life to ensure the survival of another.

Ancient rishis, or sages, resolved this paradox by referring to the evolutionary stages of consciousness that we all share. Plants are at the lowest level of consciousness, then animals, then human beings. Yet some animals were considered almost like humans. Hanumaan, the half-ape half-man god, is believed to possess full divine consciousness. We also know that many animals have emotions, individual personality traits, a moral code among their own kind, and even their own culture and civilisation.

Often science can be an ally of religion. In the case of recent parliamentary debates on the Embryology Bill, questions about the protection and care for life have been stretched to their limits. Abortion can never be condoned by any faith. Surely, from the point of conception the process of life is set on its course to develop into the highest level of consciousness created by God, a human being? However, we must also show compassion to those already living.

If we look at the Simantonayana Sanskar ceremony, we see a parallel with last week’s debate to lower the time limit for abortion to 20 weeks. Yet at this gestation we can still not excuse the act of aborting a child. And, even if performed for the best of reasons, few women who have an abortion are free from any guilt.

The issue of embryonic stem-cell research takes the debate about the sanctity of life yet one step farther. The embryonic cells used for stem-cell research are only 5 to 14 days old. Although 70 per cent of these cells die a natural death, the problem for religion is that any one cell has the potential to become a human being. But we must balance this against the possibility that research on these cells may provide a breakthrough in treatment for illnesses such as motor neurone disease, stroke, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and various cancers. Given that the embryonic cells are at such a primary stage of life and cannot feel pain, under the Hindu Karma principles of sacrificing for the greater good, choosing to undertake this research is not such a difficult choice.

I am more concerned that such research, particularly that of creating hybrids of human and animal cells and proteins, is carefully regulated. Even more of a concern would be the prospect of new, fatherless families, where the parthenogenesis stem-cell research could lead to avoiding the need for male sperm altogether, as two non-fertilised female eggs combine to give birth to a parthenogenetic offspring of females only.

Science and religion may appear to be odd bedfellows in the quest for truth, but they often need each other to manage the unknown.

Anil Bhanot is general secretary of the Hindu Council UK

No comments: