Abortion, karma and purification

Aug 9, 2021




Dear Venerable Robina,


It was absolutely wonderful to be in the Zoom sessions with you lately. Your wisdom and compassion have been with me throughout the year and helped me tremendously in these, my early days on the path. 


I do not know where I would be without the amazing teachings on You Tube during the lockdown and associated isolation but in so doing I have emerged to some degree from ignorance.


My questions from the talks about karma and the purification practice, although not exhaustive, are as follows:


On the subject of reliance: Compassion for others and from others — and its cultivation through my own suffering — is limited only by my own level of renunciation “which breaks our heart.” What did you mean “which breaks our heart?”


On the subject of abortion. I have had four pregnancies and allowed one to live. She is now 26.


Can you please expound — that the sentient being chose me for its rebirth but its destiny was not to live as I chose to kill it.


On hearing you discuss this I felt tinctures of relief which was immediately smothered with an overwhelming sense of horror. So, am I responsible for their potential (or certain) lower level rebirth? I mean, I did this out of vanity, ego, greed and selfishness…so it cant be good! This is mind boggling me at the moment. But it is time for me to come out of denial and bargaining.


Ven. Robina, I was so relieved you addressed this, and so candidly. Thank you.


Humbly your friend.




Happy to hear from you, dearest H!


Okay, in the purification process, the four opponent powers they call it — the four Rs is a good way to remember them — we go through this process of first regretting the stuff we’ve said and done that sows seeds in our own mind that will ripen in the future as our suffering (the sugar-and-diabetes analogy). This is what I like to call compassion for ourselves. I mean, it’s true: the main reason we stop eating sugar is because we do not want future suffering. 


This is part of the process of what Buddhism refer to as renunciation: we need to renounce, give up, future suffering by giving up its present causes. This of course is all rooted in the fundamental view of the law of karma: that whatever we say, do and think just necessarily produces the person we become.


So, the more we think about how our own anger and jealousy and low self-esteem, depression, and the dumb actions we do on the basis of these cause us suffering, the more we will want to give it up. It will break out hearts to see our own suffering and how we’ve caused it. 


Normally we just get guilty and neurotic. This other view is to be kind to ourselves, is self-respectful. It’s like compassion for ourselves.


Then there’s reliance. This is the next step: whom can I turn to for the methods to fix myself? Here it’s the Buddha: he’s our doctor.


But we also “rely on” suffering sentient beings. First we have compassion for ourselves — seeing our own suffering and how we cause it for sure breaks our hearts; that’s regret. Now we need to cultivate compassion, empathy for others: for those we’ve harmed and for those who’ve harmed us. We’re all in the same boat! Their suffering should now break our hearts.


As for the remedy. It’s also referred to as the antidote. So in a simple sense the antidote would be to do the opposite, and we need to do that in daily life. But it’s also done in formal meditation and there the antidote, the remedy, is to visualize Buddha Vajrasattva – it’s a particular practice that all the Tibetan traditions do — and imagine purifying the various negative actions as we recite his mantra.


As for abortion: it’s a dependent arising. You and those beings who came to your womb have a strong history from the past. For them, due to their past non-killing they won the lottery and got a human womb: yours: no accident. This is the main karma: the fully ripened result, a type of rebirth.


But their other karma, the third one, called experiences similar to the cause — which is all the things that happen to us; how we are treated by others — also ripened: due to their past killing (we all have countless karmic seeds on our mindstream), they got killed by you. They created the cause for this by having killed you in the past. Karma’s personal. There is no way anything could happen to any of us if we hadn’t created the cause by having done it before. 


And of course this goes for all the amazing good things that happen to us as well.


So, they are the main cause for why they got aborted. But, by the way, it doesn’t follow that they’ll get a suffering rebirth; that, too, depends on their karma.


From your side, you had the second kind of karma, the intention or action similar to the cause: the habit to do something, in this case, to abort the babies. You could have had the intention to kill, but if the baby didn’t have their own karma to get killed, it wouldn’t have worked.


So, clearly, with the child who lived, they had no karma from their side to die and neither did you have the thought to abort them. 


The fourth of the four opponent powers, the most important in a sense: resolve: the determination to change, in this case, not to kill again.


So regret purifies the kind of karma called experiences similar to the cause: being killed. Reliance purifies environmental karma; in the case of killing, the food and water, for example, being polluted; the very physical environment itself harming us. Remedy, the mantra etc., purifies the fully ripened result: for killing, that’s the lower realms. And resolve purifies the habit to keep killing.


There’s no karma that can’t be purified.


Stay in touch, for sure.


Love to you, H! 




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