Flickr photo of birth control pills by Monik Markus

Ask A Buddhist: OK to use contraception?

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By Ven. Thubten Semkye

What do you believe when it comes to the use of contraception?

Thanks for your question. One of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha is non-harmfulness toward all living beings. With that as one of our main guidelines and practices, we endeavor to cultivate wisdom and compassion so we will have the skill to benefit others.

In life, we have many opportunities to make wise and compassionate decisions regarding major choices. One of them is deciding whether to have children, and this applies to both men and women. Raising children is a difficult yet rewarding experience.  We need to be ready emotionally, physically, psychologically and, if possible, financially to be able to shoulder the enormous responsibility parenting brings.

However, unlike many of life’s major endeavors, there is no test, resume or license required to be a parent and so it is left up to the individual to be prepared as best as he or she can. All too often children are conceived without much thought or consideration, so many people become parents, ready or not. There can be serious consequences for all involved as a result. Too many children bear the brunt of their parents’ unpreparedness and are neglected, abandoned, or abused.

Contraception is a wise and reasonable choice for anyone who wishes or needs to prevent or postpone parenting. Because both a man and a woman contribute to a pregnancy, they should jointly decide whether to use contraception. However, in many instances, it is left up to the woman to make the decision and take full responsibility for reproductive choices.

As Buddhists, we believe that life begins at conception and so we do not support contraceptive methods that prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Fortunately, most contraceptive methods—including IUDs and “morning after pills”—prevent fertilization and thus do not involve taking the life of a living being.

(Both types of IUDs work primarily by preventing sperm from fertilizing an egg. The copper IUD releases copper into the uterus, which works as a spermicide. The others release a form of the hormone progestin into the uterus. The progestin thickens the cervical mucus so that sperm can’t reach the egg.)

It is best to prevent unwanted pregnancies in a responsible and ethical way so that when a child is conceived, there will be joy in the lives of those who will welcome him or her into the world.

About Ven. Thubten Semkye

Ven. Thubten Semkye was Sravasti Abbey's first lay resident.
A founder of Friends of Sravasti Abbey, she accepted the position of chairperson to provide the four requisites for the monastic community. Realizing that was a difficult task to do from 350 miles away, she moved to the Abbey in spring 2004.
Although she didn’t originally see ordination in her future, after the 2006 Chenrezig retreat when she spent half of her meditation time reflecting on death and impermanence, Ven. Semkye realized that ordaining would be the wisest, most compassionate use of her life. She became the Abbey’s third nun in 2007. See her ordination photos. In 2010 she received bhikshuni ordination at Miao Fa Chan Temple in Taiwan.
Ven. Semkye draws on her extensive experience in landscaping and horticulture to manage the Abbey’s forests and gardens.

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