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Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Non-harming : Euthanasia

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated Sep 3, 2008)

Buddhist View of Euthanasia

A wealthy Chinese Buddhist in Sydney had some unconventional ideas about Buddhism and how to apply it. One of these was to start a Buddhist hospice that practiced euthanasia “with compassion.” Euthanasia was, and still is, against the law in that state.

He appeared in a suburban Sydney newspaper holding a book of Rinpoche's,
The Door to Satisfaction, quoting a passage on page 44 that describes an arhat, who was in great pain, being suffocated by a student. Rinpoche said since the action was done with a good heart, it was not one of the five uninterrupted negative karmas. That is, Rinpoche's name was used to support euthanasia.

This businessman neglected to quote the paragraph immediately following in the book which describes the importance of considering where the killed person will be reborn.

When Rinpoche saw the article, he asked for an ad to be placed in Sydney's main newspaper outlining the Buddhist view of euthanasia. At the time, euthanasia was being vigorously debated in Australia. The practice was legal in some parts of Australia, and a doctor in the Northern Territory, where it was then permitted, was helping patients die.

This response from Rinpoche appeared as a paid advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald in August of 1996:

In The Door to Satisfaction, I give the example of a monk of high spiritual attainment who, because he was in great pain, asked his disciple kill him. The disciple then suffocated his master. Because the disciple’s motivation was good, Buddha said that he had created no negative karma, only virtue. However, performing euthanasia with a good motivation is not sufficient, because we need to help others with wisdom as well as compassion.

If the person will have more peace and happiness in their next life, our action is good. On the other hand, even though our action may stop the person’s present suffering, it could result in their being reborn in a realm where their suffering will be a million times worse.

My concern is more for the outcome in the person’s next life. If they are going to reincarnate in a hell realm, for example, it is better to keep them alive one day or even one hour longer. Since we don’t have the clairvoyance to see where the person will be reborn, we have to rely upon the wisdom of fully awakened beings who have omniscience, compassion for all living beings and also the perfect power to guide us.

However, in the case of someone who is going to stay in a coma for many years, rather than spending thousands of dollars keeping them alive, it would be good to use the money to purify their negative karma which will cause them to suffer in their future lives. It would be better to spend the money benefiting many people and then dedicate the positive energy created not only to the temporary happiness of that person, but to their liberation from all suffering and achievement of enlightenment. Giving the money to a good cause is the best thing to do. It can be done on behalf of a family member, a friend or even an enemy and can help to relieve feelings of guilt.

Whether the person is still alive or has already died, it is best to purify their negative karma. This help can come from family members and friends. Helping others with wisdom and compassion in this way makes it meaningful for us to have met, known and lived with them.

[Click Here to view a pdf of the actual advertisement run by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.]

Euthanasia for Animals  
A student who wanted to be a vet wrote to Rinpoche about various questions, including having to put animals to sleep.

The student writes:
All my life I have aspired to become a veterinarian, always having had a deep love, compassion, and respect for all animals. I am currently studying for this at university, to obtain a placement in the Veterinary Course. I am also a current practicing Veterinary Nurse.

Please give me your advice and guidance in relation to having to perform euthanasia on sick, suffering animals and such actions’ consequences, from a Buddhist, karmic point of view. What is the situation regarding:

The animal’s karma (who is being put to sleep);
The vet’s karma (who is performing the action of euthanasing the animal); and
Taking refuge and committing to the Five Lay Vows; in particular the vow of abstaining from killing.

In his advice, Rinpoche reiterated several times that his advice may differ from that of other lamas, however he was confident that it is concordant with the views of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at that time.

Dear Jenny,
I recommend the following practices for the following purposes (in order of significance):

To strengthen spiritual growth (this is the main and foremost reason)
Ensure realization
Help with study

Practices:
10 mala’s of Chenrezig mantra: OM MANI PADME HUM

One’s body receives so much power and blessing from this practice, such that the wind in one’s body is blessed and when breathed out, touching over the bodies of others, purifies negative karma.

Pray to Medicine Buddha
Recite the Seven Medicine Buddha’s names and mantras

Recite Praise to Green Tara
1 x long manta
40 x short mantra

After reciting the above mantras, blow over water bowls containing water or powder on an altar in front of you, and keep a little of the water or powder with you throughout the day.

Sprinkle this blessed substance over the bodies of animals to purify negative karma, especially over those who have died.

Further Practices:
Take part in a nyung-nä retreat (a two-day Chenrezig Retreat; an intense purification practice for the development of universal compassion.)

Even if performed just once, but to one’s full capacity, those you come into contact with, touch, or who hear your voice will have their negative karma purified.

If you were to swim in the ocean, all the water would be blessed and all surrounding organisms in the water purified and would experience a higher rebirth. One’s body becomes relic-like and just touching the animals aids them.

Take Medicine Buddha Initiation.
This is most beneficial for healing.

Regarding your question about animal euthanasia, bodhisattvas have incredibly powerful bodhicitta and strong compassion deeply ingrained in their heart. With such, they would want for themselves to be born in the hell realms for the sake of and in sacrifice for another sentient being.

Therefore, when one kills with a true bodhicitta heart and intention, that is whole-heartedly filled with Dharma wisdom, karma, and compassion, the act actually becomes one in which it is “beneficial to kill.”

In such an instance, one is not breaking one of the five lay vows, as such a killing, performed entirely with bodhicitta compassion, actually is transformed into an act that accumulates merit; such killing is a virtue.

It is this pure motivation behind the altruistic decision to end another sentient being’s suffering, putting them out of their misery by ending their present life, while knowing absolutely that one could be at that very moment creating the causes of karma for themselves to be born in the hell realm that makes such a killing beneficial.

The vow about killing (of the five lay vows) is referring to abstaining from killing that is associated with and backed by ignorance and negative attachment, which is negative karma. It is only when killing with a motivation that is “totally pure” that the action becomes a virtue.

Of course, in such a position, one must do everything within one’s capacity to prevent such a compromising decision, to ascertain that there is no alternative treatment or other method at all possible, and even then, the decision is not an easy one. Your decision depends on many factors. A sentient being’s consciousness does not stop after this life ends. If you were to kill a suffering animal in this life, but it’s karma at that stage was such that it were to be reborn into a lower realm, the pain that it is currently experiencing in this life (and that you are jeopardising your own karma for) is no different. In fact, such a suffering animal would be much better off for even just two minutes to remain in the pain it is experiencing in this life. Again, we can see it makes for a very difficult decision!

In the Mahayana teachings, killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and telling lies are permitted in tantra, but to do these actions one needs strong compassion for the other sentient being. When bodhisattvas engage in these actions they have to have a brave heart and totally give themselves up to be born in the hell realms, so as to totally accept the heavy negative karma, the incomparable suffering in the hell realms, from the act of killing. Also they have to have wisdom, seeing that by doing these actions there will be great benefit. So, one needs strong compassion for other beings and wisdom to know what is beneficial.

You can one-pointedly pray to Tara or whichever deity you have a connection with and ask for a prediction. First, pray to Green Tara, reciting both the long and short versions of the Green Tara mantras (time allowing). This is a strong prayer and is the most beneficial for the happiness of the animal.

If the practitioner does not have clairvoyance (as I don’t), one must rely on and make requests to a higher being to help you through their clairvoyance. This prayer to a higher being should be directed to one’s personal deity.

You should call on Green Tara. Requesting for Green Tara to empower you with the right decision through the performance of the following ritual.

Ritual
Cut out small pieces of paper, all precisely the same size. On each, write one possible option (alternative possible treatment.) Please ensure that every possibility and alternative is accounted for and included in the collection, in order to get the most accurate outcome.

Tightly toll each piece of paper up (long-ways and filament-like) and then into a ball. Take particular care that they are of identical dimensions. One can even surround each ball of paper in dough or plasticine. It is very important that each alternative is exactly the same size and weight, otherwise you might make a mistake.

Hold all the paper balls loosely in your hand. Make a strong request to the deity for a prediction as to what is the best outcome to ensure the utmost happiness of this being and visualize light emanating from the deity out to all the papers.

You must totally believe in what you are doing. Have full faith in the practice and your own ability.

While making a strong prayer to the deity for the ultimate, beneficial happiness of the animal to be assured by the outcome of this practice, circle the hand holding the papers clockwise (accompanied with light shaking, tossing movements back and forth of the hand.)

Whichever ball of paper is the first to fall out of your hand, act on that exact option or treatment.

Second: Recite out loud the “Sutra for Entering the City of Vaishali" which is very powerful in stopping pain. Reading this sutra will help to relieve the suffering animal, or any sentient being, from pain.

For a person, if one cannot read it next to the hospital bed, one should aim to read it at the doorway to their ward, and then it can be of benefit to the whole hospital.

Furthermore; it is also extremely profitable if one chants any or all of the mantras below to the suffering, dying animal:

Maitreya Buddha mantra (This is the best and most beneficial of mantras in such a circumstance.)
Medicine Buddha mantra.
Five Powerful Purifying mantras

The above can be found in the Powerful Mantras for the Time of Death booklet produced by FPMT (from my instructions).

The Five Great Mantras (for liberating sentient beings from the lower realms) are:

Mantra of Kunrig (the deity who liberates from the lower realms)
Mantra of Buddha Mitukpa
Mantras of Namgyalma (Ushnishvijaya)
Stainless Pinnacle (Tsug tor dri me)
Wish-Granting Wheel Mantra (Tong gyu ye pai shag pa).

Reciting these mantras to the animals causes many great benefits, including purifying negative karma; never being reborn in a lower realm and facilitating their rebirth in a higher realm; and for them to meet and encounter the Dharma in future lives.

Just by hearing the mantras, they will be led to the path of enlightenment.

When reciting the above mantras and sutras, one should choose the long or short version depending on the situation and time available. You do not have to do all of them, just as many as appropriate for the animal.

Prior to administering the euthanasia injection and just after death, perform the following:

Touch the animal, with Medicine Buddha and Chenrezig generated in one’s heart, send out healing light and visualize purifying the sentient being before you.

Chant the Chenrezig mantra and the Medicine Buddha mantra into the ear of the animal. Doing this provides the causes to purify any spiritual harm and for negative karma to be purified.

Blow over the animal’s body while picturing Chenrezig hovering just above the body and light emanating out to purify all the surroundings.

Make a strong prayer for the animal to be reborn in the four Pure Lands and receive a perfect human body.

Reciting these mantras and blowing over the body of the animal purifies the sentient being's karma and leads them to a good rebirth—the most incredible gift!

You can also recite the mantras in the ears of animals you come across, eg on the side of the road.

Thank you for doing this!

More talks by Lama Zopa on this topic:
See the Spiritual Practice-->Benefitting Animals section of the Advice Book.
There is more Advice on Benefiting Animals posted on Lama Zopa's Teachings page.
The FPMT has published a book titled Liberating Animals From the Danger of Death which can be purchased here.
See also Appendix 3 from the book Teachings from the Vajrasattva Retreat.