Buddhism bioethics in

Buddhism originated in India around 500 b.c.e. In the early twenty-first century Buddhist traditions exist in South, Southeast, and East Asia, as well as Australia, Western and Eastern Europe, and North and South America. The diversity found in these traditions makes it impossible to speak of Buddhism in the singular or to assert an "official" Buddhist perspective. For the purpose of formulating an overview of Buddhist bioethics, however, Buddhist traditions can be categorized into two primary trajectories: Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada traditions are closely identified with the teachings of the historical Buddha, and include both early South Asian Buddhist traditions as well as contemporary South Asian traditions in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar (formerly Burma). Mahayana traditions include some later forms of Indian Buddhism, Tibetan and other Himalayan-region Buddhisms (also referred to as Tibetan, Vajrayana, Tantric, and Esoteric Buddhism), and Central and East Asian Buddhist traditions. Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are practiced in such places as Australia, Europe, and North and South America.

Historically, bioethics has been a field of inquiry primarily in Western cultures and thus centers on Western cultural assumptions and moral perspectives. Genetic engineering, cloning, and stem cell research—and the ethical dilemmas they engender—pivot on recent advances in biomedical technology and Western emphases on the value of medical progress. However, moral issues raised by biomedical technology are no longer confined to Western cultural contexts. Predominately Buddhist countries have begun to confront the ethical implications of biomedicine. Not surprisingly, Buddhist ethical perspectives stem from assumptions that are sometimes very different from Western views, and these concerns affect how Buddhists engage with bioethical issues.

Individuals from North American and European cultural backgrounds may be troubled at the specter of "playing God" in making ethical decisions. From a Buddhist perspective, however, emphasis is placed, for instance, on investigating how the Buddha's exemplary life and compassion might reveal satisfying solutions to problems never envisioned by past Buddhists. After outlining some fundamental Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist ideas, this entry considers ways that Buddhists might respond to bioethical dilemmas and which

Buddhist religious ideas could be invoked to make sense of diverse bioethical issues.

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