Because reproduction is one of the most important concerns of human life, most religions concern themselves with the regulation of sexual activity, marriage, and production of children. Hinduism and Buddhism also guide their followers in these matters, but in ways very different both from each other and from Western religions.
Eugenics might be defined as controlling human reproduction to modify or benefit the species. Prior to the present innovation of genetic engineering, eugenics meant restrictions on who could reproduce and with which partner. The recent development of methods of altering the human genome has opened a new area of ethical discussion: the propriety of voluntarily altering the human genome. Eugenics has also been used to excuse genocide, but this aspect will not be discussed here since nothing in Hinduism or Buddhism allows rationalization of genocide.
Although Hinduism and Buddhism have highly developed ethical philosophies, neither religion produces set positions on such contemporary matters as eugenics, nor is it likely that they will, given the nature and organization of the two religions. In both religions, ethics are developed by the individual or the social community; there is no official body that produces ethical statements. Hence there are no official Hindu or Buddhist positions on issues that were not envisioned when their scriptures were composed over 2,000 years ago. However, both religions have ethical ideas or methods that can be applied to modern problems.
Hinduism has its beginnings in the two millennia before the Common Era; the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, died about 500 b.c.e. In those remote times there were no concepts akin to those of modern genetics and hence there could be no ethical discussions of genetic manipulation. Rather than a single scripture analogous to the Judeo-Christian Bible or the Koran, Hinduism and Buddhism have vast collections of diverse canonical texts that have appeared over millennia. Hinduism does have several authoritative legal texts, the most important of which, The Laws of Manu, was composed from about 200 b.c.e. to 200 c.e. These texts codify religious law (dharma) but are not regarded as the only legal or ethical authority. Buddhist texts are concerned with spiritual development and give only very general precepts for regulation of lay life. However, it is possible to develop Hindu or Buddhist positions on eugenics.
Hinduism and Buddhism both arose in India and share many common beliefs, such as the doctrine of karma (discussed below), yet the differences between the two religions must not be underestimated. Generally speaking, Hinduism is a legalistic religion and pays great attention to regulating life in the world. Buddhism sees worldly life as secondary in importance; attainment of release from suffering in this or subsequent existences is its central concern.
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