Reverend Raido Hirota (RH): How does everyone feel about organ donation? Giving or receiving?
Believer 1: I don't know if I would want someone else's karma. Maybe blood, but nothing else. I don't know. I won't be giving anyone my body parts; they're too weak.
RH: There are people who want organs, but don't want to give them. And there are also people who want to give organs but don't want to receive them.
Believer 2: I don't want to give or receive. I've given blood. Considering the state of my health, I won't be doing that again. And I won't give body parts, and I don't want anyone else's body parts. What is the Buddhist position on organ donorship?
Believer 3: In the past it was taboo to be an organ donor. My wife was taught in Asia that that was something one did not do. If I wanted to be an organ donor is there anything wrong with that? The deeper question is when does life end? Does it end when one is considered brain dead? At that point is when we're talking about organ donorship. Would it be okay as a Buddhist to be an organ donor?
RH: What do you think?
Believer 4: I think it's fine.
Believer 5: So it's a personal decision based on one's personal belief?
Believer 4: Exactly. It's something else. The body doesn't mean anything.
Believer 3: Well, that's the question. Does it make a difference? By giving a body part aren't you extending a part of your karma? Is it good or is it bad? Let's say you give your heart. Isn't your karma being extended?
RH: The heart is in each cell. In Buddhism there is nothing that does not have heart. Everything has heart in Buddhism. The heart is in each cell and everything is connected. But each cell does not have the capacity to move your hands or your feet, and does not have the capacity to think. Those functions exist in the brain. So it is the Buddha's teaching that to separate the heart from anything is not Buddhism.
To place too much emphasis on the body is wrong to begin with. If you place that much importance on giving and receiving body parts, then already you are off base, already you are thinking incorrectly. The body doesn't mean much.
Believer 5: So it's up to you to decide? In other words, if you want to donate that's fine. If you don't, that's fine too?
RH: After the embryo is conceived in the womb the first thing that develops is the heart. It is not the brain that develops first. The embryo evolves and becomes more formed, and eventually the brain forms as well as all the other parts. Everything starts from the heart. For that reason each cell has a part of the heart in it. This is the way mitosis works. Therefore, each cell in your body has a piece of your heart - I mean this actually and metaphorically. The heart is partially immutable and partially mutable. Part is your karma, and part is free will, or what you do in life. The genetic part is in each cell. Even if you chant to want a newly conceived baby to be a boy, it won't happen because in each cell it is already genetically determined based on the genetic input from the mother and the father. That half is there. Genetic diseases are already a part of the cell. So half of your life is that; whether you become sick or get injured, it is already determined.
Believer 4: What's the other half? What is the half I get from my mother?
RH: 50% is fixed, and 50% is what you do in your life. Part of it is fixed karma and part of it is mutable or changeable.
Believer 2: What is the definition of karma? Is karma suffering or does karma mean fate? You used the Japanese word unmei which is not karma, but destiny - your fixed life that you have to deal with. What is karma?
Believer 4: Karma is your baggage. The baggage you carry from life to life. It's everything that you do.
RH: Go - karma is raw material or substance that comprises your life. These materials are both good things and bad things. They are both physical and of the heart. You have bad karma or good karma. Often when one thinks of karma he or she thinks that it's a bad thing.
Believer 2: Yes. When you mention karma most people think it's bad. They look only at the bad side.
RH: It's not that. Again, it's 50/50. Good and bad.
Believer 2: Is karma related to unmei -- fate?
RH: Unmei -- fate -- is a part of it, but not all of it. Fate is not everything that someone is.
Believer 3: Fate is just 50%. And karma is the other 50%?
RH: Fate and karma have the same meaning.
Believer 5: They are both 50/50.
Believer 4: They are the opposite sides of a coin. You can't talk about one without the other.
RH: What do you think Believer 2?
Believer 2: I agree with what you just said. I understand.
RH: What do you think life is? If you receive an organ transplant your life can be extended, who knows maybe someday 200, 300, 400 years. Do you wish to live that long?
Believer 2: I have a different view of that. Let's say I need a kidney right now. In order to stay on this earth, to chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, to stay here as long as possible being a Buddhist, I don't think it's such a bad idea if you have that attitude. The donor is dying anyway. To borrow that person's kidney so that I am able to chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo maybe one more day, I think it's worth it. That's my view. I want to know what the your view is, and views of the other believers.
RH: In Japan, organ donorship is viewed like a person riding a train. When the person gets off someone else takes the seat he was occupying. This is the mindset in Japan. Donating organs is nothing more than giving someone your seat. Once you reach your station you won't need it anymore. So fine, you give up your seat. It really shouldn't bother you that much.
Believer 4: We get back to the point where the body doesn't mean anything.
RH: But there are many people who also feel the other way too, that they don't want to donate.
Believer 4: The priest is being noncommittal. He's just saying there are people who think both ways.
Believer 2: So it's okay to receive and it's okay to give?
Believer 6: It's personal preference.
RH: People from different countries, different cultures, may think differently about transplants and organ donation.
Believer 5: What is the Buddhist view?
RH: It is not within the doctrine of this faith to decide for you, or to dictate that you do one or the other. From the beginning it has always been a personal choice.
Believer 3: What is the purpose of life?
RH Is it okay to offer a transplant to someone who chants Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, and not to offer a transplant to someone who believes in Christianity?
Believer 3: That is not my view. What ever your karma brings, must be dealt with, that is my view.
Believer 6: My uncle is in his sixties. He had an eye transplant, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, from a 24-year-old who was killed in an accident. Now my uncle can't see out of that eye. His sight is totally gone, and he wasted all that money on a transplant.
Believer 3: That was his karma. This is what I mean.
Believer 6: It was a complete waste.
RH: In Christianity the idea of volunteering is held in high esteem. The idea of volunteering and doing good works is appreciated by many. But mainly what is in the back of people's mind is that, "Wow, I'm doing these good deeds, helping people, and God's going to favor me and let me into Heaven." Is that the reason behind all this charity? Is that the proper way to view it? Unless you give from your heart it has no value.
Believer 2: What if you want to help someone?
RH: What is motivating you to do it? Is it because you want a reward? Or is it because you really, truly feel it is the correct thing to do?
What is your idea of doing charity work, or doing good work? Does it mean that because you did something good you're going to get something in return? What is the motivation in your heart? Just because you're giving someone something, whether its money, or time, or whatever it happens to be -- just the idea of giving -- if you're giving it with the idea that you are in control, you are going to get something in return, you have the control, you have the choice of giving this needy person something, and you expect someone to say, 'job well done,' or you expect a pat on the back, ask yourself, "what is the reason behind my charity?" You have to be careful about what motivational factors are behind everything you do. You must be motivated from the heart without any notion of receiving anything in return. That's the basic premise of Buddhism.
If I am chanting and I give my eye in the spirit of Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, and the person who receives it thinks it's because of God's blessing that they received it, I can not complain about that. I have no control over how someone else receives my eyes. You can not limit your giving only to people who chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo. You don't know whether the person who is Christian today won't be chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo in the future. So even if I donate my eye and somebody receives it and still can't see out of his eyes, and he decides that he doesn't want to live any longer and kills himself, there's nothing I can do or say about that. That's what organ donorship is about.
The first person to receive a transplant in Japan came to America for the operation, then returned to Japan. Lots of people in Japan donated money so that this man could receive the operation. When he came to America he was sick; when he returned to Japan he was well. An article appeared in the newspaper complaining that this person was gambling. When I read that article I thought, what's wrong with that? There are healthy people gambling. Because this man received the transplant does that mean that we have the right to decide how he should live his life after it has been extended? In the news article the judgment was that since this person received a transplant, and so many people contributed to his surgery, then they have decided how this person should live his life.
There are some that think that just the fact that you have lengthened someone's life is important. But you should not think of a transplant as away of lengthening someone's life. Rather than lengthening someone's life, what is more important is the content of someone's life. The amount of time you spend on earth is of very little importance -- whether it's two days or 200 years. It's what you do while you're alive. Whether a person dies at the age of 20 or lives for 30 more years, the content of one's life is more important than the length of one's life.
One group of people thinks that the length of life is more important. A second group of people thinks that the content of life is more important. This second group are people who want to leave a legacy or have something written about them. A third group, which is the most important way of thinking, thinks that the kind of heart you have while alive is more important. Do you have the same heart as Namu-myoho-renge-kyo? Do you have the same heart as Nichiren Daishonin? This is what is written in the Lotus Sutra on how to attain enlightenment.
A doctor can extend the amount of time you spend on this earth, but that doesn't change anything.
When you donate an organ to someone, you don't know what he or she will do with their life. It's not important that you have done a good deed. Nor is it important what that person does with his or her life afterwards. What is important is your thinking when you donate, that maybe I've made a connection between this person and Namu-myoho-renge-kyo sometime in the future. That's the extent of what you can think about your donation to that person. Other than that you have no control.
With regard to making money off of transplants, it's making money off of death. It's not doing anything worthwhile with your life. It has no meaning at all. There are things people are doing that just should not be done. Transplanting brains or transplanting the heart is wrong.
Believer 3: What about cloning?
RH: Cloning is wrong. And there is absolutely no reason to grow something or develop something just so you can transplant parts of that organism to lengthen a life. It is unacceptable to think that we can clone or exchange brains. Another thing that is unacceptable is to develop something or grow something for the sake of transplanting. That there is a limit to human life is significant. The magnificence of being human is that within this limited lifespan we live to the maximum potential of life.
Believer 3: Human life can be compared to that of a butterfly: beautiful but brief.
RH: Japanese beetles die within two weeks after they surface from underground. The beetles live about four or five years underground. Once they come above ground they die within two weeks. So when we look at the brevity of their lives we wonder what is the purpose of their lives. However, without us having observed it they were living beneath the earth. Likewise, we had past lives; we were living in past existences, but we can't see that -- we can't remember that. What we witness as human beings from the time we are born is not our actual length of existence. We were existing long before we were born in this life. So our lives are analogous to the Japanese beetle which lives in the earth long before it is seen, surfaces, lives a brief life above ground, then dies within two weeks. As with the Japanese beetle, since we can not see our past we don't know our purpose in life. And in turn we can not evaluate or judge our purpose without having an understanding of what we can not see.
Believer 3: Without having an understanding of the invisible?
Believer 4: Without seeing what came before.
Believer 5: Not the invisible. We could evaluate the beetle's life and say it had no purpose. But we could not see the four or five years it was living under the earth. We are making a judgment on the beetle's life based on the two weeks we see it. That's the limit of our ability to judge.
RH: When we think about transplants we think about extending life to age 70 or 80, but we don't take in to consideration all the lives - previous and future - and the whole existence of that one spirit. Eternity is forever - in the past and the future. Going to extraordinary measures to extend your life to 70 or 80 doesn't make a lot of sense. 70 or 80 years is such a short amount of time. Even if you extend your life to 400 years, it is still a scintilla of time in the context of eternity.
In Japan, organ donation is accepted from people up to 50 years old. 50 is the cut-off age. I have two more years of eligibility. Anything can happen in these two years. I could have an accident and then be able to donate. The Japanese don't take organs from people over 50. They have two years to get a piece of me, if they want it.
The whole subject of transplant is not something Nichiren Daishonin discussed. He did not say whether one should, or should not do it. It depends on each person's individual belief and the way one thinks one should act. That is what determines whether one donates or not.
Having the attitude that you want to receive but don't want to give, or that you'll give to your children but not to someone else, or you'll receive a transplant from an American but not from a Japanese; that kind of thinking is not good.
Believer 6: What happens to a Buddhist who commits suicide?
RH: Just because you go through the rituals of Buddhist practice it does not mean you understand Buddhism, or lead the life you should, or think you should have. Obviously there was something wrong for her to have come to the decision to commit suicide. Among ourselves, we practice and chant all the time, but some of us still lie and cheat. It's in the same order as that. Suicide is just another failing of the human character. Basically, if as a Buddhist one did something wrong, it carries the same weight as if one were not a Buddhist. No matter what it is, if it's the wrong path you are going down, you can get as near to the truth as you like, but unless you actually get there, actually believe and follow the Way, it makes no difference - you're lost. Just because you're close to the Daishonin's true teachings does not necessarily mean that you're going to get anymore reward. If you do something like committing suicide, even though you chanted your whole life and came this close to the true teachings, it won't matter. A miss is a miss.
Believer 6: So, it's better to die naturally.
Believer 5: How can you know how much a person understands the Daishonin's Buddhism?
RH: I can't judge how much that person understood. It's something that's held within a person's life.
Believer 5: Fate. How will suicide effect someone's fate?
RH: I'm not saying what the effect of suicide will be on someone. What I'm saying is. . .I don't know how Christians feel about suicide. In Buddhism your life is really not your life. We all think our lives are our own. In our lives there's nothing that we created that belongs to us. We did not create our hair; we didn't create our face; we didn't create our bodies, or skin. Even the house that we buy: it seems to belong to us, but it's really not something that belongs to us. Everything is borrowed.
Believer 3: Borrowed from the Buddha? Borrowed from Namu-myoho-renge-kyo?
RH: To destroy something that is borrowed is a sin. It is something you should definitely not do. I'm not the Buddha. I can't say that because she killed herself, "X" will happen to her. When you do harm to yourself, you are doing harm to or rejecting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo.
Believer 1: Please explain, if our lives are not our own then we must borrow them from the Buddha.
RH: In Christianity they say that God created us. In Buddhism it is not that God or anything else created us. Everything is a part of the Law of Myohorengekyo. And everything is a part of everything else, and life is all one. So, if everything else did not exist -- flora and fauna -- there would not be human life. Because all life is interconnected, if you kill yourself, or you kill another life, then you are destroying other life as well.
Believer 1: I can understand that. You are borrowing your life from the whole.
RH: Within the five characters of Daimoku -- Myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo--are the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind and ku. These are the constituent, universal elements within us. Combined these comprise all life. We cannot do without them. The five elements are also the five characters of the Law that we chant. In our bodies earth corresponds to muscle, bone and skin; 90% of our body is water in the form of blood and sweat; fire is our body temperature; wind is our breath; and ku is space -- the infinite extension of the three-dimensional field of everyday life which our lives permeate. People everywhere breathe the same air. In France, Brazil, Japan we are all breathing the same air. Everything is made up of these five elements.
Believer 5: What is the relationship between Namu-myoho-renge-kyo to the five elements? I don't see the five elements in Namu-myoho-renge-kyo.
RH: If you read the five characters of Myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo from the bottom up you will see earth (chi), water (shi), fire (ka), wind (fu) and space or flux (ku). Daishonin describes our life in this way.
So when you kill yourself it is a useless thing. It is neither a plus nor a minus. It's not something I can determine. However, when you kill yourself you break a connection with Myohorengekyo and all life. Nichiren Daishonin made this connection. When you kill yourself you are destroying the chi, which is earth (muscles, bones, skin).
Believer 5: What is ku?
Believer 3: Isn't ku the void?
RH: When we speak of the bones returning from whence they came we are referring to ku of ku, ke, chu.
In this Buddhism there really isn't void or nothingness. There isn't void in life. Life is eternal. When a person dies he or she changes into another form of life. We don't know what that life is. When you have a baby you cannot see what your baby looks like before it is born. Even though the baby is not visible to you, it still exists and you will give birth to it. It's the same as when we die. The same analogy can be applied to death. Before we die we cannot see what will happen after life, but there is life after death. Dying is not the end. Dying is the beginning. So ku is something you cannot see, yet it exists. Like the unborn child, or life after death, which both exist, the same is true of ku. But we human beings can't see it. We think that what we see is what is important.
Here, these two different objects are the same length. They are the same size, but they look different. We think that if we can see it we can judge it. But as I've just proven, even when we see something we cannot judge it correctly. Even though we are all sitting here having this discussion we cannot see our own hearts, and we cannot see what exists in each other's heart or mind. Yet, definitely there is something there. That is ku.
Things that have form and shape are classified as ke. Things without form or shape, but exist are ku. Things of the ke nature are temporary. Things of the ku - formless - nature exist in a continuum. Ke is illusion. Between the illusion--ke--and the formlessness--ku--is eternity--chu--the Middle Way.
ORGAN DONATION, CLONING, AND SUICIDE With Reverend Raido Hirota
Translated and edited by Udumbara Foundation volunteers