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Into the Jaws of Yama, Lord of Death

Buddhism, Bioethics, and Death

Karma Lekshe Tsomo

Publication Year: 2006

This book explores the Buddhist view of death and its implications for contemporary bioethics. Writing primarily from within the Tibetan tradition, author Karma Lekshe Tsomo discusses Buddhist notions of human consciousness and personal identity and how these figure in the Buddhist view of death. Beliefs about death and enlightenment and states between life and death are also discussed. Tsomo goes on to examine such hot-button topics as cloning, abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, organ donation, genetic engineering, and stem-cell research within a Buddhist context, introducing new ways of thinking about these highly controversial issues.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Into the Jaws of Yama, Lord of Death

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This study draws on the insights of numerous scholars and friends,gleaned through readings and discussions over many years. For their friendship, editorial skills, and wisdom, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Ramona Bajema, Margaret Coberly, Evelyn Diane Cowie, Ahna Fender, and Rebecca Paxton. For his unfailing ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-14

As a small child, I was fascinated with the question of what happens after death. An aura of mystery, fear, and avoidance seemed to accompany the topic of death. Although I asked one authority after another, the answers did not strike me as satisfactory. The rewards of heaven and the threat of hell did not seem convincing explanations of what...

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2. Understanding Death and Impermanence

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pp. 15-30

One day in June 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a highly respected Vietnamese Buddhist monk, sat outside the Cambodian Embassy on a noisy thoroughfare in Saigon to protest the oppression of Buddhists by the United States-backed regime of the Catholic dictator Ngo Dinh Diem. Dressed in traditional orange Buddhist robes and surrounded by a chanting circle of devoted supporters, the monk quietly doused himself with petrol and, seated in the lotus position, was soon engulfed in flames. ...

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3. Understanding the Nature of Consciousness

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pp. 31-42

When Buddhists approach the topics of death and ethical decision making, their primary focus is not the body or soul, but consciousness. Consciousness is central to human experience, because it is the means by which we know the world around us. There are many different Buddhist philosophical perspectives ...

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4. Contemplating Self and No-Self

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pp. 43-62

A favorite theme of Buddhist contemplation is: “What is the self?” The inquiry is intimately related to death, because the construction of personal identity and its dissolution at the time of death are intrinsically related. If the self is not a living thing, but merely a concept or an abstraction, then how can it be subject to death? The intimate link...

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5. Foundations of Buddhist Ethics

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pp. 63-78

Buddhist texts from different places and periods present a variety of responses to questions about the nature of self, the nature of death, and what transpires in the process of a person’s dying. For Buddhist practitioners, there is also an active engagement with death in meditation. Formulas like “The only thing that separates us from death is one breath,”...

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6. Death and Enlightenment in Tibet

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pp. 79-98

The Tibetan Plateau is situated directly north of India and Nepal, separated by the enormity of the Himalayan mountain range that stretches from east to west. In this sparsely populated high-altitude region, the indigenous religious beliefs and practices known as B

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7. The Transition Between Life and Death

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pp. 99-124

The ultimate objective for Buddhists is the attainment of liberation from the wheel of rebirth, for unless liberation is reached, the sufferings and dissatisfactions of sa

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8. The Ethical Urgency of Death

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pp. 125-162

Philosophical perspectives and popular beliefs about death and the nature of what occurs after death set the stage for an exploration of bioethical issues from Buddhist points of view. This exploration requires, first, an examination of traditional textual sources to see what they say about specific bioethical questions and, second, reflection on...

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9. Extending Life and Hastening Death

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pp. 163-194

In recent years, the topics of euthanasia and assisted suicide have become the focus of much heated debate. Now that medically extending life and deciding on a time to die have become options, the questions of whether and how long to live have become highly charged ethical and social concerns. Although the option of extending life ...

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10. Buddhism and Genetic Engineering

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pp. 195-208

The genetic engineering of living organisms represents one of the most significant, controversial, and potentially dangerous bioethical dilemmas facing human society today. The potential for designing children and creating mixed species, for example, immediately raises a multitude of practical and moral questions—questions about proprietary ...

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11. Bioethics in a Rapidly Changing World

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pp. 209-230

The great mystery of death has engaged the human imagination since the beginning of time, but never before have human beings exerted as much control over their own dying as now. Human beings are perhaps the only mammal with sufficient intelligence to contemplate whether and when it is permissible to take their own lives when death approaches ...


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pp. 231-244


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pp. 245-254


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pp. 255-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780791481455
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791468319
Print-ISBN-10: 0791468313

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Buddhism -- Doctrines.
  • Death -- Religious aspects -- Buddhism.
  • Intermediate state -- Buddhism.
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