On Euthanasia


Today marks the 49th day since my Australian Shepherd, Pema, passed away. A being in the bardo takes re-birth in one of the six realms sometime within the 49 day period after death. I shared a description of Pema’s death in an earlier post and the circumstances and decisions that led me to have her euthanized. Here I’d like to follow-up with a few more thoughts.

First, euthanasia is to be avoided at all costs and we should examine our motivation very carefully and fully understand the consequences of the act. If our motivation is impure, euthanasia is the same as any act of killing. With a truly pure motivation, it can become a skillful means to end suffering. That being said, examples of impure motivation include:

  • euthanizing an animal because you are too attached to it and can’t bear to watch it die;
  • euthanasia out of convenience: because you can’t care for the animal or put the time into training it properly;
  • euthanasia without exhausting all possible medical options to extend the animal’s life even if this means financial sacrifice and hardship

Euthanasia under these circumstances is clearly a negative action, and a breaking of the Buddhist vows. The result is re-birth in the lower realms.  We have to make an effort to care for the animal to the best of our ability but acknowleding our own limitations — there’s only so much we can do.

My root guru, Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche Losang Jampa, and his attendant, Ven Tashi, stayed at my home for a few days in May. I described Pema’s death and asked Rinpoche if having her put to sleep was the right decision. He said that if Pema were to be re-born as a human, then having her put to sleep would have hastened her move to a better life. On the other hand, if she were headed to one of the less favorable realms, then she would have arrived in a state where she would endure even more suffering, even faster. He added that since I had no way of knowing where Pema would be re-born, it was better to be by her side saying prayers when she departed this life at the hospital. Rinpoche’s visit helped clear away some of the difficult memories of that night — because the intense suffering happened in the house, it’s still a little eerie being here.

I have been doing the sur offering practice for the past 49 days, and it is such a beautiful, beneficial practice.  Very helpful in healing. What an amazing way to turn the loss of a loved one into the conditions for your own Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings! Rather than being overcome by negative emotions such as despair and attachment, the practice transforms that negative energy into something so positive. Reaching out to all the bardo beings, feeding them every night, what an amazing way to stay connected.  The bardo is a crowded place, Osama Bin Laden passed away around the same time as Pema, so I found myself praying for him as well.  Likewise, the Medicine Buddha sadhana and other prayers done at the time of death, strengthen us, give us the courage and determination to work even harder to rescue all sentient beings from the horrors of samsara. Lama Zopa Rinpoche strongly encourages us to do the sur practice, here’s some more information in an earlier blog post and a link to the practice booklet. There are a few other blog posts about how to do practice, search for “sur offering”.

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