Does Hinduism approve Medical Advancement in the feild of infertility?
In private and at the clinic, a lot of people have asked me this question. I have been struggling with this question myself for a long time. Being from the medical background, my conscience have always urged me to look for reasons and facts before I take a stand. I decided to dive deep into my culture and root to find an inner balance between science and spirituality.
Hinduism has rich heritage of more than five thousand years in the Indian sub-continent. Being an inimitable religion it has treasured thousands of tales, uncountable sacred texts, with no inveterate founder ever testified. Although the modern day Hinduism is very different, its roots date back to as far as 2000 BCE, which attests it to be one of the oldest religions followed by humankind. Much was unearthed through the archaeological studies and by examining sacred texts, however for most of them, the authors are still faceless. With a long and multifarious history of Hinduism, it carries huge legacy of legends, faith, sacraments and culture that has gone through series of alternations and reformations with time.
Harappa, an ancient capital of Punjab which is modern day Pakistan, located near the land of Indus Valley and Punjab. It is the epitome of the Mohenjodaro civilization. On the banks of the River Indus settlements, side rooms and sculptures were found to prove the existence of early purification rituals. A large number of statues of goddesses have been discovered, which could suggest the practice of early fertility rites that marks the existence of Indus Valley Civilization. Rivers were worshipped and considered sacred. The Indus Valley Civilization contemplated rivers as both male and female gods of fertility.
Stories in Hinduism are discovered that involves bearing children of gods, births and love for children are just like in any another religion. A legendary perception that children were related to parents in their past lives can be found in many records. The desire and importance of offspring are found in our scriptures. There is an extent of religious faith that is entailed in Mahabharata as a tale of sage Agastya. It throws some light on why in Hinduism giving birth to offspring is considered very important. While looking for Moksha from endless cycles of rebirth, Agstya abandoned all his social ties, and went to a forest to perform austerities. He thought that giving up all the materialistic desires and by refusing to yield to illusory pleasure, his soul would gain liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Time passed, and one night he had a vision, where he saw his ancestors hanging upside down over a gaping hole, crying. They said, ‘we are trapped in the land of death, and don’t have any hopes of escaping from this trap’. Sage Agastya approached them to offer his help, and they replied, ‘You should father children so that we can reborn, we need your help to return to the land of living and work towards Moksha, otherwise you too will end up here and suffer for all eternity. It’s time for you to pay back to your ancestors’. The request was very astonishing to him. However, he decided to follow what he heard and finally was able to break the vicious cycle.
Hindus believe that everyone who comes to this world have debt to their ancestors to pay. One of the ways you can do so is to father male offspring. It is also reminded in one of the important rituals in Hinduism, called Shraddha.
Many stories that links up the artificial insemination and surrogacy can be found in the ancient Hindu allegories. For example, once Lord Shiva prattled out semen after seeing Lord Vishnu in the form of Celestial Enchatress Mohini. The semen was collected by the sages were poured into the ‘ear’ — mythical metaphor for womb, of Anjani who was Vayu’s (Wind God) wife. It eventually led to the birth of Hanuman. Devoid of the mythical era, it can be considered as artificial insemination — transfer of semen without sexual intercourse.
Furthermore, Bhagvata Purana suggests the practice of surrogacy where Vasudeva subpoenaed Goddess Yogamaya and had her transfer the foetus from the womb of Devaki to the womb of Rohini, to save the child from the evil king Kans. The child thus conceived was nurtured in and delivered through the womb of another woman, clinically referred as surrogacy.
Hindu sacred texts have also revealed one of the practices called niyoga in the prehistoric times. The practice was a proposition from Dharmashastra that involved cohabiting with another men outside marriage in order to conceive if the husband fails to get his wives pregnant. In Mahabharata, when King Vichitravirya died, his mother asked Sage Vyasa to conceive children with her widowed daughters-in-law. The practice still prevails in modern day Hinduism, however the practice is socially frowned upon and kept secret by many couples.
Hinduism has two types of sacred scriptures: the Vedas and Puranas. The Vedas are the eternal laws that governs the whole cosmos from atom to humankind. The Puranas are the stories of people and gods that illustrate the implementation of the eternal laws in different times and circumstances. The Puranas show the practice of assisted pregnancy during the advancement of Hindu civilisation as mentioned above.
In ancient times, Hindu civilisation was regarded by Greece, Roman, Egypt and Arabic civilisations as the pioneering and progressive civilisation of the time. It had influenced other ancient civilisations not only spiritually but also contributed in the field of science, mathematics and medicine along with many other subjects. The concept of zero, algebra, algorithm, square root and cube are found in the Vedic literature. Rig Veda (2000 BC) refers to astronomy. The distance between the earth and the moon and other planetary observations were mentioned by the sages in the Rig Veda. Concepts of atom and theory of relativity were explicitly stated by sages around 600 BC. In the field of Medical science & surgery, around 800 BC first compendium on medicine and surgery was compiled in ancient Ayurvedic scriptures.
Consequently, the Hindu civilisation has always contributed to the betterment of humankind. Its eternal laws the Vedas are the North Star to every Hindu. The Puranas help us to put them in practice as per our time and circumstances. I think, at individual level, one should ask oneself, ‘Am I a progressive Hindu or a ghost from the past?’ I have decided to be a progressive Hindu and support science to bring joy in the life of couples without children.
(a version of this was published in MnSVmag on July 14th 2017 edition)