Looking at cloning through a Hindu lens

Many religious North Americans believe the idea of cloning amounts to scientists playing God and tinkering with his Creation in a way that’s dangerous and downright sinful. And if something were to go wrong in the process, how would they fix it? After all, there is no “user’s manual.” Such concerns, although valid, are based on the Biblical concept of God and Creation.

The advaita or non-dualism philosophy of Hinduism does not separate God from man. Hindu scriptures declare “tat tvam Asi” or “thou art That (God),” meaning that every human has the potential to attain perfection or divinity. Man is not just following a distant deity’s command in fulfillment of the Divine Law. Instead, man is engineering Divine Law alongside the architect. In other words, God is executing his will through humans, including scientists.

The moral and spiritual aspects of human replication are somewhat problematic to Hindu intellectuals since, besides Creation and Divine Law, many other fundamental Hindu beliefs- such as the laws of karma, reincarnation and moksha or salvation- also come into play.

In reincarnation, whose soul or spirit will enter into the biological structure created by the scientists in order to give it a life? Will a cloned person inherit the good or bad karmas of its original?

While researching this issue on the Internet, I came across an interesting Hindu viewpoint. By taking a living cell, a scientist can clone the physical structure of an organism, but the process doesn’t necessarily duplicate the soul, which means that the cloned person may not possess the characteristics or personality of its original.

In support of this argument, its proponent cites a story from the Purana, a body of sacred Hindu literature. Many may consider this story a forerunner of science fiction, but it also suggests the idea of cloning was not unknown to ancient Hindu sages and seers.

Briefly, when King Nimi died as a result of his guru Vasistha’s curse, his body was preserved using oils, herbs and resins. Realizing that Nimi had no heir, some sages rubbed his thigh using a fire-kindling rod. Although this cloning process, whatever it was, duplicated the king, the character and personality traits of his clone turned out to be absolutely opposite to those of Nimi. In other words, God did not assign Nimi’s soul and karmas to his duplicate.

From a Hindu perspective, the good news is that if people with bad karmas like Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler were to be cloned, their souls may reincarnate in another body, while their cloned bodies may be assigned the souls of others.

Pundit Abhay Shastri, head priest of Hindu Sabha Temple in Brampton, is reassuring: “Soul can neither be divided nor replicated; which is why even twins don’t have the identical character and personality traits. There is nothing to worry about cloning.”

Even if a clone did inherit a wicked soul, personality and bad karma from its original, Hinduism still offers a positive response.

Since Hindus cremate their dead, no body tissues would be available to scientists for cloning them. However, dead bodies of highly revered Hindu saints and sages are not cremated; they are interred or entombed. Therefore, only spiritual people’s tissues would be available for cloning.

According to the report summarizing Hindus spiritual leaders’ varied thoughts, submitted to Bill Clinton’s National Bioethical Advisory Committee, “a cloned body might be useful.”

“Instructions exist in ancient Indian (Hindu) texts explaining how to conceive a child of a passionless and poised nature, all based on the thoughts and yogic practices of the parents during coitus,” it says. “If that is true, might not cloning, with its total elimination of human sexuality, provide a physical-emotional home for an advanced soul seeking an earthly passage of solace, needing to live without emotion or powerful desires and sentiments?”

So, although human cloning is a hotly debated issue, it seems Hindus are neither totally opposed to nor frightened by the prospect.