Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Fri Mar 7 16:51:06 CST 1997

On Thu, 27 Feb 1997, Giri wrote:


> Someone asked me how Hinduism views cloning ?

I have thought very hard about this in the last few weeks, so here are my

The answer to this question can only be given in the context of one or the
other darSanas. There are some yogic schools which believe that the
essence of a man is present in his semen, and that he must withhold it
to achieve moksha. Modern science challenges such a view as much as it
challenges Judeo-Christian ideas on the essential identity of a human
being. As far as vedAnta is concerned, the possibility of producing human
beings by cloning should not be very problematic. This is because
ultimately, the cloning procedure affects only the material body.
The new human still has to be born from a surrogate mother's womb and grow
into an adult. The donor may be regarded as a parent of the child,
although the act of sex was not involved. If we go back to the original
act of creation, the jIva is in some sense a "clone" of brahman. Vedanta's
insistence that brahman can only be thought of as both material and
instrumental cause of the entire universe, ensures that whatever
materiality is present in one's identity is also traced to the same
brahman. However, AtmA-anAtmaviveka tells us that the material nature of
the deha (body) is not an essential part of the identity of the Atman.
Inasmuch as the same Atman manifests in multiple bodies, a body produced
by cloning is not very specially different from a body produced in the
old-fashioned way.

For the average person who does not care much for Vedanta, clearly, Hindu
mythology has many precedents by which children were born of only one
parent, or of multiple parents. Drona was born only out of Bharadvaja's
semen, while Skanda is a son of Siva, Agni, Uma, Ganga and the six
Krittikas. The general Hindu view also attaches a good deal of importance
to those who rear the child. Karna remained Radheya till the end, even
after he knew that he was Kaunteya. Krishna is as much Yashoda's son as he
is Devaki's. Thus, although a cloned child may be an exact genetic replica
of the donor parent, the mother who carries the pregnancy to term, and
those who rear the child are also its parents.

Finally, of course, all this does not address the motivations behind the
use of cloning. Although I am in a research group which has some ties to
biotechnology, I am not convinced that cloning is a viable option for
reproduction, or that it will offer all the material boons that the
proponents claim. A few scientists with connections may get some funding,
although the American President has banned the use of federal funds for
research into human cloning. Other than that, I remain skeptical about the
benefits to society at large. From the religious point of view, I find the
assumption that the essence of a human being is completely determined by
DNA and environment to be somewhat troublesome. Part of this feeling is
because most of those who talk of "progress" whether in evolutionary terms
or in economic terms or just in romantic terms never take the time to
define it properly. Progress towards what? from what? how? towards what

> How does karma affect the
> person who is cloned to several persons?

I should think that karma affects the person who is cloned in much the
same way as it affects a person who has a child. If human cloning ever
becomes a viable possibility, a conscious decision to clone oneself is
quite similar to a conscious decision to have a child. This is the seed of
the karma that will eventually take fruit.

I would welcome other people's thoughts on this.


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