I am a father of a now 13 year old daughter. She was born with the genetic disorder Achondroplasie (Dwarfism, "small people"). At the age of 11 we decided that she should undergo leg-extension surgery. Everything went OK, she woke up after the OP and talked with us, was happy to see her feet beeing longer, was happy to get back home.

2 hours later, while back in the patient room, she was unattended and suffocated. My wife found her, started resuscitation and called the emergency team who then took over. They brought her back. At least some of her.

Today, 2 years after this horrible incident, she is now in a state of reduced consciousness. She has her eyes open, can groan and moan, feels it when you tickle her toes, even laughs when you tell a funny story e.g. about her cats (she had 4 and loved them).

She can not talk though, chew or drink or use her body parts (like moving any part of it on intention). She is lying in a bed 24/7 listening to audio CDs with books for children. If the audio runs out, she starts crying and moaning.

My wife, my son and I myself are devastated. She was such an active, life-loving kid, although she had this genetic disorder, she was best in her class and wrote essays and made drawings you would not expect from an 11 year old girl. And now she is forced onto the wheelchair, damned to stay the rest of her life in bed or this chair.

So my question is this: what would Buddhism say that happened to my daughter? What is she today? Where is she? Is she still my daughter or has reincarnation taken place? What is the purpose of her being damned to this state?

Thank you for your answers!

Best regards Palerider

  • It would be good, householder, if "entertaining" your child with the good and true Dhamma of the Buddha, the Dhamma of the Arahats, providing touch with the Tripple Gems. – Samana Johann Aug 29 at 6:55

After my wife died I found that she existed in my mind quite a lot (as well as formerly existing physically).

That existence (in my mind) could make me happy ("what a privilege to know her") or sad ("miss her dearly").

Whether I'm sad or happy is partly my choice, it's not inherent in or obliged by the physics of the situation -- instead a matter of how I train myself (habitual thought), a.k.a. it depends on how I "view" it.

On the subject of memory, one of the things to remember (according to Buddhism) is "virtue" -- for example skilful, altruistic, compassionate behaviour -- "recollection of virtue" is an mind-object whose result or purpose could be an "absence of remorse". So when people behave virtuously, remembering that doesn't cause regret -- instead, looking back, "I'm glad she did that" and "I'm glad I did that" and so on.

Because it's a matter of doing the best you can in the circumstances.

So my question is this: what would Buddhism say that happened to my daughter? What is she today? Where is she? Is she still my daughter or has reincarnation taken place? What is the purpose of her being damned to this state?

If Buddhism were speaking carefully I think it would adapt what it says according to what you understand and know -- perhaps a gradual training.

I tend to think of Buddhist doctrine as starting with "the four noble truths", but according to this topic it might begin with talking about ethics, and generosity, and heaven.

Then there are the four noble truths, which are approximately (as I remember them):

  1. Birth, sickness, death, are dukkha (the word dukkha is translated variously as "suffering" or "stress" or "unsatisfactory"); and not getting what you want, being exposed to what you don't want, not being able to keep what you want to keep, are dukkha; in short, the five "aggregates of clinging" are unsatisfactory.
  2. Dukkha is associated with tanha (literally "thirst", usually translated "craving") craving for sense-objects, craving for becoming/existence, even the craving for ending
  3. Dukkha ceases when craving ceases
  4. There's a way (Buddhist practice) which leads towards the complete ending of craving and suffering

So apparently suffering arises with (and results from) various forms of craving -- wanting things to be other than as they are.

Another important part of the Buddhist doctrine is that everything that's put-together (including "beings") is impermanent -- so I guess you'd better not expect "compound things" to last forever ... including "human bodies" (but even also day-dreams may be fabricated and based on a false assumption that the body is under your control, e.g. that it remains healthy and unchanging).

Buddhism also praises "seeing things as they really are" -- which includes seeing, "they're impermanent" -- but I think that also includes seeing a distinction between moral and immoral (seeing kindness, altruism, and so on).

There's another doctrine, the anatta or "non-self" doctrine. If the four noble truths are the first doctrine then anatta is the second. It might be difficult to understand or explain -- those who do understand might be called semi-enlightened, there are dozens of questions about it on this site -- it might be summarised as "any view of self will result in dukkha" -- where examples of "self-view" include "I exist" but also "I don't exist" and "this is me" and "this is mine" and "this is my permanent self".

For that kind of reason the question "What is she?" is difficult to answer in a way that wouldn't cause you pain -- I think that Buddhism might say that there is no satisfactory answer to that question.

Going further the question might be described as the product of unwise attention. Conversely "wise attention" focuses on questions like "what is stressful?" and "what is not?" -- for example, "recollection of virtue" and questions like "what was virtuous?" and "what is virtuous now?" might be a more kind of "enlightening" way to try to think about things.

  • Thank you for this kind answer. I am myself not a Buddhist but intrigued by the idea that the true self is neither our mind nor our body. – Narcoticano Sep 5 at 9:13

I have a friend who got two disabled children only. They have a very positive outlook. They said, "Our two children are happy the way they are but we are the one unhappy as we do not have a perfect child". It appears your child like music and happy and enjoy listening to them. This is no different from any other child. Every child is not the same. They all are different in different ways.

  • Thank you for your kind comment. She loved to read and was great in using language. She loved the theather play. It is funny how this strong longing of her is still vividly alive in her. Those audio books and our time reading and talking is very fulfilling for her, and for us. Its those moments when she hears soemething funny, like a play of words, and she breaks out in laughter, that we know that she can still enjoy life and laugh about it. – Narcoticano Sep 5 at 9:24

For as long as your daughter is still alive, in whatever state, she is always your daughter.

In Theravada Buddhism, reincarnation is believed to take place as soon as the cessation of 5 aggregates (i.e. end of life).

So far, only the Lord Buddha has the ability to read through one's absolute past Karma, such as what happened in past lives, and where they go in next life.

  • Thank you very much for your kind comment. One day I might hope to be enabled understand the Karma that led to this. – Narcoticano Sep 5 at 9:27

What would Buddhism say that happened to my daughter?

Buddhism teaches the life of each person is composed of five aggregates (khandha), which are:

(i) physicality (rupa);

(ii) feeling sensation (vedana);

(iii) perception (sanna);

(iv) mental formations (sankhara); and

(v) sense consciousness (vinnana).

About each of these aggregates, the Pali scriptures say:

  • Each aggregate, due to natural impermanence, can lead to "affliction" or "sickness" ("ābādhāya") - SN 22.59

  • The physical aggregate, in particularly, will sooner or later be "deformed", as follows: "And why, bhikkhus, do you call it form? ‘It is deformed,’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called form". SN 22.79

While your daughter's situation was moving or poignant to read about, her situation is simply a case of "bad luck" or sickness/physical damage occurring much sooner rather than later.

What is she today? Where is she?

Buddhism also summarises the five-aggregates as "nama-rupa" or "mentality-materiality". "Nama-rupa" is a word compound to show "mind" and "body" are mutually dependent upon each other.

Unfortunately, the physical component is causing impairment to your daughter's mental component. It seems she is still there when she laughs when you tell a funny story e.g. about her cats, who she still loves and remembers.

Is she still my daughter or has reincarnation taken place?

It seems she is still your daughter and reincarnation has not taken place

What is the purpose of her being damned to this state?

As I previously suggested, your daughter's situation appears to be merely "bad luck". Physical damage can happen to each person and will inevitably happen eventually. You daughter can help you develop understanding and compassion.

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