What would be a buddhist’s solution to the famous trolley problem?

Question: “What would be a buddhist’s solution to the famous trolley problem? Ps. Thank you for maintaining this blog. It is really an inspiring thing and extremely helpful!”

Thank you for your kind words 🙂

Oh the trolley dilemma! In many other similar ethical issues and examples, death is the ultimate outcome regardless of what path is taken. But I would like to share a Buddhist story about one of the Buddha’s previous lives while he was still a Bodhisattva.

The story goes: Once while still a Bodhisattva, the Buddha was on a ship with five hundred other people. Because he was a bodhisattva, he had the power of clairvoyance and saw that there was a man on the ship that was planning on killing everyone onboard. As a bodhisattva, one takes the vow to protect all life even if it means sacrificing your own. So the Buddha contemplated on what he should do, because he knew that if he didn’t do anything, 500 people would die. But if he were to try and stop the killer by killing him, then he would be reborn in hell.

So as a bodhisattva, he made the sacrifice of saving everyone on board by killing the one person. The bodhisattva was reborn in hell, but because of his great merit and virtue, the bodhisattva only spent but a moment in hell before he was again reborn as a human being.

So in Buddhism, when it comes to the trolley problem, sacrificing one person to save five would be the decision made. Even if the person would have to be reborn in hell.


Smile and be well!


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