The classic Trolley Dilemma – What would you do?

Most of us have heard about the ‘trolley dilemma’ relating to Buddhism, but placed in that very situation, what would you actually do?


I’ve pondered on this for a while now and even had discussions & debates with Buddhist monks. Despite the many different viewpoints, I can’t help feeling there are still things for consideration – but first let’s look at the scenario……

You’re standing on a bridge over 2 railway tracks.  A little while ago, the police arrested 6 people for a serious crime and they are now all handcuffed and waiting for arrest. Five of these people are face down on the first track. The other person is cuffed & face down on the other track. The next train isn’t due for another 15 mins but from the bridge you can see in the distance, a train trolley hurtling down towards the track with 5 people on. Right next to you is a signal box with a large iron lever. If you pull the lever, the trolley will switch tracks and hit one person instead of 5.

It’s in your hands now but before you decide, consider these factors…..

1- By allowing the train to hit one man you can save 5 lives but what gives you the right to decide that one man matters less than the other 5?
2- Karma already decided their fate which is why they’re in that situation so really you don’t need to do anything. But then what about your own karma if you knowingly let people die?
3- You could also walk away and pretend you never saw anything after all – if they weren’t criminals they wouldn’t be there in the first place. But could you honestly live with the consequences of walking away? Again what about your own karma?

What’s your viewpoint on this? Let’s have a discussion


10 thoughts on “The classic Trolley Dilemma – What would you do?

  1. Unbelievably difficult. But taking into account concepts about people and other creatures lives, might be, redirection is more correct choice.


  2. Good to see you back, I missed your questions!

    1. Nothing gives me the right to decide that anyone is more or less important or valuable as anyone else. I have however common sense to judge and do my best.
    2. Personally I don’t think karma has decided or determined anything. Nothing happens until it happens and before is still undetermined. This is a misrepresentation of karma.
    3. If I save five, the blood of one is on my hands. If I save one, the blood of five is on my hands. If I do nothing the blood of five is still on my hands as I pretended to ignore the situation. I have to act and do something.

    My choice would be this. Save five allow one to die. This is the clear and logical choice. But if I trusted myself and felt I was fast and had good timing. I would wait till the first wheels of the car had crossed the change, then pull the leaver very quickly and change the back wheels causing the car to derail and save all six.

    How about that?



    • Well wow! that’s quite a response and well thought through. I would like to say on the karma issue, I don’t personally believe it is a misrepresentation. You see I believe situations happen because of past life karma. So if someone commits crime its because they brought their karmic imprint along to this life and must pay the consequences or make decisions to change. So all 6 people had met at this point because of past life experiences and were now in a position of facing possible end to life because of those experiences. This depends very much on the actions of the other person whose Karma brought them there as the decision maker. This is just my perspective and of course there’ll be a million others. I think I would save 5 & switch to lose 1. It would be a matter of acting for the greater good by saving the majority but I would pray for the positive rebirth of the one lost.


  3. If I was going to intervene I would try to do something to stop the train all together and save them all. If I didn’t succeed at least I would know I tried to have them all


  4. Well, I think that Karma does not decide anything we do as I am 100% responsible for my Karma. Karma can also be changed before it fully ripens, in this case, that would be the moment the train hit them. Karma is not fate people confuse that a lot. Secondly, they all must be saved as they are only arrested and have not had a proper trial. If the police get to judge the criminals themselves I definitely would try to derail the train car. An even more difficult question would be to mention that there were 10 innocent passengers on the train car making my derailment, not an option. In which case I would switch the track to the single prisoner and use the 15 min I had to untie him, hopefully resulting in no deaths.



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