SuttaCentral

Suicide Cases in the Suttas and the "authenticity"(early/late etc) of the texts


#21

It is not just about sila, but also wisdom. If your suffering is vipaka, then you will not escape it, even if you kill yourself. Furthermore, in such a situation, it might be difficult to die without involving someone else in the act, perhaps making them complicit by giving you the tools to do it. Would that be compassionate? And what of your next life (if you believe in rebirth)? Do you have the power to control how/where you are reborn? If you do not believe in rebirth, I would remind you that you have been dead prior to your conception and are here, writing on a forum. In at least this one case, birth has followed death. Who is to say that it cannot happen again?


#22

Yes, but what about being compassionate towards yourself, and others? Sometimes people die after causing financial ruin, to those who have to continue to live? I’m just saying that 1) people have to make imperfect divisions, without all the facts, and without all the resources, all the time 2) they may not agree with what we have to say about it, so is this discussion for our sake?


#23

I think adhering to rules (despite their rigidity) is more compassionate than personal feelings about individual cases.

I don’t remember where i encountered the story about a monk who had to disrobe because he saw a man being tortured and asked for his quick execution.


#24

Venerable Khemarato. I am struggling to discern the distinction made above, i.e, between “run away & hide from old age & death” and the action of the “enlightened”. Regards


#25

Yeah! It’s rather subtle, huh? Well, what’s your question specifically? What exactly are you struggling with?


#26

Hi All

Thank all of you for sharing the views. Overall, I am very fortunate that my health has improved significantly thought it is not cured (never can be cured as of now). I’ve to bear in mind that the body has it’s own mind. I can only take any obstacles I faced as an opportunity when it is pleasant or unpleasant to understand the Dhamma. I hope when my condition worsen again I’ll have gain enough wisdom to face it with equanimity. Vidar - I agree with you on right speech.

Lastly, one of my Dhamma teacher told me this phrase and it helped me a lot when I was in the hospital.

“My body may be sick; let not my mind be sick.” (S 22.1)

Once again, thank all of you. May all of you free from suffering. May all of you be happy. May all of you be well.

:pray::heart:


#27

An interesting aside- I volunteered for a hospice organization in Washington State (where physician assisted suicide is legal under strict guidelines). I remember them sharing a statistic of something like 97% of their patients who went through the process to receive these medications ultimately ended up not taking them. Through modern palliative care, the theoretical horrible suffering that they got the medication to prevent never materialized :+1:


#28

Thanks for your question. I am sorry to hear about your difficult situation. Hopefully you will be able to find a good outcome. Here are some of my thoughts on the issue.

It is a very common understanding that suicide is always wrong because it breaches the first precept. But the precepts are only an approximation to morality. To fully understand the Buddhist idea of morality, you need to take motivation and intention into account. Motivation is about where we are coming from, what the motive is that drives an action. If this motive is unwholesome, then the kamma is bad and the action is immoral. If, however, your motive is wholesome, your kamma is good and there is no problem with the action. This argument is all based on the suttas, by the way.

So you need to investigate your motivation. This can be tricky, but the general principle is that you should be motivated by kindness and compassion, including kindness towards yourself. On top of that, your mind should be as clear as possible. If you are confident that you are motivated by these qualities, then you will not be making any bad kamma, in fact, you might even be making good kamma. The trickiest part is delusion. You should be as clear as possible that you do not have hidden motivations that might be leading you astray. So make such a decision with care, and by observing your motivation over a long period of time. Then you will be in the best possible position to make a good decision.

Also, it is important to consult with your closest family to make sure you are not hurting anyone unnecessarily. If they understand what you are doing, they are more likely to be able to cope well with the consequences of your actions. We all have to die. And doing so after careful consultation may sometimes be a better than dying when people don’t expected it. Careful planning may have some unexpected benefits.

Just to be absolutely clear, I am not advocating that you should or should not do this. All I can do is tell you the laws of kamma as I best understand them. Only you can know your own mind, and so you will have make the decision.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Yes, this is an important point. We cannot wait until our motivation is 100% pure. Rather we have to act on motivations that are as pure as possible. In this way we are gradually moving towards greater purity. With practice, we may eventually act from complete purity, but it does take a lot of mental development. In the meantime, the kamma we produce will come in different shades of grey. Our job is to make those shades as light as possible.

I don’t know if he chose. It seems to me that others chose for him. If he had been able to communicate, who knows what he would have decided.

Yes, but it is nuanced. If you break a leg, you go to a doctor to get it sorted. You are very unlikely to just let it be, simply because you want to avoid acting on craving. It is often perfectly fine to avoid unnecessary pain. Even the Buddha did this.

I think I can see where you are coming from, but at the same time I feel it is an important topic. To enable a subtle understanding of kamma and morality, it is useful to discuss these borderline issues.

Yes, such decisions need to be taken with great care. But I do not feel I am in a position to tell anyone what they should do. Only they can know their own mind. There is so much stigma around suicide, but Buddhism actually does have a nuanced position on this. I think it is important we bring these nuances into the open. I believe monastics often are afraid of talking openly about this, since they are concerned about a potential pārājika offence. But as long as we give general advice based on the Dhamma, and do not specifically advise anyone to commit suicide, then there is no problem. It does become a problem, however, if fear stops us from teaching the Dhamma properly. (I do not mean to imply that this is your problem, Venerable. I am merely stating this as a general observation.)

As for aversion towards pain, it is not really an issue. We always act on such aversion, even the Buddha did. What we need to be careful about is the aversion not segueing into ill will.


#29

Indeed. Which is why I will choose to be fearless and make the stupid decision to publicly engage the renowned Vinaya and Ethics scholar, Ajahn @brahmali, on this point.

Yes, as I quoted already from SN35.87, the Buddha’s nuance is that suicide is blameworthy if and only if you’re not enlightened. That is the nuance.

Now, unless you have a text critical rationale for questioning the authenticity of SN35.87 (or have an alternative reading for this rather straightforward statement by the Buddha), I think it’s rather dishonest to just wave your hands and say “it’s nuanced” without clarifying that the “nuance” only extends to ariya.

Yes! Which is precisely why we need to seperate compassion for those suffering from justifying the act.

Now this really is a place for naunce. It’s difficult and challenging to get right, even when you want to say the right things. The media, teachers, even psychologists not to mention religious leaders get this wrong all the time. But it costs lives when we get the details here wrong.

Yes we need to be comfortable talking about suicide. Yes we need to be comfortable talking with people who are suicidal. Yes we need to normalize and destigmatize suicidal thoughts and the people who have them.

But we should absolutely not normalize the act itself.

Language that presents suicide as a way to find peace or solve problems glorifies the act and kills people.


#30

As always the devil is in the details, or in the interpretation if you like.

First, it is not entirely clear what blameless (anupavajjā) means in this context. Upavajjā normally has the very broad meaning of “criticism”. It does not necessarily imply bad kamma or immoral behaviour. In the present context, the criticism is against “taking up another body”, i.e. getting reborn. This doesn’t really say anything about the act itself, whether its bad or good kamma. If we take the sutta at face value, it is rebirth itself that is criticised. In other words, if you still have an opportunity to practice, you should take it.

In many cases where people are suffering tremendously and are close to death, however, I think there is often very little or no scope for practice. At a certain point the pains and problems - especially for ordinary people - may even be detrimental to practice. You might get angry that the doctor or your family is keeping you alive when you have no quality of life and there is no prospect of recovery. Making bad kamma towards the very end of your life is certainly not going to be helpful. Staying alive only has value to the extent that we can use our life for a purpose.

I can only agree with you, however, when you say that we should not glorify suicide. It is an imperfect option to be used only in difficult circumstances, and only after careful consideration. The problem is that sometimes there are no good options. We are then left with choosing the least bad one.


#31

Unless one leaving out the law of kamma ,
and if one is left with no good but the bad options , one has to bear with it if this is specifically about suicide . If about painful feelings not involving suicide , aversion from painful feelings does not generate unwholesome kamma .
Similarly with abortion intentionally , it generates unwholesome kamma .


#32

With due respect and sympathy to people who suffer catastrophic pain, doctors do not in my experience recommend suicide.

So far as I know a nuanced decision for a Buddhist is e.g. in balancing whether prescribed pain-killers will hinder mindfulness – a patient might intentionally delay pain-killers until pain is severe enough to be a worse hindrance than the medicine.

It’s true that modern medical care hasn’t always been available (and sometime still isn’t) – but to compare suicide to seeing a doctor (or to the Buddha’s spending time in meditation in order to stay comfortable) seems to me the opposite of nuanced.

That’s how I see the contemporary situation (I’m not trying to criticise the venerables of the Buddha’s day).


#33

It might even be helpful to distinguish between unskillful or unmindful suicide (where the mind of someone suffering with depression is hijacked and the person, deluded, loses all hope or desire to live on), and physician assisted suicides or physician assisted euthanasia ( eg “death with dignity”) . The latter has become permitted and statutory in a number of US states, and I have heard of these mindful procedures being permitted in European countries, as well. Death with Dignity Acts - States That Allow Assisted Death

In these cases, doctors are not recommending suicide to patients, but patients are able to make an informed decision, and the doctors advise, and may opt in or out of providing this service to an informed and consenting patient.

I’m not writing on this subject as I am an advocate of suicide, or an advocate for brushing aside the 1st Precept, by any means. In fact, this year I’m doing the The Distinguished Gentleman's Ride to raise money and awareness of men’s suicide risks and mitigation. Part of Buddhist practice, it seems to me, is what Bhante alluded to, which is that the Dhamma offers the possibility for cognitive calming and insight, and an awakening into nuanced and ethical views of modern problems and issues. It allows us to move away from dogma, or fundamentalist positions, and really open our minds to the best path of thinking on difficult issues.

I’m glad for the debate here. It’s healthy, and very thoughtful. It’s great to see our venerables (and all of us) engage, and offer differing and enlightening perspectives. This is what I love about this path, and what is so appreciated about “Discussion;” there’s a forum not only for discussion of these important issues, but a place where some learned and compassionate minds gather to open up these issues.


#34

I’ll mention something here that I haven’t mentioned before; something that I haven’t even mentioned to my 5 younger siblings.

When my dad was 48, he developed a blood cancer. He was in the Scripps Clinic, and being treated with the best that medicine had to offer. But, the cancer was untreatable. One day, my Mom and I were visiting my Dad ( she was with him every day), and he began to have immediate harsh irregular breathing. It was unexpected, and almost violent, as if he was drowning. We shouted for his nurse, who had been so exemplary through his care. She ran in the room, and to this day I remember her plunging a syringe into a port in his IV line, and his heart stopped. He left his body in that instant, and I remained in the room with my Dad.

I mention this, as it could be argued that amazing nurse “killed” my Dad. But I think of the suffering my Mother and I would have endured had we been in the room to witness my Dad “drowning,” and suffering for a long period of time. Her act at that terrible moment was so wise, so compassionate, and it saved me trauma (the event itself was bad enough…even to this day).

Her act was never mentioned or discussed. I am guessing that at the Scripps Clinic, these doctors and nurses know the signs. They know to be ready when the body gives out. They know to keep that syringe close at hand, just in case the passing is not peaceful, but violent. She knew, at that moment, what to do. I will be eternally grateful to her.


#35

Thanks for sharing this @UpasakaMichael. It is foremost we keep in mind that this topic and the sensitivities around represent an very real and marking aspect of life and many of us will come across one way or the other.

With that in mind we should avoid as much as possible the trap of approaching it from a purely theoretical perspective.

The trap has to do with how handling real life issues like these with our intellects gives us a false reality to operate at, from which is so easy to shout aloud categorical blames and judgements on the acts and decisions of others.

The truth is that with current medicine and technology people are living longer and stretching years last where the populace of 2,550 BC India used to live to.

And hence, EBTs offer very little reference for us to speculate what the Buddha would have to say about what happened between that nurse and your father.

May we all be blessed with a long and healthy life! And if we don’t happen to be so may we all be able to take Dhamma as a refuge until the very last breath, it doesn’t matter how we get there.

:anjal:


#36

@Gabriel_L Sadhu!


#37

Sadhu @UpasakaMichael and @brahmali for these wise, heartfelt, and difficult observations. I will only add that I had always thought medical science was capable of alleviating serious pain until my wife had major surgery several years ago. It was a bad few days, and now I know otherwise.

Many forms of disease end in terrible, unremitting pain. I don’t see any skillful purpose to enduring such a thing. I wouldn’t want it for my loved ones, I don’t want it for myself. But each of us is different and must decide for ourselves. :anjal:


#38

I had a chronic illness for over 15 years , each time the piercing pains reaches unbearable limit , I kept thinking of ending my life . Don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of times the thoughts keep telling to end it . The only advantage I have was I never had the courage . Taking pills , slitting the wrist , jump off bridge , starve to death and you name it . I searched for non painful death , but each time I chickened out , I got frightened of the consequences . I may end up in lower realms which could be much much worse than human sufferings and I don’t want to risk myself and regret later .
So many times when I heard of someone committed suicide , I found that how lucky I am because still alive . I would certainly regretted it if I were to end my life each time . I still can learn dhamma which is precious opportunity one in a million chance and practise accordingly as long as I am still alive .
Think thrice million if you think otherwise !


#39

@brahmali I am very interrested in the EBT basis for stating that the precepts are approximations, and should not always be followed. I know a nun in a tibetan lineage who for instance feels it is appropriate to lie to a hunter who asks where the deer went, because compassion trumps precepts. Other teachers say the precepts are abstracted from how enlightened beings behave, and so most of the time breaking the precepts should be avoided, but there are instances where a Buddha or an arahant might do so. This certainly sounds reasonable at first glance, but does the Buddha ever say it can be ok in rare circumstances for someone in training to lie, steal, kill, etc?

EDIT:

Could it mean acting unwisely/foolishly?

AN3:7

“Bhikkhus, one who possesses three qualities should be known as a fool. What three? Blameworthy bodily action, blameworthy verbal action, and blameworthy mental action. One who possesses these three qualities should be known as a fool.

Also, AN3:147 is interesting in this context:

“Someone with three qualities is cast down to hell. What three? Blameworthy deeds by way of body, speech, and mind.

Someone with these three qualities is cast down to hell.

Someone with three qualities is raised up to heaven. What three? Blameless deeds by way of body, speech, and mind. Someone with these three qualities is raised up to heaven.”

I don’t wish to come across as a fundie, quoting «prooftexts», but I consider matters of life and death to be very serious.


#40

Ajahn Brahmali

I want to thank you for sharing your view. But what I fear is me and my close ones might not have the wisdom like the Arahat to see clearly the Dhamma. Me and my wife are unsure if our action is wholesome. We fear that our mind is deluded and aversion towards life where we seek to escaping suffering through euthanasia/compassionate death. Overall, me and my wife are uncertain of our true intention thus we decided not to end life unnaturally like euthanasia. Since it is clearly very difficult for us to be reborn human and get to learn Buddhism, I’ll experience everything pleasant or unpleasant and use it as a precious moments to see the truth of Dhamma. I will just have to see life as it is. Hopefully I can be atleast a stream-enterer this life time. :slightly_smiling_face: :pray: