Suicide as A Response to Suffering Michael Attwood We all suffer.

Many of us experience extreme suffering, and for some of us the s uffering we experience seems unbearable. When suffering seems unbearable thought s of suicide commonly arise, and some of us will attempt to take our own lives. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the West, and while death is never pleasa nt, suicide seems an especially tragic way to die. But then again, since we all have to die in the end, if life becomes unbearable, then why prolong the agony? What does the Buddhist tradition say about suicide? How should Buddhists respond to thoughts of suicide, in ourselves or in others? Much of what is written on s uicide from a Buddhist viewpoint is academic and has a legalistic focus, trying to establish whether suicide is ‘permissible’ for Buddhists. I want to try to get be yond this approach and look at whether suicide is a viable response to suffering . At its heart the question is an ethical one, so first we must look at how the problem looks from the point of view of Buddhist ethics. Then I want to examine cases of suicide in the Pali Canon. Finally I will attempt a synthesis of all th ese sources and to come to a conclusion about suicide as a response to suffering . I have chosen to focus this article on the Pali Canon largely because, as well a s being full of spiritual jewels, it is rich in social history, and is accessibl e in reliable translations. The suttas can tell us how people lived and responde d to life’s vicissitudes at that time. It is also, perhaps surprisingly, rich in c ase studies of suicide – far more so than other Buddhist writings. Buddhist Ethics The basic Buddhist approach to ethics, or siila, sets out a small number of ethi cal principles that can be applied to assess the ethical nature of any action of body, speech or mind. Rather than looking at actions themselves, and ending up with long lists of prohibited and permitted actions, Buddhism considers two aspe cts of action: the mental state behind it, and the consequences of it. The two a re closely interrelated. Mental states based in craving, hatred and delusion will give rise to actions th at lead to consequences of increased suffering and decreased happiness. These me ntal states and the actions arising from them are termed ‘unskilful’. Contrarily, me ntal states that are based in contentment, love and wisdom will give rise to act ions that lead to a decrease in suffering, and an increase in happiness. These a re termed ‘skilful’. The terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are not used in this context. Skilfulness can increase by deg rees, allowing for progress. Paraphrasing the Dhammapada slightly we may say tha t the Buddhist path consists in maximising what is beneficial to living beings, minimising what is harmful, and purifying the mind, which enables us to see the difference more clearly.[1] To guide the spiritual aspirant, the application of Buddhist ethical principles has given rise to a number of sets of precepts, or training principles. Foremost in almost every list is the precept against killing or harming living beings. A s a Buddha is said to be incapable of intentionally harming a living being, thos e aspiring to become Buddhas take on this principle of abstention from harm (ahi .msaa). Indeed a commitment to non-violence is probably the most recognisable et hical trait of Buddhists. Sangharakshita has elucidated the central importance of the first precept in a p aper on ethics, published as The Ten Pillars of Buddhism. Killing, he points out

‘Such indeed is how the steadfast act: They are not attached to life. Here we have the beginning of a puzzle. it is useful both for understanding suicide and for offering a way forward for tho se contemplating suicide. Having drawn out craving at its root Godhika has attained final Nibbaana. or one or other of the higher superconscious states. so he can commit suicide and not suffer any ill consequences spiritually. is the most extreme form of violence. After six failures he f inds himself once again in a state of temporary liberation and it occurs to him to ‘take the knife’. His rationale is apparently that if he dies in an ordinary state of consciousness his rebirth is uncertain. The Case of Vakkali The bhikkhu Vakkali is extremely ill and racked with excruciating pain. However. He concludes that the practice of the prece pt involves an ‘imaginative identification’[3] with beings – with their joys and suffe rings. and the Bodhicaryaavataara. i.[5] Mara senses what is about to happen and he knows that Godhika is likely to attai n liberation by his act since it shows he is ‘unconcerned with body and life’. The next day the Buddha sends some bhikkhus to Vakkali to pass on this message of h ope.[6] He approaches the Buddha and instead of his usual sneering he is very polite and e ven deferential. he is too late.[8] At hi s request the Buddha visits him and enquires after his health and state of mind. Sangharakshita establishes an important principl e with respect to the first precept. It is also ‘the absolute negation of the solidarity of one living being qua living being with another’. That evening two deva taas visit the Buddha and predict that Vakkali will attain final liberation. as we shall see. with their very being. but if he d ies while in a superconscious state he will be reborn in the Brahma realm. The use of violence is effectiv ely the negation of one ego by another.[2] Using material from Shelley. suicide results in Godhika’s enlightenment.[9] He follows this up with a teaching about t he impermanence of phenomena. ‘Enoug h Vakkali! Why do you want to see this foul body? One who sees the Dhamma sees m e. He requests that the Buddha intervene to prevent Godhika from carrying out his resolution on the grounds tha t it is wrong for a bhikkhu to commit suicide. and then departs for the Vulture’s Peak. and the Buddha says. He achieves ‘temporary liberatio n of mind’. It is the germ of altruism and. addressing the Buddha as ‘Great Hero’. He makes a declaration of his insights into the Buddha’s teaching saying. the Dhammapa da. with the use (or non-use) of violence. Then Vakkali requests that his attendants remove him from the house he has been staying in to somewhere more fitting for a bhikkhu to die. ‘I d . but always fails to gain final liberation because he is beset by illness. to cut his throat. It will been imagined then that killing oneself is sim ply one variation of killing a living being and will therefore be seen in a nega tive light as simply another cause of suffering. one who sees me sees the Dhamma’. with killing being the absolute negation of that being..’[7] So in this case. but the Buddha responds vigorously saying. far from being considered an unskilful act. Vakkali thanks the bhikkhus for their message and gives them one for the Bu ddha. in p rinciple. but also forms a vital part o f the spiritual life itself. Godhika is not attached to life.e. Vakkali reports his weakening condition and expresses his regret at not being w ell enough to visit his teacher. The Case of Godhika[4] The bhikkhu Godhika is an enthusiastic meditator. We find that this identification with other living beings not only underlies all the other precepts. and the first precept is concerned.

The commentary insists that Vakkali has overestimated hi s spiritual attainments and that he attained enlightenment only after cutting hi s jugular vein.o not doubt that in regard to what is impermanent. and Channa. Vakkali. suffering. ‘Friend Saari putta. but the Dhamma. We ca n also infer that at the time of his visit the Buddha did not consider Vakkali a n arahant since he gives him a teaching on impermanence. we may be inclined to believe the commentary. lust. Saariputta in response expresses his doubts by poin ting out that Channa appeared to be blameworthy since he was attached to his fam ily. First Vakkali feels regret about n ot going to see the Buddha. Saariputta then asks the Buddha about the circumstances of Channa’s rebirth.’ he says. which would surely have been unnecessary for an arahant.’[14] But Channa declares that he lacks n othing.[15] Saariputta. He offers to attend to Channa personall y. Saariputta is obviously deeply affected.[13] Saariputta. or affection. and subject to cha nge. has produced a detailed an alysis of the sutta in an article entitled ‘The Case of Channa’. There is an argument that that in the cases of Godhika. is clearly not convinced about Channa. Channa ends a florid description of his symptoms by saying that he has no desire to live an d will therefore ‘use the knife’. The Case of Channa The case of Channa[12] is the fullest account of a suicide in the Pali Canon. reminds Saariputta that Channa said that he wo uld ‘use the knife blamelessly’. implying that he is already an arahant and therefore cannot act unskilfully. Soon after the bhikkhus have left. and concludes. I have no more desire. and Channa is very ill. the . remember this: the Bhikkhu Channa will use the knife blamelessly’. The Buddha. It is beginning to seem that the Buddhist tradition is not absolute in condemnin g suicide – not at least if it results in a person attaining ‘final Nibbaana’. We want the venerable Channa to live. especially with respect to how Channa regards th e six senses. that he has worshipped the Teacher with love. it is clear that he too is not convinced by Channa’s words. and gives Channa some pithy advice on what insig ht and awakening are really about. In the notes to the translation. and his condition is steadily worsening. and a burning fever. The Buddha then echoes Channa’s own words to the effect that he was an arahan t and his suicide was not an unskilful act. ‘let the venerable Channa li ve. and about self-view. Saariputta suggests to Mahaa Cunda that they visit Channa to see how he is. and proceeds to ques tion him about his attainments. apparently surprised. Da mien Keown. Channa cuts his throat and d ies. Channa gives the answers that we would expect of an arahant: he is not attached to the six senses and doesn’t cling to any self -view. Bhikkhu Bodhi offers snippets from the post-can onical Pali commentary.’[10] He is effectively saying that he has become an arahant. As in the story of Godhika the Buddha says that Vakkali has attained final Nibbaana. They find him in a bad state with violent pains in his head and belly. he cuts his throat and dies. ‘Let the venerable Channa not use the knife. Now Mahaa Cunda intervenes. but the Buddha points out that it is not his body wh ich is important. however. Mahaa Cunda and Channa are all living on Vulture’s Peak Mountain. editor of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Saariputta further asks him how he came to these conclusions and Channa a nswers that he has ‘seen and directly known’ them – that is that they are the result o f transcendental insight. an arahant would surely have known this.[11] As discussed in further detail in the case of Channa below. Shortly after Mahaa Cunda and Saariputta have left.

murder could be carried out with impunity despite the victim not wanting to die. then I say tha t that one is blameworthy. A second point arises out of translation issues. the commentaries once again argue that Channa has overestimated his attainme nt. if we only had the sutta s to go on we might come to this conclusion ourselves. for instance. The Buddha was not making a generalised statement about the acceptability of suicide. it is only in the case of Channa that he appears to make an unequivocal statement exonerating sui cide. There was none of that in the Bhikkhu Channa. While the Buddha is not critical of either Godhika or Vakkali. given that the writers of the commentary could not have reconstructed events w ith any accuracy. especially the Jain practice of sallekhanaa. the consequences also need to taken into account. despite his claim.Buddha actually condones their suicides on the grounds that the three bhikkhus were arahants. Keown offers three reasons why the commentary might have objected to us believin g Channa’s claim. Indeed. and accords wi th the previous two cases. However. as in Vakkali’s ca se. The second sentence is the crux of the problem and to Keown it come s down to the difference between condoning an act and exonerating someone who ac ts.[23] . incapable of acting unskilfully. we see that the Buddha is offering not a n exoneration of suicide but a clarification of the meaning of anupavajja for Sa ariputta’s benefit. which informs us that Channa was not consi dered to be an arahant before his suicide. that the word ‘anupavajja’ would be better translated in this context as ‘not being reborn’. when one lays down this body and clings to a new body. no reference to the Vinaya rule that forbids suicide by monks. Saariputta enquires about Chann a’s next rebirth and the Buddha replies. or fast to death (although. he was exonerating Channa in this particular case.’[16] The first sentence of this statement is not related to suicide. ‘I think that when we place the Budd ha’s statement (quoted above) in context. comments on the Paayaasi sutta below).’[17] Keown suggests. even if it is carried out with no apparent ill will. This weakens the ca se of those claiming that suicide amongst arahants is acceptable.[18] In this case Keown says. It is clinging t o a new body which is blameworthy. This could be read as the Buddha simply makin g use of a tragic situation to highlight a point of Dharma. Keown points out that if we look only at motivation then. The interpretation relies on viewing et hics solely from the point of view of the motivations of the one who acts. didn’t the Bhikkhu Channa declar e to you his blamelessness (anupavajja).[20] He wonders why .’[19] Keown then moves onto the commentary. He says of Channa: ‘Saariputta.’[21] The second is Chan na’s apparent inability to tolerate pain which ‘shows a lack of self-mastery unbecom ing to an Arhat. However. The first is that an arahant is said to be unable to kill a livi ng being intentionally. ‘Saariputta. much as we often do at funerals.f . ‘Death-dealing acts of any kind are certainly not in keepi ng with the canonical paradigm of a calm and serene Arhat. Keown is uneasy with the thought that the Buddha is seen to be condoning suicide because it seems out of context with the wider Buddhist reverence for life (c. The other aspect of the com mentarial text is that it contains no discussion of the ethics of suicide and. i n particular. the Bhi kkhu Channa used the knife blamelessly. as we will see. this was n ot a concern for the Pali commentary to the Vinaya). A person deprived of life will su ffer and an act that leads to suffering is judged to be unskilful. they should have been at pains for us to know that Channa was not an arahant before he took the knife. on the basis of the commentary.’[22] The third is that it was possibly an attempt to distance the Buddhists from certain practices of other religious groups.

Death was not the greates t suffering for Channa. nor Vakkali. death is a form of suffering.ika to tears. but with joy and gratitude at hearing such a profound discourse which. ‘By holding that Channa gained enlightenment only after he had begun the attempt on his life.or near-arahants. still t inged with suffering: Channa. he is much less spiritually advanced than Channa. and the others. Keown suggests that moha. Keown has weakened the case for believing that the Buddha condoned arahants committing suicide.n. on the other hand. rebirth). He is not overwhelmed by despair as Saariputta fears. Indeed we might say that t he opposite is true. embraced Maara. the commentary neatly avoids the dilemma of an Arhat br eaking the precepts. Immediately preceding this sutta in the Majjhima Nikaaya is the story of the dea th of the lay disciple Anaathapi. any of t he three were affirming death. He dies soon afterwards and is reborn in the Tu .sita heaven. Afterwards he goes into seclusion for two weeks. on the face of it. chose suicide and succeeded in attaining f inal Nibbaana. However.n .Keown says. accord ing to the Buddhist tradition. by focusing on only one of the three stories we’ve looked at. is still part of sa. as for the Buddha and all the other arahants. The fact is that not one but three arahants. to our bodies. does not even seem to contemplate suicide. As we have seen.ika. Saariputta gives him a profound discourse on not clinging to sense experience . Keown has m inimised the reinforcement that occurs with repetition. the authors of the Pali com mentary weaken the case even further. We suffer at death on ly because we cling to life. In the case of Godhika the opposite point seems t o be being made: that he was not clinging to life! So while it seems clearly est ablished that the Buddha is not lauding suicide. is the underlying cause of suicide. it is by no means clear that he is condemning it. In conclusion Keown says: ‘What Buddhism values is not death. death did not involve suffering. a fai lure to appreciate that death is the greatest suffering. which. in his heart. By displaying an apparent abhorrence for such a belief.d.msaara. and that their death at their o wn hands led to their final liberation from all suffering. even though. and on the contemplation of the stages of decomposition of a corpse. while a very pleasant place to be. escapes suffering altogether. nor to this world nor to the next world (i. even though he was a long time disciple of the Buddha and a stream entrant. Despite having identical pains. these men did commit suicide and yet were not reborn. or delusion. but life … a person who opts for death believing it to be a solution to suffering has fundamentally misunderstood the First Nobl e Truth … what is significant is that through the affirmation of death he has. T hese are traditional meditation subjects which help to subdue craving for sensua l pleasure.’[24] With his analysis of the contextual and translation factors. that for them the greatest suffering was living. in taking their own lives. but Keown appears t o overlook the evidence that he himself has presented. to material po ssessions – but if we are not clinging to these things then death is not suffering . nor for Godhika.[26] who describes the pains of his ill ness in identical terms to those used by Channa when he was visited by Saariputt a. being a layman.’ [25] However. Also it is not clear whether. On returning from h . I think we have to conclude that for Channa. A Case of Mass Suicide Once while staying at Vesaali[27] the Buddha gave a teaching on the foulness of the body. Anathapin. he has never heard the like of before.ika does not despair.d.d. And yet he is reborn in a deva real m. which moves Anathapi. the fact remains that in the thre e cases so far examined.e. to our personalities.

although he does give a different teaching. The Buddha calls an assembly of all the bhikkhus in the area and teaches them the mindfuln ess of breathing meditation. and then been reborn together in the hell realms. the non-returners. He makes no direct reference to the suicides. [28] I also find the commentary s explanation difficult to reconcile with the su tta. So what has happened here? Has the Buddha made an error in teaching this meditat ion to these bhikkhus? The commentary gives the possible explanation that 500 of the bhikkhus were linked by common karma. Did he try to stop them. If the Buddha knew all along what was happening. react to the contemplation of death with repulsion. The translator. The story is retold in the Vi naya. or even a str eam entrant. after all. mus ing that formerly the park seemed ‘ablaze with bhikkhus’. It is said that the arahants achieved final Nibbaana. som ewhat mildly perhaps. to reason with them? The sutta doesn’t say. has difficulty in a ccepting this explanation: ‘the idea of a karmically predetermined suicide seems d ifficult to reconcile with the conception of suicide as a “volitionally induced” act’. and discussed along with other Vinaya mat erial below. Why should an arahant. and between both and the rest of the Buddhist tradition. that when such a pair of disciples has attained final Nibbaana. but trying to mitigate the effects of karmically ine vitable suicide by the monks. Saariputta and Moggallaana: ‘It is wonde rful bhikkhus. not encouraging suicide. However. once-returners and stream entrants were bound for a happy reb irth. When he asks AAnanda about it. bu t I will return to it in the discussion section later. it is amazing on the part of the T athaagata. there is no sorrow or lamentation in the Tathaagata. and a deterministic view of karma. Surely if up to thirty bhikkhus a day are committing suicide then it must have made some kind of impact. There is no concern similar to th at expressed by Saariputta at hearing Channa’s intention to ‘use the knife’.’[29] We are left with two problems from this episode: apparent inaction in the face o f mass suicide. on the part of the Tathaagata. humiliated. non-returners. stream-entr ants and ordinary people. humiliation and disgusted? We would expect an arahant to react with equanimity as. Neither d oes the Buddha condemn the bhikkhus. requests that the Buddha give another teaching. It is difficult to know what to make of the discrepancies between s utta and commentary. with an additional small detail. AAnanda. AAnanda replies that after the Buddha’s teaching the bhikkhus became ‘repelled . Later they manag ed to attain a human birth and were all ordained as bhikkhus. Realisin g that he could not avert the tragedy. Among th e bhikkhus so affected were arahants. why did he need to ask AAn anda? There is another problem with this episode. Bhikkhu Bodhi.is retreat he notices that there are far fewer bhikkhus present than before. The su tta says that as many as thirty bhikkhus took their lives each day. it seems remote and rather dry in comparison to the case of Channa. They had formally been hunters who li ved together. It is tempting to conclud e that this sutta has become garbled in the course of transmission. the Buddha is said in the commentary to h ave taught them about the foulness of the body in order to reduce their fear of death and so make it easier for them to die when the time came. and disgusted with this body’ and they had committed suicide. but that the ordinary people were bound for an uncertain rebirth. once returners. Other Instances in the Nikaayas   . on AAnanda at lea st. some port ion of their evil karma remained and the Buddha foresaw that it was about to rip en and bring about their violent deaths through suicide (and homicide). What the commentary seems to be saying is that the Buddha was not extolling deat h. There is a curious lack of emotion in this sutta. t hey have been released from all suffering! Compare for example the Buddha’s respon se to the death of his leading disciples.

for the profit and benefit of devas and h In the Theragaatha and the Theriigaathaa we find two poignant stories of discipl es who attempt suicide but on the verge of death have sudden realisations. When she tells her husband about this he k ills her and then commits suicide. taunts the first woman. is motivated by a belief that a future life may be better. there is an implied criticism in the context of the sutta. he concludes that actions do not have consequences. killing both herself and the child. reflecting on her former life when she was ‘distracted and harassed by desires of the senses’. the peril became clear.. The prince argues that if the virtuous know that as a result they will be reborn in more fortunate circumstances. the bett them since they accrue even more merit. This features a woman who goes to live with her re latives and discovers that they want to divorce her from her husband and give he r to another man whom she doesn’t want.The Piyajaatika Sutta[30] concerns the psychological effect of grief. thinking that they will be reunited in a futu re rebirth. He is closely questioned by Kassapa and gives a whole ser ies of reasons for his views. The idea i s not challenged in the sutta. noting that despite this even virtuous people cling to comf ort and to life. remembers that she became so distraught and unhappy that sh e decided to hang herself. Then my mind was released. in the Theriigaathaa. The man assumes that he and his wife will be reborn. who has a son of ten or twelve who stands to inherit everything. The Paayaasi Sutta[31] records a lively debate between Prince Paayaasi of Kosala and the bhikkhu Kumaara-Kassapa. She takes some rope and goes into the forest: ‘Strong was the noose I made. he is about to cut his thr oat when ‘reasoned thinking arose in me. that the fruits of practice require time to ripen. Unable to bear to wait to find out the gender of h er baby. However. The main t heme of the sutta is that those we hold dear are a source of grief and despair. However. Siihaa. Kassapa rep lies with a parable designed to show that it is unwise to try to get ahead of yo urself. The b hikkhu Sappadasa[33] after 25 years of practice has not attained any peace and i s wracked with lust. though a result of despair in this life. which is in direct contradiction of the Buddha’s teachings. is considered unskilful. for the happiness of the compassion for the world. they ought to take advantage of this and kill themselves. motivated as it is by grief and despair. He tells the story of the two wives of a recently deceased Brahmin. and that actions have no fruits or results. but it is addressed to some extent in the next ca se.’[34] Similarly. Feeling that he cannot go back to the household life.[32] points out that the longer those who practise ethics live. Referring back t o what the Buddha said regarding blameworthiness with respect to Channa it would seem to be an unskilful urge. Kassapa also er it is for ings because many. she cuts open her belly. The prince maintains that there is no rebirth. disgust with the world was established. mindlessly ‘following heedless dreams of happiness’. and to each Kassapa gives a counter example to sho w that the view is erroneous. One example concerns us here. the other. The underlying idea seems to be that the suicide. This mur der followed by suicide. my heart was set at liberty!’[35] Here we see despair leading to suicidal urges and the urge to follow them bringi . When see! . And it is better for all be they practise ‘for the welfare of the many. One wife is heavily pregnant.. and on a bough I bound the rope and flung it round my neck. and h aving (seemingly) not made any progress as a bhikkhu. out of umans’. The pregnant woman knows that if her child is a boy he will inh erit a portion of the estate.

suicide is condemned. It suggests that even when we have exhaus ted all personal resources and can see no way forward. by any means.ng about an unexpected transformation.[36] Breaking this rule entails permanent expulsion from the bhikkhu sangha. and thereby die without blame. there is always a way. to casting off the body in the sense of killing oneself by any method. e. Three cases relating to suicide are apposit e to this discussion.[38] Here the term ‘cast hims elf off’. There is rule which seems to forbid attempting suicide. which seems to be what happene d in the case of Godhika. more generally. Many of these rules would have no application in lay life. where one’s attendants are weary and disgusted and begin to ponder euthanasia. (3) When a person is clearly dying but has reached th e meditative state aimed at. Suicide and the Vinaya A frequent pattern in the Vinaya is cases in which a bhikkhu behaves in a certai n manner. various types of suicide had become sanctioned for bhikkhus. one may stop eating and taking medicine. prompting the Buddha to proscribe that behaviour and institute a rule against it. praising the beauty of death in any way.[39] In the Vinaya generally. Peter Harvey points out. Harvey translates a section of the Vinaya commentary for us which gives a set of circumstances where suicide is not considered to be a breach of the Vinaya rule s. one sh ould not cast oneself off. Assisting or encouraging suicide is equal to the gravest offences and demands the strongest possible response. and inciting anyone to kill themselv es. some of the bhikkhus find an unscrupulous man to kill them. The bhikkhus’ karma results in both suicide and homicide. there is an offence o f wrong doing. (4) when one is so absorbed in meditation that breakin g one’s concentration in order to eat would be an obstacle to awakening. He does not die because his fall is broken by an unfortunate bhikkhu who does die. throws himself off the Vulture’s Peak. since he i s already dead. ‘Monks. and are e ven of dubious ethical significance. But here suicide itself is not specifically forbidden. is wrong if one is ill but medicine and attendants are available (2) In the case of long and serious illne ss. But by the time the commentaries were com posed. Whoever shall cast himself off. from a study of various instances in . arising from the case of a monk who. there is no need to have a rule expelling from the sangha the bhikkhu who kills himself. tormented by sexual desire. perhaps surprisingly. it is not possible. i. Secondly we read about a group of monks who persuade a man to kill himself so that they may seduce his wife! They use th e same argument as Prince Paayaasi: that since the man is virtuous he ought to t ake advantage of this by dying early and thus ensuring a fortunate rebirth. The Vinaya v ersion helps to shed light on an aspect of the story which was not covered in th e sutta account. expulsion from the Sangha for life. that since suicide is death. Based on these two cases a rule is formulated that proscribes assisting a suicid e. contrad icting Keown’s observation that this was a Jain practice from which Buddhists wish ed to distance themselves. seems to refer. The four situations are (1) suicide. In untangling the ethical knots of the situation. In this version we find out that rather than take their own lives.’ [37] Naagasena quotes this rule in The Questions of King Milinda s aying that virtuous people should not commit suicide. The first case is the same as ‘a case of mass suicide’ discussed above. in his book on Buddhist ethics. the Buddha says. Conclusions I approached this subject expecting to find clear statements against suicide but . one may stop eating.

such as despair and grief. The incidents of private life that seem the direct ins piration of suicide and are considered its determining causes are in reality onl y incidental causes. and somehow in the midst of it they not only gain a greater perspective on it. Likewise. it seems. To overcome it one must strive to make that imaginative leap to identify with people. we a re presented with dilemmas. Although it would seem that in principle suicide is self-harm.’[41] Self-harm simp ly leads directly to suffering. leads only to more suffering. In Durkheim s terminology one must stre ngthen. Suicide: A Study In Sociology. flexible and robust. to come to any hard and fast conclusion regarding suicide. In general any action that is based upon unskilful states of mind. and even then we ma y. that bond one has with society. One glimmer of hope comes from the close call stories of Sappadasa and Siiha.[40] Elsewhere the Buddha sa ys. One who d oes not seek delight in suffering . to imaginatively identif y with other beings.. and suicide does generally involve self-har m. Sangharaksh ita alludes to this possibility in his Guide to the Buddhist Path in the section on the six realms of conditioned existence.’[43] Here then are the beginnings of empathy. but in the complete release from all suffering! Violence in any form is not simply a breach of the precepts in a legalistic sens e. ‘one who seeks delight in suffering . in Sangharakshita’s terms. Taking a slightly broader look at the Pali Canon. who was ‘foremost in wisdom’. it actually increases the suffering in the world..the Pali Canon. as. escape the ripening of our karma . Hence one who loves himself should not harm others. In his seminal book. do give us some useful guidelines and there are other indications that suicide is n ot an acceptable response to suffering in general. so that it becomes s trong. From a Buddhist point of view death is no answer to suffering s ince we are simply reborn and cannot. In the ‘positive nidana’ series we see that from suffering arises faith. make a mistake. for instance. is not freed from suffering. One finds none anywhere dearer than oneself. Ther e appear to be times when suicide in that context at least does no harm. though these must surely be very rare. like Saariputta. One experiences one’s self as isolated and unloved. It is as though we can go from the depths of despair straight to insight. is freed from suffering. in the Kandaraka Sutta. but they also gain insight into reality itsel f. The ethical principles of Buddhism.’[42] Durkheim also discusses other causes such as mental illness. We must weigh each case carefully. Clinging to life and clinging to death being equally causes of suffering. This study has hopefully shown that we cannot prejud ge a situation ethically.[44] They are very much aware of their suffering. tha t in the experience of suffering insight is somehow more accessible. each person holds himself dear. we find that the practice o f self-torture or self-harm as spiritual exercises is specifically rejected by t he Buddha.. The individual yields to the slightest shock of circumstanc e because the state of society has made him a ready prey to suicide.. Certainly self-harm is unhelp ful and a cause of future suffering. Durkheim suggests that one o f the main causes of suicide is a failure to connect with other people: ‘In this case the bond attaching man to life relaxes because that attaching him to society is itself slack. In writing about the hell realms (m   . but underlying this type of suicide is a failure. One must go out to people. The Buddha gives us many clues as to ho w to do this: ‘Having traversed all quarters with the mind. Objective ly neither of these things is true. but subjectively the experience can be inten se and seem inescapable. however. some of the cases cited in the Pali Canon are exceptions in that they result not in suffering. must exercise even. search one’s own experie nce and use it to empathise with others.

Anaathapi. straig ht to Nirvaana. [7].83–1.87.57. Ibid. as it were.54. p.myutta Nikaaya IV.rta’means ‘deathless’which is a synonym for Nirvaana. A Translation of the Sa. If we are able to empathise with others then we will be more able to face our own suffering.. Keown op. Wisdom Publications..30–1. [17]. Ibid. Ibid p. notes 1309 . 1310–12..1115. See also Connected Discourses.23.cit.24. Journal of Buddhist Eth ics 3. Windhorse Publications. trans. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha.cit. [14]. cit.. pp. op. [24]. and therefore in a better position to help others face theirs . op. [9]. [5]. note 309. Windhorse Publications 2001. we face a difficult task.22. [12].51. would be unlikely to dissuade them. [6]. 1996. Sangharakshita. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha. Keown. Ibid.27. Middle Length Discourses.. trans. [4]. [8]. trans.1114–6. In responding to t hose who are contemplating suicide. See Th e Connected Discourses of the Buddha. The Way of Truth. pp. [23].939. Sangharakshita. Ibid.938–41. p. D.ental suffering and despair being the psychological counterpart of the this real m) he tells us that the Buddha who appears in this realm offers the being there am.myutta Nika aya. There is no other hope for us: all worldly hope has foundered.420. p. in Middle Length Discou rses. or who have attempted it and lived. note 172.1114.28. p..cit. [3]. All the ethical case studies and all the legalistic workings o ut of ethical principles may well be useless in the face of extreme suffering. ‘Am. p. Ibid. 2000. [26]. Boston. [10].ikovaada Sutta. Wisdom Pu blications. op.1164–7. [2]. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bkikkhu Ñaa. Dhammapada. pp.   .The Ten Pillars of Buddhism. Ibid p. It also occurs in the Vinaya at Vin. 183. [20]. Birming ham. p. See also Middle Length Discourses. p. p. Channovaada Sutta. op.1082. Keown op. [19]. Ibid p. What seems important is the imaginative identifica tion. [13]. Ibid p. ‘It is as though there i s nothing left for us to do about our suffering except to go.’[45 ] The first of the Buddha s Noble Truths tells us that we cannot run away from pai n. III 68–70. [21]. T elling someone who is in extreme physical or mental pain that by ‘taking the knife’ they are breaking the precepts..1109–13.rta. op. 420.1773–4. [27]. pp. 212–15. Keown. Ibid. p.nd.namoli. p. that it is there in everything we experience in the world. Majjhima Nikaaya 143. p. Bikkhu Bodhi.cit. Ibid. Boston 1995. Also appears as Sa..1406 n. p. 1996. [11]. [22]. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translati on of the Majjhima Nikaaya. p.cit. Notes [1].cit. op. Connected Discourses op. pp. Ibid. Ibid. note 310. [25]. or that they are only hurting themselves.cit. pp. cit. [18].214. [15]. Buddhism and Suicid: The Case of Channa. Ibid. op cit. [16] ibid.

2000. VI. Birm ingham. 1995. [39]. pp.cit.43.1644–5. p.195–7.553–6.291.F. London.82 ibid. M. Sangharakshita. Theragaathaa op. pp.cit. [37].746. p. E. p. p. Upanisaa Sutta. Vinaya III.cit. [29].. .718–22. Spaulding and G. op. See especially sections 8–12.. p p.106–12) in The Middle Length Discourses. Ibid. cit.648. pp. [43]. [35].171. Pali Text Society. The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Ibid. 1993. Siihaa).290–1. [41]. Suicide : A Study In Sociology.cit. [42]. op.cit. Connected Discourses op. [33]. p. [34]. A Guide to the Buddhist Path. Middle Length Discourses op.Rhys Davids a nd K. 40. trans.289. op. trans. P. [45].cit. Majjhima Nikaaya 87 (M ii. Wisdom Publications. 1996.357–8.1951–2.48. note 69. [40]. [36]. p.Norman. [44]. Routledge. [32]. pp.215. pp. P. pp. Simpson. Boston.. 356–8.R. See also p.. ed G.78–9.[28] Ibid. Cam bridge University Press. Oxford. p.. Walshe.443 ff. Simpson. p. Windhorse Publications.. Durkheim. A Translation of the Diigha Nikaaya. Vinaya III. C. Connected Discourses. 1997 (Canto 5.6 405–10.73 quoted in Harvey. Connected Discourses of the Buddha op. ibid. p. A. [31]. Harvey. Therigaatha: Poems of the Early Budddhist Nuns. [38]. J.A. [30]. The Questions of King Milinda pp. An introduction to Buddhist Ethics.

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