Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby danieLion » Fri May 04, 2012 4:45 am

My mother tried to kill herself three times, maybe four (the medical examiner said the cause of her death was a tossup between a drug overdose and suicide). I have a chronic pain condition (and its corollary depressive symptoms) and have thought about killing myself now and then over the years. I've been thinking about it some lately, because I'm in a lot of a pain these days and am becoming increasingly disabled.

When I investigate this it appears that my mental fabrications with suicidal content are merely the surface layer of a deeper wish than just to be free from affliction. Beyond that is a desire to know what will happen to me when I die. If we wager with the Buddha about rebirth, we still have to take his word for it until we die. But it's worse than that. We don't even know what or how we'll know after we die. We don't even know if we'll "know" anything, as we understand knowing in this life. And even if we master samma-samadhi to the point of being able to direct our knowledge to our own and others rebirths, we still don't have ultimate proof we didn't just imagine it.

I'm surprised no one's mentioned MN 144 yet, the Channavada Sutta: Advice to Channa. Channa was a monk who claimed to be an arahant and killed himself because he was in a lot of pain. In the footnotes to his translation, Bhikkhu Bodhi doubts the commentarial (Majjhima Nikaya Attakattha) assertions that Channa's claim to arahantship was invalid, and gives the impression he thinks Channa was an arahant, claiming not only that the text itself implies this, but that the Buddha agrees. The translation of the commentary says:
He cut his throat, and just at that moment the fear of death descended on him and the sign of future rebirth appeared. Recognizing he was still an ordinary person, he was aroused and developed insight. Comprehending the formations, he attained arahantship just before he expired.... Although this declaration (of blamelessness) was made while Channa was still a worldling, as his attainment of final Nibbana followed immediately, the Buddha answered by referring to that very declaration.

Then Bhikkhu Bodhi states,
It should be noted that this commentarial interpretation is imposed on the text from the outside, as it were. If one sticks to the actual wording of the text it seems that Channa was already an arahant when he made his declaration, the dramatic punch being delivered by the failure of his two brother-monks [Ven Sariputta and Maha Cunda] to recognize this. The implication, of course, is that excruciating pain might motivate even an arahant to take his own life--not from aversion but simply from a wish to be free from unbearable pain.

If BB's right, the inference is that killing yourself is okay for arahants under certain circumstances. But an arahant has the luxury of "knowing" her destination is happy, although the commentators want us to believe an arahant wouldn't kill herself. And what about stream-enterers, once-returners and non-returners? Do they have the same "okay"?

And if Bohdi's assertions are correct, are we to draw the lesson to not be to hard on ourselves for having suicidal thoughts, desires, etc...? And if Bodhi's right, don't Sariputta and Cunda come off as jerks, e.g., more concerned with the validity of Channa's awakening claims than the unbearable physical pain he endured?

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby Dan74 » Fri May 04, 2012 9:48 am

Whoah, Daniel, I had no idea.

Goes to show how little we know of the context and the background of the posters here and how hard it is to judge what is appropriate.

I recently had the worst low of my life with several things coming together including difficulties at work and in the family. My self-esteem which I had sort of forgotten about re-emerged very sore and I just felt like everyone's doormat. Thoughts like you describe would flutter in and seem quite enticing at times. Once it was better and I could let them go, I spoke about it with my teacher.

I am sure any words of wisdom and encouragement I have will ring hollow, Daniel, but even with all your constraints, if you concentrate on doing the best that you can (which you already are, I am sure) and not worry about where you are coming short (we are all human and imperfect), you will do just fine!

I think it is important to have a good solid support network especially at a time like this. A good Sangha, friends, kalyana-mittas and not to be afraid to turn to professionals for help when necessary. There is no shame in that.

Thank you also for mentioning Ven Channa - very apposite!

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby danieLion » Sat May 05, 2012 10:25 pm

Thanks Dan74. :anjali:

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby santa100 » Sat May 05, 2012 10:50 pm

Yes, and it's Vesak Day! It's extremely rare to be born human. And it's extremely extremely rare to have the opportunity to listen to the Buddha Dhamma. We're the lucky few to have both. With this in mind, I'm willing to stay alive to continue my training even if I have to put up with all terrible sufferings happening to my body and mind. Happy Vesak and may all be well and happy!!

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby ancientbuddhism » Tue Jun 05, 2012 1:30 pm

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby alan » Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:37 pm

I think suicide is perfectly valid for those with terminal conditions who are in pain. In a better society, we'd have a structure for this.

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby Hanzze » Tue Jun 05, 2012 5:05 pm

Alan, I guess its good that the Buddha thought different.

That might be very useful to understand the compassion of what the Buddha taught: Educating Compassion
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby danieLion » Sat Jun 09, 2012 6:01 am

Hanzze wrote:Alan, I guess its good that the Buddha thought different.

Hi Hanzee,
When you say "the Buddha thought different" do you mean different from alan's claim?
alan wrote:...suicide is perfectly valid for those with terminal conditions who are in pain.

That is, are you saying the Buddha did NOT think suicide valid for folks like this?

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby cooran » Sat Jun 09, 2012 7:13 am

Hello all,

This might be of interest:

Dharma Data: Suicide
''Suicide was a phenomenon known to the Buddha and commented on by him. On one occasion a group of monks doing the meditation on the repulsiveness of the body, without proper guidance, became depressed and killed themselves. When informed that the two lovers had killed themselves so that "they could be together for eternity" the Buddha commented that these actions were based on desire and ignorance. His attitude to suicide is clear from the Vinaya where it is an offence entailing expulsion from the Sangha for a monk to encourage or assist someone to suicide, and thus on a par with murder. Consequently, in Theravada it is considered as a breach of the first Precept, motivated by similar mental states as murder (loathing, fear, anger, desire to escape a problem) only directed towards oneself rather than another. ''
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/dha ... /fdd30.htm

with metta
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby danieLion » Sat Jun 09, 2012 9:21 am

Excerpt from The "Suicide" Problem in the Pali Canon.
Wiltshire wrote:This paper is addressed to the subject of "suicide" within the Pali Canon. The topic of suicide has been chosen not only for its intrinsic factual and historical interest but because it spotlights certain key issues in the field of Buddhist ethics and doctrine. In particular, our investigations into this phenomenon may be seen to have a bearing on the doctrinal issue of the individual's relationship to his own "body" in Buddhism and on the ethical matter of the relationship between the individual and society as a whole. We should, perhaps, point out that suicide first presented itself to us as an intriguing subject of inquiry when we discovered that it appeared to be regarded equivocally within the Canon, that it was both censored and condoned. It was the attempt to explain and resolve this apparent anomaly which resulted in this paper….

Since the suicide act is technically the last deed an agent performs, the spirit in which it is performed is absolutely crucial. Already, within the Canon itself, the last mental image before death is said to play a critical part in determining the nature of rebirth for those who are reborn…(cf.M.III.103).

Let us briefly summarise the main findings of this paper. Suicide need not necessarily be regarded as wrongful in Buddhism, since the body is prospectively dead anyway. We have seen that this was over-literally interpreted by certain zealous monks, however, who took their own lives as a result of dwelling too much on the principle of unloveliness (asubba); unwittingly they transgressed against the spirit of the middle way. The wrongfulness or not of the matter turns—as ever in Buddhism—on the question of motivation and circumstance: if the motivation is grasping (upadana) or craving (tanha) after a new milieu of existence, as in the case of the Buddhist laymen who longed for an early realisation of heavenly delights, then the act proves counter-productive. But if this body has lost its essential usefulness—and Buddhism seems to recognise that such circumstances do sometimes exist—then the body can be relinquished; provided, that is, it is understood that all bodies are intrinsically impermanent and bankrupt of self and that, consequently, no body one may inhabit will be implicitly different from the present one. Buddhism therefore is not coterminous with stoical behavior, but recognises that there are conditions and situations too oppressive to be endured.

We should like to close on two features which have, for us, proved the most fruitful and thought-provoking results of this enquiry. Firstly, the canonical material provides evidence that there existed in early Buddhism a rudimentary form of catechism and confessional procedure for those, as it were, on their death-beds. This anticipates the later pre-mortem rites that have become such a pronounced feature of Buddhist belief and practice. Secondly, we may remind ourselves that one of the arguments invoked against suicide is the "altruistic" case: existence within the body is for the welfare of others as well as for oneself. Let us make a note of the fact that this outward-looking value judgment occurs within the setting of Pali Buddhism.

Wiltshire, M. G. “The ‘Suicide’ Problem in the Pali Canon.” The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1983, pp. 124-140, (pp. 124, 135, 137-138).
Digital: http://www.scribd.com/doc/95195993/The- ... shire-1983


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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby danieLion » Sat Jun 09, 2012 9:30 am

Excerpt from Buddhism and Suicide: The Case of Channa
Keown wrote:The trickier bit to explain, however, is the final part of the statement where the Buddha says "Without reproach was the knife used by the brother Channa." Do these words not clearly imply, as Wiltshire and others have suggested, an exoneration with respect to suicide? Yes, I think they do. Nevertheless, I do not think this leads to the conclusion that Buddhism condones suicide. Exoneration and condonation are two different things. Exoneration is the removal of a burden (onus) of guilt, while condonation is the approval of what is done. These two terms reflect the distinction-- well established in Western ethics and law-- between the wrongfulness of acts and the guilt incurred by those who commit them. Although an act may be wrong in itself, the burden of guilt incurred in its commission may vary. Self-defence, provocation, duress, and insanity are all grounds which mitigate otherwise wrongful acts. It is also widely recognized with respect to suicide in particular that there may be psychological and other factors present which diminish responsibility…. This is one reason suicide has been decriminalized in many jurisdictions.

If, like Woodward, we translate the Buddha's concluding statement to the effect that Channa used the knife "without reproach," it could mean simply that-- that the Buddha felt it would be improper to blame or reproach Channa (or someone in his situation). This need not mean that suicide is morally right: it simply acknowledges that the burden of guilt in many circumstances may be slight or non-existent…. Thus we might say in the present case the Buddha is exonerating Channa rather than condoning suicide. Wiltshire makes a similar point:

Apart from representing putative cases of suicide, these stories share one further overriding theme -- each of the protagonists is suffering from a serious degenerative illness -- So, when we try to understand why they are exonerated, it is initially necessary to appreciate that their act is not gratuitously performed, but constrained by force of circumstances….

The discussion so far, then, would suggest that there is no need to see the Buddha's pronouncement on Channa as establishing a normative position on suicide by Arhats. At the very least, the evidence falls a long way short of proving "beyond dispute" that suicide for Arhats is condoned….

The Commentary

The main text makes no reference to Channa gaining enlightenment. We know that Channa died an Arhat by inference from the Buddha's closing statement, although there is no corroborating evidence that Channa was an Arhat and no indication of when he became one.

Curiously, it is this question of the timing of Channa's enlightenment which concerns the commentary most, and it devotes a good deal of effort to show that Channa was not an Arhat before he committed suicide. It seeks to establish this in two ways.

First, it volunteers a rationale for the specific teaching given to Channa by Mahaa Cunda. The commentary suggests that Mahaa Cunda gave this teaching because he deduced from Channa's inability to bear the pain of the illness, and his threat to take his life, that he was still an unenlightened person (puthujjana)…. The attribution of this motive to Mahaa Cunda is speculative, since the text says nothing at all about his motives for selecting the teaching in question. Nor is Channa referred to in the text as an "unenlightened person" (puthujjana).

Second, the commentary reconstructs Channa's last moments of life to make it very clear that enlightenment was gained at the last second: "He used the knife" means he used a knife which removes life-- he cut his throat. Now in that very moment the fear of death possessed him, and the sign of his next birth (gatinimitta) arose. Knowing he was unenlightened he was stirred (sa.mviggo) and aroused insight. Apprehending the formations (sa"nkhaara) he attained Arhatship and entered nirvana simultaneous with his death (samasiisii hutvaa).

The claim of the commentary is thus that Channa was a samasiisin ("equal headed"), that is to say someone who dies and attains nirvana simultaneously…. This reconstruction of Channa's death is likewise speculative, since no details at all are supplied in the text. Horner's verdict on the commentarial version of events is: "The facts could not have been known, and it seems a rather desperate effort to work up a satisfactory reason for this supposed attainment…." While it seems true that the commentary's reconstruction can never be verified, the possibility of achieving "sudden enlightenment" at the critical point "betwixt the bridge and the brook, the knife and the throat"-- as Robert Burton put it in The Anatomy of Melancholy [Note 47: …. Part 1, Section 4, Member 1. Quoted in Battin, Margaret Pabst (1982), Ethical Issues in Suicide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, p. 53.]-- is recognised in Pali sources, and there are several examples of people gaining enlightenment just as they are about to kill th! emselves. The commentarial claim that Channa was not an Arhat until his death seems also to be widely accepted in the secondary literature. Wiltshire is of the opinion that none of the three suicides were Arhats before their deaths. Discussing the case of Godhika he writes:

"It so happens that in the other bhikkhu suicide cases, those of Channa and Vakkali, it is also made quite clear that they too were not arahants until the event of their death, after which the Buddha pronounces them parinibbuta" [Note 49: 1983:134. Wiltshire does not say where this is "made quite clear." In fact-- as already noted-- the main text makes no pronouncement on the matter one way or the other, and contains nothing inconsistent with the view that Channa was an Arhat before the time he began to contemplate suicide. Poussin, in his entry on suicide in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, gives the suicides of Vakkali and Godhika as examples of suicide by Arhats, but gives no evidence for his claim that they were Arhats. In his capsule summary of Godhika's suicide, moreover, he states "Godhika reached arhatship just after he had begun cutting his throat." This hardly counts as a suicide by an Arhat. What is most surprising, however, is the absence of any reference to Channa in his entire discussion.].

More interesting than the truth or falsity of the commentarial version of events, however, is the question why the commentary should take such pains to establish that Channa was not an Arhat. The reason would appear to be that some aspect of Channa's behaviour was incompatible with the concept held by the tradition of how an Arhat should conduct himself. In other words, there must be one or more features of Channa's behaviour that the tradition found hard to swallow in an Arhat. I think there are three things the commentary might have taken exception to.

The most obvious thing is that the tradition simply found it inconceivable that an Arhat would be capable of suicide. Although this is nowhere mentioned in the text or commentary on this episode, it is often stated elsewhere that it is impossible for an Arhat to do certain things, the first of which is intentionally to kill a living creature.[Note 50: D.iii.235. At D.iii.133 nine things are mentioned, and the commentary says that even a stream-winner is not capable of such things (DA.iii.913).] Death-dealing acts of any kind are certainly not in keeping with the canonical paradigm of the calm and serene Arhat.

We are given a hint as to the second reason why the commentary might be unhappy with the notion of Channa being an Arhat prior to his suicide attempt in the motivation attributed to Mahaa Cunda for providing his homily to Channa. The suggestion is made by the commentary that Mahaa Cunda gave this particular teaching because he saw that Channa was "unable to tolerate the intense pain" and was seeking death in order to escape from it. The inability to tolerate pain shows a lack of self-mastery unbecoming to an Arhat. The danger of a lack of self-mastery is that a monk might do things unbecoming to his office and thereby cause the Order to lose face in the eyes of society. By maintaining that Channa was unlightened until the very end, the image of the Arhat remains untarnished by Channa's all-too-human show of weakness in the face of pain.

The third reason the commentary might have taken exception to suicide by an Arhat is a sectarian one. Suicide by voluntary fasting (sallekhanaa) is a well-known Jain practice, and suicide may also have been customary among the Aajiivikas…. Channa's suicide, and the two others, might have been seen as uncomfortably close to a distinctive sectarian practice and perhaps an unwelcome throwback to the discredited path of self-mortification. The commentary's rejection of suicide by Arhats, therefore, may also carry an implicit rejection of Jainism….

What is most striking, however, is not what the commentary does say, but what it doesn't say. I refer to the complete absence of any discussion of the ethics of suicide. We might expect at least a mention of the third paaraajika, which was introduced specifically to prevent suicide by monks [Note 53: Vin.iii.71].
What can be the reason for this silence? Perhaps the simple explanation is that Channa's suicide was not seen to raise any pressing moral or legal issues: only if Channa was an Arhat would such questions arise. In the eyes of the commentary, Channa was an unenlightened person (puthujjana) who, afflicted by the pain and distress of a serious illness, took his own life. Presented in this light, few ethical problems arise: suicides by the unenlightened are a sad but all too common affair. By holding that Channa gained enlightenment only after he had begun the attempt on his life, the commentary neatly avoids the dilemma of an Arhat ! breaking the precepts.

Where does all this leave us with respect to the seventy-year consensus that suicide is permitted for Arhats? I think it gives us a number of reasons to question it. First, there is no reason to think that the exoneration of Channa establishes a normative position on suicide. This is because to exonerate from blame is not the same as to condone.
Second, there are textual reasons for thinking that the Buddha's apparent exoneration may not be an exoneration after all. The textual issues are complex and it would not be safe to draw any firm conclusions. It might be observed in passing that the textual evidence that suicide may be permissible in Christianity is much greater than in Buddhism. There are many examples of suicide in the Old Testament: this has not, however, prevented the Christian tradition from teaching consistently…that suicide is gravely wrong. By comparison, Theravaada sources are a model of consistency in their refusal to countenance the intentional destruction of life.

Third, the commentarial tradition finds the idea that an Arhat would take his own life in the way Channa did completely unacceptable. Fourth, there is a logical point which, although somewhat obvious, seems to have been overlooked in previous discussions. If we assume, along with the commentary and secondary literature, that Channa was not an Arhat prior to his suicide attempt, then to extrapolate a rule from this case such that suicide is permissible for Arhats is fallacious. The reason for this is that Channa's suicide was-- in all significant respects-- the suicide of an unenlightened person. The motivation, deliberation and intention which preceded his suicide-- everything down to the act of picking up the razor-- all this was done by an unenlightened person. Channa's suicide thus cannot be taken as setting a precedent for Arhats for the simple reason that he was not one himself until after he had performed the suicidal act.

Fifth and finally, suicide is repeatedly condemned in canonical and non-canonical sources and goes directly "against the stream" of Buddhist moral teachings. A number of reasons why suicide is wrong are found in the sources—[Note 55: Reasons why Buddhism might be opposed to suicide include the following: 1) It is an act of violence and thus contrary to the principle of ahi.msaa. 2) It is against the First Precept. 3) It is contrary to the third paaraajika (Cf. Miln. 195). 4) It is stated that "Arahants do not cut short their lives" (na . . . apakka.m paatenti) Miln. 44, cf. D.ii.32/DA.810 cited by Horner (Milinda's Questions, I.61n.). Saariputta says that an Arhat neither wishes for death not wishes not to die: it will come when it comes (Thag. vv.1002-3). 5) Suicide destroys something of great value in the case of a virtuous human life and prevents such a person acting in the service of others (Miln. 195f.) Wiltshire states that altruism is also cited in the Paayaasi Sutta as a reason for not taking one's life (1983:131). With reference to the discussion here (D.ii.330-2) he comments "This is the only passage in the Sutta Pi.taka in which the subje! ct of suicide is considered in the abstract, and even then obliquely" (1983:130). Kassapa states that the virtuous should not kill themselves to obtain the results of their good kar ma as this deprives the world of their good influence (D.ii.330f). 6) Suicide brings life to a premature end. As Poussin expresses it: (op cit) "A man must live his alloted span of life . . . To that effect Buddha employs to Paayaasi the simile of the woman who cuts open her body in order to see whether her child is a boy or a girl" (D.ii.331). 7) Self-annihilation is a form of vibhava-ta.nhaa. 8) Self-destruction is associated with ascetic practices which are rejected since "Buddhism had better methods of crushing lust and destroying sin" (Poussin, op cit). 9). There is empirical evidence provided by I Tsing. Poussin notes: "The Pilgrim I-tsing says that Indian Buddhists abstain from suicide and, in general, from self-torture" (op cit). 10) As noted above, Saariputta's immediate reaction is to dissuade Channa in the strongest terms from taking his life. Saariputta's reaction suggests that suicide was not regarded among the Buddha's senior disciples as an option even meriting discussion.]—but no single underlying objection to suicide is articulated. This is not an easy thing to do, and Schopenhauer was not altogether wrong in his statement that the moral arguments against suicide "lie very deep and are not touched by ordinary ethics…." Earlier I suggested that the "roots of evil" critique of suicide-- that suicide was wrong because of the presence of desire or aversion-- was unsatisfactory in that it led in the direction of subjectivism. The underlying objection to suicide, it seems to me, is to be found not in the emotional state of the agent but in some intrinsic feature of the suicidal act which renders it morally flawed. I believe, however, there is a way in whi! ch the two approaches can be reconciled. To do this we must locate the wrongness of suicide in delusion (moha) rather in the affective "roots" of desire and hatred.

On this basis suicide will be wrong because it is an irrational act. By this I do not mean that it is performed while the balance of the mind is disturbed, but that it is incoherent in the context of Buddhist teachings. This is because suicide is contrary to basic Buddhist values. What Buddhism values is not death, but life…. Buddhism sees death as an imperfection, a flaw in the human condition, something to be overcome rather than affirmed. Death is mentioned in the First Noble Truth as one of the most basic aspects of suffering (dukkha-dukkha). A person who opts for death believing it to be a solution to suffering has fundamentally misunderstood the First Noble Truth. The First Noble Truth teaches that death is the problem, not the solution. The fact that the person who commits suicide will be reborn and live again is not important. What is significant is that through the affirmation of death he has, in his heart, embraced Maara! From a Buddhist perspective, this is clearly irrational. If suicide is irrational in this sense it can be claimed there are objective grounds for regarding it as morally wrong.

Keown, D. “Buddhism and Suicide: The Case of Channa.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Vol. 3, 1996
Digital: http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma/suicide.html


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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby danieLion » Sat Jun 09, 2012 9:36 am

Excerpt from Channa's Suicide in the Samyukta-āgama
Analayo wrote:Compared with the Pāli version, the Samyukta-āgama discourse shows a number of smaller variations. Nevertheless, its basic presentation concords with the Pāli discourse in that both versions give the impression of recording the suicide of an arahant.

This is not, however, the view of the later Theravāda tradition. According to the Pāli commentary, Channa was still a worldling when he used the knife and became an arahant only in the short interval between his committing suicide and his passing away. Yet, if events were as the commentary suggests, one would be at a loss to understand why, in reply to Sāriputta's inquiry after Channa's rebirth, the Buddha reminds Sāriputta of Channa's earlier declaration, which in both versions involves an implicit claim to being an arahant. Such a reminder makes sense only as a way of confirming that Channa's earlier claim was justified. According to the commentarial explanation, however, Channa's earlier claim would have been thoroughlymistaken, as he would have still been a worldling. In this case, Sāriputta would havebeen quite right in doubting the outcome of Channa's suicide, hence the Buddha could have acknowledged the appropriateness of Sāriputta's doubts and perhaps even informed him that Channa had managed to accomplish at the last minute what they had mistakenly believed himself to have already accomplished. This would hold true not only on the commentarial suggestion that Channa was still a worldling, but also on the assumption that he had reached the stage of a disciple in higher training (sekha). In that case, too, Sāriputta would have been right in asking about Channa's rebirth and there would have been no reason for the Buddha to remind Sāriputta of Channa's earlier declaration.

For the Pāli and Chinese versions of the present discourse to be describing the suicide of an arahant might at first sight seem to conflict with the canonical dictum that an arahant is incapable of intentionally depriving a living being of life. However, it is not clear whether this stipulation covers suicide, as it could be in-tended to cover only cases of depriving another living being of life.

According to the third pārājika rule in the Pāli Vinaya, to incite someone else to commit suicide entails loss of being in communion with the monastic community. The attempt to kill oneself falls into a different category of rules, as jumping from a cliff to kill oneself is reckoned a rather minor type of transgression, a dukkata offence. A close inspection of the formulation of this rule brings to light that the D\dukkata is not for the act of attempting suicide as such, but for the act of jumping from a cliff. This was indeed the problem in the case leading to this rule, since the monk attempting suicide had jumped on someone else, causing the latter's death but surviving himself. The next story in this part of the PāliVinaya
applies the same ruling to the act of throwing a stone down from a cliff, with the result of unintentionally causing the death of someone below. This confirms that the suicidal intention in the first case was only incidental to the rule.
That is, at least from the viewpoint of the Pāli Vinaya, for a monk to attempt to commit suicide in a way that does not involve jumping from a cliff seems not to be an infringement of his precepts. This is in fact explicitly stated in the Vinaya of the Sarvāstivādins, namely that suicide is not an offence. Yet, in other Vinayas an attempt to commit suicide or its successful completion is reckoned an offence. The Milindapañha similarly suggests that the Buddha had laid down a precept against killing oneself, and the Pāli commentary on the Vinaya incident of jumping from a cliff delivers a general ban on suicide. The commentary on the Dhammapada then quotes the Buddha tothe effect that an arahant just will not commit suicide.

Clearly there is some degree of ambivalence surrounding the theme of suicide committed by a monastic or an arahant. In fact, though the discourse records of Channa's suicide give a clear indication that from their perspective he was an arahant before killing himself, their narration also suggests some degree of ambiguity, evident in the description of how the two monks who had come to visit Channa try to dissuade him from his plan. Apparently Channa's wish to avoid the painful experience of his disease by killing himself aroused doubts in his visitors about his degree of detachment. Consequently, he gets a teaching on detachment from one of them, and after his death Sāriputta asks the Buddha about Channa's rebirth, clearly implying that Sāriputta thinks him still subject to being reborn.

In other Pāli discourses, the set of similes that Channa uses to describe his suffering condition occurs not only in illustrations of a sick person's condition, but also to depict the pain experienced by the bodhisattva Gotama when he practiced breath control. Since in this instance the Buddha makes a point of specifying that the pain experienced by him on this occasion did not affect his mind at all, these similes need not be read as descriptions of a state of mental distress, but may just be meant to illustrate the severity of the pain that is being experienced.

Regarding the theme of a fully awakened one and the experience of pain, it is noteworthy that several Pāli discourses report the Buddha having back pain and thereupon asking one of his eminent disciples to deliver a discourse in his stead, as he wants to take a rest. This goes to show that full awakening does not imply that one feels no pain at all or won't bother to alleviate pain. According to the commentaries, however, the real reason was that the Buddha wanted to make use of the new hall, in which he and the monks had assembled, by way of each of the four bodily postures; or else that he wanted to give one of his disciples an occasion to deliver teachings.

A similar reasoning is also proposed in the Sanghabhedavastu. This gives the impression that the later tradition did not feel comfortable with the idea that the Buddha handed over the teaching duty because he felt pain and wanted to take a rest.

The same tendency may lie behind the case of Channa. Perhaps later tradition thought that, had he been an arahant, he would have just put up with the pain. To rephrase the same in the terms used in the Channa-sutta and its parallel by one of Channa's visitors: How could the wish to kill oneself arise in one who has reached the total absence of dependency and agitation?

Keown explains that why the commentary should take such pains to establish that Channa was not an Arhat ... is that the tradition simply found it inconceivable that an Arhat would be capable of suicide. By maintaining that Channa was unenlightened until the very end, the image of the Arhat remains untarnished. The possibility that the detachment of a fully awakened one is compatible with the rather grisly act of cutting one's own throat appears to be affirmed in the discourse versions of Channa's suicide; whereas other texts reflect a different attitude. A similar ambivalence can be observed in the case of those texts that deal with the suicide of Vakkali, which I intend to examine in a subsequent paper.

Channa's Suicide in the Samyukta-āgama, Anālayo: http://www.scribd.com/doc/96360160/Chan ... ma-Analayo


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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby Alex123 » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:56 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Lazy,

Lazy_eye wrote:Besides fear of rebirth, are there any other good arguments (from a Theravada Buddhist perspective) against suicide?

The following come to mind...

- The standard precept not to kill
- The Vinaya precept for monks not to recommend or suggest suicide

Retro. :)

While it is bad for monks to kill, etc. Why shouldn't one kill oneself if, if, that would bring about parinibbana? Why exist at all if it involves just more suffering?
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby Alex123 » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:58 pm

paarsurrey wrote:Buddha taught of a middle path; if one follows Buddha one won't commit suicide; despite sufferings he did not teach or allow one to commit suicide.Thanks

The "middle path" is supposed to end rebirth thus all the dukkha that is involved in being born. But if it is a given that there is no rebirth, doesn't suicide fulfill parinibbana - the goal of the N8P?

Considering how tough it is to reach Arhatship, and that it doesn't seem to be such a totally pleasant state which would stop ALL dukkha - cessation of existence is the only total way out.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby drifting cloud » Mon Oct 15, 2012 11:13 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Suppose, though, that there is no rebirth. Following the overall Buddhist perspective on things, would suicide be a desirable and logical choice?

Hi Lazy Eye,

If there is no rebirth, a lot of Buddhist teachings and the reasoning behind them no longer make sense; this includes the teaching on suicide. Thus I find your question to be kind of a moot point.

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby Cassandra » Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:38 pm

My personal opinion is that if someone is undergoing extreme and prolonged physical pain and is unable to find a cure for it, then the most compassionate and wise choice for that person as well as his loved ones is to just put an end to existence. I find this view somewhat compatible with what the suttas indicate.

The Buddha seemingly refused suicide in the vinaya, probably because encouraging suicide is not the most wholesome thing to do, generally speaking. But when bhikku Channa committed suicide, he said the bhikku did not take his life with fault. It seems that Channa was enlightened at the time he committed suicide; therefore his act was not a act of desire or delusion. That indicates the Buddha did not feel the need to continue enduring pain if the act to end it is not arising from delusion or desire but merely to dissolve the aggregates.

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby Cassandra » Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:50 pm

Alex123 wrote:
paarsurrey wrote:Buddha taught of a middle path; if one follows Buddha one won't commit suicide; despite sufferings he did not teach or allow one to commit suicide.Thanks

The "middle path" is supposed to end rebirth thus all the dukkha that is involved in being born. But if it is a given that there is no rebirth, doesn't suicide fulfill parinibbana - the goal of the N8P?

Considering how tough it is to reach Arhatship, and that it doesn't seem to be such a totally pleasant state which would stop ALL dukkha - cessation of existence is the only total way out.

Do the suttas say pari (completion) nibbana is the ultimate peace or is it vastly a commentarial view? It looks to me like suttas say nibbana is the ending of all suffering. Suttas do not seem to give parinibbana any prominence as the "the goal of the N8P".

having entirely abandoned passion-obsession, having abolished aversion-obsession, having uprooted the view-&-conceit obsession 'I am'; having abandoned ignorance & given rise to clear knowing — he has put an end to suffering & stress right in the here-&-now

MN 9

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Tue Oct 16, 2012 3:54 pm

Cassandra wrote:Do the suttas say pari (completion) nibbana is the ultimate peace or is it vastly a commentarial view? It looks to me like suttas say nibbana is the ending of all suffering. Suttas do not seem to give parinibbana any prominence as the "the goal of the N8P".

Well considering that one cannot suffer if one does not arise in Samsara, it would be hard to explain how the ultimate expression of freedom from suffering would not be Parinibbana.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby daverupa » Tue Oct 16, 2012 4:03 pm

K. R. Norman, A Philological Approach to Buddhism:

Another important point which philology has been able to clarify is the translation of the noun parinibbāna; which Rhys Davids translated as “decease” in the title of the sutta I have just mentioned [The Mahaparinibbana-sutta]. Because that sutta deals with the nibbāna which the Buddha obtained at death, parinibbāna is often translated as “final nibbāna”, reserving the simple “nibbāna” for the experience which the Buddha had at the time of his wakening. Because of the use of the word parinibbāna in connection with the Buddha’s death, it is assumed by some that it can only be used of nibbāna at death. This interpretation is, however, based upon a misunderstanding of the significance of the prefix pari-. It can be shown very easily that it does not imply “final”, and parinibbāna, at least in its original usage, cannot mean “final nibbāna” because there are many references in the texts to living beings who are described as parinibbuta “having gained parinibbāna”.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Buddhism, rebirth and suicide

Postby Alobha » Tue Oct 16, 2012 9:32 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:If i had a friend who was considering suicide and asked me why, from a Buddhist point of view, he or she shouldn't do this, I'm not sure how I could respond other than by asserting the possibility of rebirth. Assuming the person knew something about Dhamma, they could easily point out that existence is dukkha and cessation the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice. So I don't know what other kinds of skillful responses there might be.

In Sankicca Thera's words:
I've lived in wildernesses,
canyons, & caves,
isolated dwellings
frequented by predator & prey,
but never have I known an ignoble, aversive resolve:
"May these beings be destroyed, be slaughtered, fall into pain."

The Teacher has been served by me;
the Awakened One's bidding, done;
the heavy load, laid down;
the guide to becoming, uprooted.
And the goal for which I went forth
from home life into homelessness I've reached: the end of all fetters.

I don't delight in death,
don't delight in living.
I await my time like a worker his wage.
I don't delight in death, don't delight in living.
I await my time mindful, alert.

People look for a shortcut to peace and resort to acts of greed, ill-will and delusion when they suffer. We should look deep within us, whether resorting to thoughts and actions like this ever brought us closer to peace ("May these beings be destroyed, be slaugthered, fall into pain."). Does ill-will, whether directed towards others or ourselves, bring us closer to happiness and peace? Where does it lead us to, really? This is something we can understand and be sure of in this life. This would serve as a good basis to further enquire whether killing oneself is a wholesome thing to do.

Lazy_eye wrote:If i had a friend who was considering suicide and asked me why, from a Buddhist point of view, he or she shouldn't do this, I'm not sure how I could respond other than by asserting the possibility of rebirth.

If you had a friend who was considering suicide, it would be worth considering whether answering his question would be skillful or not and whether feeding that mental machinery in this particular state would do any good to this friend to find peace of mind.

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