Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

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Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby cooran » Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:20 pm

Hello all,

I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss this topic as a stand-alone. Here are a few articles I've gathered over time.

If anyone has others relevant to the Pali Canon and Commentaries, please add.

Existence, Enlightenment and Suicide - Stephen Batchelor
This essay on the English Buddhist monk Ven. Nanavira Thera (Harold Musson) was first published in Tadeusz Skorupski (ed.) The Buddhist Forum. Volume 4. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1996. The Dilemma of Nanavira Thera
http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/existence1.html

A discussion of his manner of death and its significance occurs in Section 7 of the .pdf by Piya Tan M 144 Channovada Sutta (Suicide: the arhats do not fear death) (pdf)
http://sites.google.com/site/dharmafare ... imanikaaya

Buddhism and Suicide --- The Case of Channa - Damien Keown - University of London, Goldsmiths
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma/suicide.html

SUICIDE IN BUDDHISM -- POST-CANONICAL DEFLECTIONS - Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari
http://www.metta.lk/english/suicide.htm

Buddhist Views of Suicide and Euthanasia, By Carl B. Becker
Philosophy East and West V. 40 No. 4 (October 1990) pp. 543-555
http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/becker.htm


Criteria for Judging the Unwholesomeness of Actions in the Texts of Theravaada Buddhism By Peter Harvey
http://www.buddhistethics.org/2/harvey.html

Thoughts?

with metta
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby BlackBird » Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:55 pm

Hi Chris, apart from being a collection of articles on the subject of suicide within Theravada Buddhism, is there any comment you would like to make for or against that could provide a 'starting point' for some discussion?
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Viscid » Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:56 am

cooran wrote:Thoughts?

I'd think that killing yourself because of Dukkha will only lead to another lifetime full of Dukkha, solving nothing; if you have the opportunity to cease craving and suffering in this lifetime, you should make every effort to realize it.

However, if it is impossible to continue on a path to eliminate suffering, as in the case where you are in constant intolerable pain, and you will not burden others with grief, then there is difficulty in providing a sufficient argument against suicide.

Just an uninformed opinion. No one kill themselves, please.
Last edited by Viscid on Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:05 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:59 am

Don't forget

Harvey, P An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2000. pp. 286-310.

Most of the content is Theravadin, though other material is included.

Personally, tonight my classes at CUHK on Buddhist Ethics are just getting into this very topic. I've been converting a lot of this information from English to Mandarin for the students' notes. I personally find Harvey and Keown are great sources, particularly some of the nuances they point out with respect to the passages in the suttas.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:01 am

Greetings bhante,

Paññāsikhara wrote:I personally find Harvey and Keown are great sources, particularly some of the nuances they point out with respect to the passages in the suttas.

Things like the case of Channa who "used the knife" and the way this way regarded by the Buddha in sutta, versus how it was regarded by post-canonical sources?

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:05 am

Hi Bhante,

Paññāsikhara wrote:Don't forget

Harvey, P An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2000. pp. 286-310.

Most of the content is Theravadin, though other material is included.

Personally, tonight my classes at CUHK on Buddhist Ethics are just getting into this very topic. I've been converting a lot of this information from English to Mandarin for the students' notes. I personally find Harvey and Keown are great sources, particularly some of the nuances they point out with respect to the passages in the suttas.


What little I've read of Harvey, I liked. You could say I'm "a fan".
I'm not so much a fan of suicide.
Scriptural support for a delusional attempt to escape suffering via suicide is, in my view, mistaken.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:20 am

I thought Damien Keown's article was useful (I'm sure we've discussed this before...).

Keown wrote:Conclusion
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.
...


MN 144: http://www.mahindarama.com/e-tipitaka/M ... mn-144.htm
MN 144 wrote:Venerable Sariputta and venerable Mahacunda having advised venerable Channa, in this manner got up from their seats and went away. Soon after they had gone venerable Channa took a weapon and put an end to his life. Then venerable Sariputta approached the Blessed One, worshipped, sat on a side and said, ’Venerable sir, venerable Channa has put an end to his life, what are his movements after death?’

‘Sariputta, wasn’t the faultlessness of the bhikkhu Channa declared in your presence?’

‘Venerable sir, in Pabbajira, the village of the Vajji’s, the families of venerable Channa’s friends, well -wishers and earlier relations live.’

‘Sariputta, there may be the families of venerable Channa’s friends, well-wishers and earlier relatives, I say, there is no fault to that extent. Sariputta, if someone gives up this body and seizes another, I say it is a fault. In the bhikkhu that fault is not apparent. Bhikkhu Channa took his life faultlessly.’

The Blessed One said thus and venerable Sariputta delighted in the words of the Blessed One.


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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby alan » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:40 am

I'd like to see BlackBird's question addressed directly.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Viscid » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:42 am

Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari wrote:It is mostly in the case of an ailing monk who may be terminally ill. Monks who attend on such a sick one may realize that he is incurably ill [ mahààbàdho cirànubaddho. All Commentarial quotations which follow are from PTS. Vin.A. II. p. 467 ] and feel the drudgery of being engaged in a fruitless task and wish to be relieved of it [ kadà nu kho gilànato mu¤cissàmà ' ti aññiyanti ]. In such a case it is conceded that the ailing monk may cut off his food and medical supplies to expedite his death and to terminate his life, to relieve those who are under stress because of him. A justification appears to be sought here in this negative search for life termination, seeking it in nature's own way, as it were, rather than taking to positive action for life destruction.

( http://www.metta.lk/english/suicide.htm )

It seems a little absurd that starving someone to death by intentionally not feeding them because they are burdensome is somehow more justifiable than allowing them to kill themselves expediently.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 2:54 am

Hi Alan,
alan wrote:I'd like to see BlackBird's question addressed directly.


I thought my post was clear enough to give something to discuss.

The article I quoted suggests that for an Arahant to take his life is "not blameworthy" but that doesn't necessarily mean that suicide is condoned.

Presumably for someone who was not an Arahant it would be blameworthy because he/she would, in that case, be one who "seizes another [body]".

The latter has nothing to do with any commentarial gloss, it's straight from reading the Sutta.

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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:03 am

mikenz66 wrote:The latter has nothing to do with any commentarial gloss, it's straight from reading the Sutta.
You don't need to justify it Mike. I, for one, am grateful for the vast body of wisdom bequethed to us by the commentators. Unlike most people today, they knew what they were on about.

And I agree with your other comment, there is a world of difference between someone like Channa and Nanavira (or one of us).
kind regards

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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Jason » Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:12 am

After reflecting upon this topic for some time, I've come to the conclusion that, ultimately, euthanasia isn't a black or white issue. On the one hand, euthanasia certainly goes against the first precept, regardless of the intention behind it; however, the precepts themselves are merely guidelines that are utilized in order to protect oneself, as well as others, from the results of unskillful actions.

There are cases in the Pali Canon where monks committed suicide — whether due to an incurable illness and unbearable pain, aversion and disgust with the body, etc. — but it's made clear that only those who are free from greed, hatred and delusion are blameless in such actions, i.e., there is only fault when one "gives up this body and seizes another" (MN 144). When it comes to our practical day-to-day lives, however, we're not always capable of being as stoic as we may wish to be, and enduring all of the difficult circumstances that life has to throw at us isn't always possible.

But even though I don't see this as a black or white issue, the Buddha himself was pretty adamant about where he stood on these issues, and the willful termination of someone's life, no matter the motivation, isn't something he condoned. If we look at it from the Buddhist perspective, we can see that to kill, to assist in killing or to even speak in favor of killing violates the spirit of the first precept. For example, the Vinita-vatthu, which documents various cases related to the major rules in the Vinaya and gives verdicts as to what penalty, if any, they entail, includes two explicit cases, one involving euthanasia and the other involving capital punishment:

    Recommending means of euthanasia. The Vinita-vatthu includes a case of a criminal who has just been punished by having his hands and feet cut off. A bhikkhu asks the man's relatives, "Do you want him to die? Then make him drink buttermilk." The relatives follow the bhikkhu's recommendation, the man dies, and the bhikkhu incurs a parajika.

    Recommending means of capital punishment. Again from the Vinita-vatthu: A bhikkhu advises an executioner to kill his victims mercifully with a single blow, rather than torturing them. The executioner follows his advice, and the bhikkhu incurs a parajika. This judgment indicates that a bhikkhu should not involve himself in matters of this sort, no matter how humane his intentions. According to the Vinita-vatthu, if the executioner says that he will not follow the bhikkhu's advice and then kills his victims as he pleases, the bhikkhu incurs no penalty. The Commentary adds that if the executioner tries to follow the bhikkhu's advice and yet needs more than one blow to do the job, the bhikkhu incurs a thullaccaya. As we have mentioned, though, the best course is to leave matters of this sort to the laity. (BMC 1.4)

While these particular rules apply explicitly to monks, the first precept is the same for lay followers, so it's reasonable to assume that all Buddhists should refrain from such actions as much as possible, especially since the weight of such kamma is so heavy. That being said, the precept itself is only a guideline for our protection, not a commandment that's written in stone, and there's no kind of Buddhist excommunication for breaking it. It's always up to the individual to weigh all the options and their potential consequences before performing any action; and in the end, sometimes our decisions depend more on what we feel than on what we're told is the 'right' or 'moral' thing to do (which is one of the many reasons I'm grateful for the First Amendment.)

Things like incurable illnesses that cause great amounts of pain can even be unbearable for arahants, let alone the average individual, and it's absurd to expect that everyone should live up to some idealized standard of morality that's arbitrarily placed upon human existence or exhibit superhuman endurance for the sake of piety. Moreover, it's my opinion that individuals should have the right to do what they want with their own bodies.

As such, I support a person's right to end their own life when they're deemed to be sober and of sound mind, and I applaud Oregon, Washington and Montana for their allowance of physician-assisted suicide. In my mind, it's a personal choice that's the individual's alone to make, and denying a person that choice is equivalent to torture. When it comes to animals and invalids, however, I think it gets a bit more complicated since we effectively have to kill them in order to end their suffering and they have little choice in the matter.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby alan » Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:25 am

Sorry Mike and Ben. I saw this as a spin-off from another thread. It seemed to me the famous "Nanavira killed himself so he therefore cannot be trusted to have said anything worthwhile" meme was in play.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby BlackBird » Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:39 am

alan wrote:I'd like to see BlackBird's question addressed directly.


The following is the sentiment that I suspect is underlying the OP hence my post, however it's no place of mine to presume what other are thinking:

Ben wrote:I agree with your other comment, there is a world of difference between someone like Channa and Nanavira (or one of us).
kind regards


I can't help but feel that this idea of equating Ven. Nyanavira to Ven. Channa Thera is a misinterpretation of the argument that was being used. If that is the case, you've set up a straw man. You see the example is employed generally when one is met with the typical ad hominem argument that because Ven. Nyanavira took his own life, his writings are therefore not credible - As if the act of taking one's life precludes one from actually having an attainment and or credibility. The suttas are then brought in to show that Arahants (or Ariyas if you prefer the commentarial interpretation) are capable of taking their lives. The purpose is simple, to show that an act of suicide does not render a person's message or wisdom invalid, for you can't get much more credible than an Arahant.

Ben wrote:Unlike most people today, they knew what they were on about.


Respectfully Ben, that's your opinion, and as far as I can tell there's not really any evidence to support it, which makes it an article of faith in tradition. I've been tip toeing around this one for a while, but I feel it's going to come to a head sooner or later.

metta
Jack

EDIT: Perhaps I've got the wrong end of the stick altogether, if that's the case then my apologies.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:08 am

Ben wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:The latter has nothing to do with any commentarial gloss, it's straight from reading the Sutta.
You don't need to justify it Mike. I, for one, am grateful for the vast body of wisdom bequethed to us by the commentators. Unlike most people today, they knew what they were on about.

I just wanted to emphasise that the Sutta itself seems quite straightforward and it is not necessary to consult the commentary to come to the conclusion that the lack of blame was because Channa was not reborn (so was an arahant by the time of death).

The Commentary discusses the question of whether Channa was an arahant before killing himself, or became an arahant while dying. The Commentary takes the latter point of view, though Bhikkhu Bodhi comments that the former might make more sense in the context of the Sutta:
Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: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 [earlier in the Sutta Channa says: "I will use the knife blamelessly"], the dramatic punch being delivered by the failure of his two brother-monks to recognise 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.


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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Individual » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:09 am

It seems like the world would be better off if the Tipitaka didn't include the deaths of Vakali and Channa. It's not good that they be mentioned in a setting like this.

I don't anticipate this being a constructive discussion, because people will tend to pick the interpretations that favor their own biases.

The suttas make it clear that killing is wrong, but also to practice discernment and compassion. People who are sincere in their beliefs can come to differing points-of-view by emphasizing these two different aspects of the teaching. And they can both come to mistaken beliefs too. Suicide is obviously wrong in every conceivable case that could be brought up today. But with euthanasia (as with abortion), I don't think it's so simple. In my opinion, it is as foolish to categorically condemn euthanasia as to defend it. I respect and honor a person who would not kill another or ask to be killed, regardless of circumstances. But I don't think we can always simply disregard the evaluation the circumstances and not ask, "Are we really being wisely compassionate or are we just blindly following a certain rule?" We should acknowledge the possibility of finding specific cases where it is unwise and cruel to follow the letter of the law, of the precepts.

The wholesomeness of our own view is also demonstrated by our emotional reaction when we come into contact with an opposing view. If, when you come into contact with an opposing view, and you feel hatred, you should examine that and you may see that your own view is tied up with hatred.
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Individual » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:29 am

I would also add: For anyone who claims that the cases of Vakkali or Channa add support for or against suicide and euthanasia... Unless you are an Arahant or a Buddha, I would be skeptical of your interpretations. Because without being an Arahant or a Buddha, you would not truly be able to understand and explain the full meaning of those cases... How is it that somebody can spend a whole lifetime of dhamma practice and not reach Nirvana, but these two reached it spontaneously during acts of suicide? The commentarial position in the case of Vakkali seems ludicrous: He realized his putthujana state and then suddenly reached Nirvana? How does a Putthujana reach Nirvana, while committing one of the most heinous acts one can possibly can commit? None of you can explain this -- whether you are opposed to euthanasia or in favor of it. And even if you claim you can explain it, your explanation means nothing if you can't demonstrate that knowledge.

Because you can't explain it or demonstrate what it means, what judgments can you actually make? How can you judge "what the Buddha really thought," about Channa and Vakkali when you don't even know what Channa and Vakkali thought in that situation?
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:33 am

BlackBird wrote:
alan wrote:I'd like to see BlackBird's question addressed directly.


The following is the sentiment that I suspect is underlying the OP hence my post, however it's no place of mine to presume what other are thinking:

Ben wrote:I agree with your other comment, there is a world of difference between someone like Channa and Nanavira (or one of us).
kind regards


I can't help but feel that this idea of equating Ven. Nyanavira to Ven. Channa Thera is a misinterpretation of the argument that was being used.
I am definitely not equating Nanavira to Ven Channa. Ven Channa's attainment was recognized by the Buddha. I simply do not believe Nanavira's claim of attainment. And he did invalidate his claim of being a sotapanna by killing himself.

If one is an arahant and there is no more work to be done and one is suffering from a degenerative disease that is one thing, quite another for anyone other than an arahant. In my view, Nanavira was none other than yet another person who mistook whatever spiritual/meditative experience as being path&fruition.

The suttas are then brought in to show that Arahants (or Ariyas if you prefer the commentarial interpretation) are capable of taking their lives.
Jack do you have any examples from the Nikayas where a non-arahant ariya has taken his life blamelessly?

jack wrote:The purpose is simple, to show that an act of suicide does not render a person's message or wisdom invalid, for you can't get much more credible than an Arahant.
Do you believe Nanavira was an arahant?
jack wrote:
Ben wrote:Unlike most people today, they knew what they were on about.


[quote='"jack"]Respectfully Ben, that's your opinion, and as far as I can tell there's not really any evidence to support it, which makes it an article of faith in tradition.
No its not,actually.
jack wrote:I've been tip toeing around this one for a while, but I feel it's going to come to a head sooner or later.
I'll get my hardhat.

jack wrote:my apologies.
There is no need to apologise!
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby BlackBird » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:34 am

Thank you Mike & Individual, enjoyed reading your posts.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Suicide and Euthanasia according to Theravada

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:09 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings bhante,

Paññāsikhara wrote:I personally find Harvey and Keown are great sources, particularly some of the nuances they point out with respect to the passages in the suttas.

Things like the case of Channa who "used the knife" and the way this way regarded by the Buddha in sutta, versus how it was regarded by post-canonical sources?

Metta,
Retro. :)


Mike has cited it above, the difference between "exoneration" and "condone", for instance. In a sense, there was no blame in that they "did not take up further existence". It is towards this further existence that there is blame or otherwise, rather than the act of suicide itself.
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