Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

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questions543
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Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by questions543 » Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm

I read recently about Nanavira Thera and about how he committed suicide as a result of a long-lasting bacterial illness and the accompanying treatment, which resulted in satyriasis, persistent sexual arousal that distracted him from his meditation.

I read onward and found that there were episodes of suicides among the sangha during the Buddha's lifetime.

1. There was the case of Godhika (https://suttacentral.net/en/sn4.23). Godhika was a monk who drifted in and out of a state of mental liberation. Unable to persist in this state, he decides to use the knife on himself ('Then it occurred to the Venerable Godhika: “Six times already I have fallen away from temporary liberation of mind. Let me use the knife.”') The Buddha implies not only that Godhika has attained Nibbana, but that it was through this act that he did so ('“Such indeed is how the steadfast act: / They are not attached to life. / Having drawn out craving with its root, / Godhika has attained final Nibbāna.”')

2. There was the case of Vakkali (https://suttacentral.net/en/sn22.87). Vakkali was a monk beyond reproach who essentially euthanized himself when he became very sick. The Buddha is said to have said that he attained Nibbana ('"the clansman Vakkali has attained final Nibbāna.'"')

3. There was the case of Channa (https://suttacentral.net/en/sn35.87). Channa was a monk, perhaps less advanced than Vakkali in his spiritual attainments, who euthanized himself again as a result of apparently terminal illness. While it's unclear whether he attained Nibbana, the Buddha says,'"when one lays down this body and takes up another body, then I say one is blameworthy. This did not happen in the case of the bhikkhu Channa. The bhikkhu Channa used the knife blamelessly. Thus, Sāriputta, should you remember it."' I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it seems that his suicide did not negatively affect his karma.

In all three cases, a monk takes his life because his state after-death was more desirable to him than his state in life. Putting aside the moral questions of suicide, isn't this evidence of aversion (to physical suffering or mental distractions) or desire (for comfort or mental clarity), and the willingness to engage in violence to a physical body as a response?

Ajahn Brahm defines sensory desire, one of the five hindrances, as follows: "[...] kāma chanda are anything from the extremes of lust to just being concerned with how the body is doing. Thinking about the letter that you have to write afterwards, about the rain pattering on your roof, about your kutī [monk's hut], or what needs to be built next, or where you are going to next, that’s all in the kāmaloka, the world of the senses, that’s all kāma chanda. It’s also kāma vitakka, or the thoughts about those things, about family, about health, about coming here, going there, and thoughts about words."

In other words, it's a very, very pervasive feeling. And even those aforementioned monks were not able to get past this hindrance it seems to me. I know that Ajahn Brahm has often an unorthodox understanding of the teachings. He might be wrong. But how then can sensory desire be defined?

What then is the difference between an arahant and an ordinary person who is simply decent? Is it all a question of faith, having that feeling that you "know" there is no-self and that all of the dhamma is true? Because there are countless people even today who, unable to receive palliative care, die groaning and gritting their teeth and endure their sufferings with patience.

I'm not commenting on the morality of euthanasia. I just wonder how the subjective experience of an arahant is different. They can experience physical pain just like anyone else, I knew that. But that they react to it in the same way as anyone else is a surprise to me.

Also, lastly, why are these writings not available on accesstoinsight? Are they of dubious authenticity? Or does accesstoinsight view them as unhelpful and potentially dangerous? Or is it that Thanissaro didn't translate them?

2600htz
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by 2600htz » Mon Oct 16, 2017 6:57 pm

Hello:

Personal opinion - The characters in those suttas i think had the path knowledge of Arahantship but not the fruition. Thats why they declare either having temporary deliverance of mind, or direct experience seeing phenomena as impermanent, no self and suffering, yet they are not absolutely sure on the outcome of taking their own lives.

But without a Buddha being around who can tell if you will actually get the fruition at the time of death its like playing russian roulette and you might even end up in a hell realm because of undertaking that action.

Regards.
Last edited by 2600htz on Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Garrib
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by Garrib » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:07 pm

Doesn't having attained the path of Arahantship imply having aleady attained the fruit of the non-returner? In that case, the one attained the Arahant Magga should aleady be totally free of sensual desire.

questions543
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by questions543 » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:17 pm

Garrib wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:07 pm
Doesn't having attained the path of Arahantship imply having aleady attained the fruit of the non-returner? In that case, the one attained the Arahant Magga should aleady be totally free of sensual desire.
Yes, but it seems that the desire to avoid physical pain is present, in two of those cases at least. Or am I misunderstanding something?

Garrib
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by Garrib » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:48 pm

questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:17 pm
Yes, but it seems that the desire to avoid physical pain is present, in two of those cases at least. Or am I misunderstanding something?
Yes, it certainly seems that way to me - but maybe it is just one of those things that would only really make absolute sense from the perspective of an enlightened being? I guess it also implies that the experience of Nibbana is not actually always available for an Arahant?

In any event, I'm guessing that none of us here are Arahants (at least not the lay people) - so we should all definitely avoid "using the knife." We are bound to "pick up another body" - meaning, get reborn!

binocular
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by binocular » Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:15 pm

questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
Also, lastly, why are these writings not available on accesstoinsight? Are they of dubious authenticity? Or does accesstoinsight view them as unhelpful and potentially dangerous? Or is it that Thanissaro didn't translate them?
There's a lot that isn't on ATI, as ATI was an ongoing project. ATI was frozen several years ago and nothing new has been added since.
Ven. Thanissaro's new translations and talks are now available at dhammatalks.org, which is also an ongoing project, constantly added to.

binocular
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by binocular » Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:23 pm

questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
Putting aside the moral questions of suicide, isn't this evidence of aversion (to physical suffering or mental distractions) or desire (for comfort or mental clarity), and the willingness to engage in violence to a physical body as a response?
In some cases, suicide can be like finally discarding an old, worn-out pair of shoes that have become useless. There is no blame in that.

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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:48 pm

Greetings,

If someone can trust both:

- They are a stream-entrant or higher
- The Buddhist cosmology which states that a stream-enterer is en route to nibbana in seven lifetimes at most

...then I can understand a certain pragmatism behind suicide in certain situations which involve debilitating physical health (e.g. Ven. Nanavira), where such a decision can be made with full comprehension and clarity of mind. I don't regard such decisions as necessarily being rooted in aversion (though for the lower-ranked ariya it could be), but moreover, a decision made with compassion for their own current and future well-being. Obviously this view is somewhat controversial, and was too much for the commentators, who felt compelled to reinterpret the suttas in question in order to bolster other principles they gave higher priority to.

Matters pertaining to mental health are far less clear cut, and by virtue of their mental illness, it's unlikely that the individual can make a rational and autonomous decision in relation to the matter, in their best interests. Thus, issues of "mental illness" are necessarily excluded from what I've said above. Further, in keeping with the instruction of the Buddha, I think it is not appropriate to recommend suicide to another.

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

DooDoot
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by DooDoot » Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:07 am

questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
3. There was the case of Channa (https://suttacentral.net/en/sn35.87). Channa was a monk, perhaps less advanced than Vakkali in his spiritual attainments, who euthanized himself again as a result of apparently terminal illness. While it's unclear whether he attained Nibbana, the Buddha says,'"when one lays down this body and takes up another body, then I say one is blameworthy. This did not happen in the case of the bhikkhu Channa. The bhikkhu Channa used the knife blamelessly. Thus, Sāriputta, should you remember it."' I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it seems that his suicide did not negatively affect his karma.

In all three cases, a monk takes his life because his state after-death was more desirable to him than his state in life.
The sutta says "when one lays down this body and takes up another body, then I say one is blameworthy. This did not happen in the case of the bhikkhu Channa". This seems to say Channa was not desiring any state after-death (unlike Nanavira Thera, who appeared to believe he would be reborn again as a stream-enterer; thus desired another 'body').
questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
Putting aside the moral questions of suicide, isn't this evidence of aversion (to physical suffering or mental distractions) or desire (for comfort or mental clarity), and the willingness to engage in violence to a physical body as a response?
It just shows time has come to an end (kālaṇkata) for a lifespan. What is the difference between living for 79 years or holding out for 1 more year; when the goal of dispassion towards life has already been reached? When does the Middle-Way cease and the extreme of self-torment begin?

Bhikkhus, these two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth into homelessness. What two? The pursuit of sensual happiness in sensual pleasures, which is low, vulgar, the way of worldlings, ignoble, unbeneficial; and the pursuit of self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, unbeneficial. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata has awakened to the middle way, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

MN 56.11
questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
Because there are countless people even today who, unable to receive palliative care, die groaning and gritting their teeth and endure their sufferings with patience.
Is this noble?
questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
I'm not commenting on the morality of euthanasia. I just wonder how the subjective experience of an arahant is different. They can experience physical pain just like anyone else, I knew that. But that they react to it in the same way as anyone else is a surprise to me.
I doubt those suttas were placed into the records or composed for laypeople to read & ponder moral questions about. My impression is those suttas were written to demonstrate non-attachment towards life to the monks who heard or read those suttas.
questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
Also, lastly, why are these writings not available on accesstoinsight? Are they of dubious authenticity? Or does accesstoinsight view them as unhelpful and potentially dangerous? Or is it that Thanissaro didn't translate them
Possibly Thanissaro thought they were unimportant. There are many suttas unavailable on ATI, just as there are many suttas unavailable on SC. This said, I think the following teaching about desirelessness is very powerful & is something that can realised well before the end of life (kālaṇkata). Also, the following teaching provides the distinction between an arahant & unenlightened person. The arahant does not desire a future life (another 'kaya').
...when one lays down this body and takes up another body, then I say one is blameworthy. This did not happen in the case of the bhikkhu Channa.
Last edited by DooDoot on Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

Saengnapha
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by Saengnapha » Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:32 am

binocular wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:23 pm
questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
Putting aside the moral questions of suicide, isn't this evidence of aversion (to physical suffering or mental distractions) or desire (for comfort or mental clarity), and the willingness to engage in violence to a physical body as a response?
In some cases, suicide can be like finally discarding an old, worn-out pair of shoes that have become useless. There is no blame in that.
This is probably the real issue at hand.

binocular
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by binocular » Tue Oct 17, 2017 11:19 am

Saengnapha wrote:
Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:32 am
binocular wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:23 pm
questions543 wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 4:53 pm
Putting aside the moral questions of suicide, isn't this evidence of aversion (to physical suffering or mental distractions) or desire (for comfort or mental clarity), and the willingness to engage in violence to a physical body as a response?
In some cases, suicide can be like finally discarding an old, worn-out pair of shoes that have become useless. There is no blame in that.
This is probably the real issue at hand.
Could you say a bit more about what you mean?

There is a widely spread belief that people who commit suicide are doing so out of despair, or in the hope that killing themselves would bring them an end to their suffering. Some people who commit suicide probably are despaired, and some others hope that by killing themselves, their suffering would end too. But not everyone who commits suicide is like that.

What the person believes about the Meaning of Life, whether they believe in kamma and rebirth, will affect how they think about suicide. People differ greatly in these things, so they shouldn't all be regarded as the same.


But since this is largely a tabooed topic, it's tricky to talk about it ...

Saengnapha
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by Saengnapha » Tue Oct 17, 2017 11:37 am

binocular wrote:
Tue Oct 17, 2017 11:19 am
Saengnapha wrote:
Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:32 am
binocular wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:23 pm
In some cases, suicide can be like finally discarding an old, worn-out pair of shoes that have become useless. There is no blame in that.
This is probably the real issue at hand.
Could you say a bit more about what you mean?

There is a widely spread belief that people who commit suicide are doing so out of despair, or in the hope that killing themselves would bring them an end to their suffering. Some people who commit suicide probably are despaired, and some others hope that by killing themselves, their suffering would end too. But not everyone who commits suicide is like that.

What the person believes about the Meaning of Life, whether they believe in kamma and rebirth, will affect how they think about suicide. People differ greatly in these things, so they shouldn't all be regarded as the same.


But since this is largely a tabooed topic, it's tricky to talk about it ...
My comment aimed at what you said about 'suicide can be like discarding and old, worn-out pair of shoes that have become useless. There is no blame in that.' U.G. Krishnamurti was an example of this. He could no longer take care of himself and needed help to do everything. He decided it was time to go. He stopped eating, said goodbye to his friends, and passed away after some days. It wasn't out of any psychological problem that he decided to do this. The aging process simply caught up to him and without anymore to do, he was gone.

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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by perkele » Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:45 pm

binocular wrote:
Tue Oct 17, 2017 11:19 am
There is a widely spread belief that people who commit suicide are doing so out of despair, or in the hope that killing themselves would bring them an end to their suffering. Some people who commit suicide probably are despaired, and some others hope that by killing themselves, their suffering would end too. But not everyone who commits suicide is like that.
"Some", "some", "not all". :thinking:
I believe that "some"+"some" (actually a union of overlapping sets) equals "most" and this widespread belief is not far-off.
binocular wrote:
Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:23 pm
In some cases, suicide can be like finally discarding an old, worn-out pair of shoes that have become useless. There is no blame in that.
You speak so matter-of-factly as if you personally know a handful of such cases. And you absolve them from blame.

However, if we take the Buddha's words at face value, "when one lays down this body and takes up another body, then I say one is blameworthy", then it seems to me, according to this judgment of blameworthyness, that the case where it is not blameworthy would be exceedingly rare, i.e. only when the one committing suicide would be an arahat at death.

One can ask oneself: Why is it blameworthy to "lay down this body and pick up another"? I'm not sure about it. In my case I'd say I would leave unfinished business behind. That is exactly why I would be averse to dying at the moment. In other words, I am attached to many things going on in this life, relationships to certain other human beings most of all. I don't know if that could be said to be a reason why it would be "blameworthy".
Maybe, according to the Buddha, it is just that continuing one's rounds in samsara is blameworthy in any case, and that's all there is to that statement, regardless of whether one commits suicide or dies of any other random cause. But it seems to me the meaning of the quoted statement is that it is blameworthy to cut one's current human life short intentionally if one is not an arahat at death.

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robertk
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by robertk » Tue Oct 17, 2017 6:15 pm

It should be noted that, of course, neither Godhika, Vakkali or channa were arahats at the time of attempting suicide, they attained after.

binocular
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Re: Arahants, Aversion and Suicide

Post by binocular » Tue Oct 17, 2017 6:16 pm

perkele wrote:
Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:45 pm
You speak so matter-of-factly as if you personally know a handful of such cases. And you absolve them from blame.
I'm referring to the cases where the Buddha said that those particular bhikkhus were blameless in committing suicide.
However, if we take the Buddha's words at face value, "when one lays down this body and takes up another body, then I say one is blameworthy", then it seems to me, according to this judgment of blameworthyness, that the case where it is not blameworthy would be exceedingly rare, i.e. only when the one committing suicide would be an arahat at death.
Of course.
One can ask oneself: Why is it blameworthy to "lay down this body and pick up another"? I'm not sure about it.
Because one has not yet reached the goal of the holy life -- which is when one doesn't pick up another body anymore.
But it seems to me the meaning of the quoted statement is that it is blameworthy to cut one's current human life short intentionally if one is not an arahat at death.
Hence:
"You, too, monks, should relentlessly exert yourselves, [thinking,] 'Gladly would we let the flesh & blood in our bodies dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, but if we have not attained what can be reached through human firmness, human persistence, human striving, there will be no relaxing our persistence.' You, too, in no long time will reach & remain in the supreme goal of the holy life for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing & realizing it for yourselves in the here & now.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... .than.html

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