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
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?