Suicide and rebirth

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
nowheat
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Suicide and rebirth

Post by nowheat » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:42 am

Some comments in that Other Rebirth Thread got me thinking that I don't actually know if the Buddha ever took a stand on suicide, or what implications it would have in terms of rebirth. Anyone have thoughts or citations?

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by jcsuperstar » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:55 am

well if each thought conditions the next thought or citta, then the citta of a person who is committing suicide would say a lot about what sort of rebirth, or not, that they would have.
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by bodom » Thu Jan 28, 2010 5:59 am

Suicide can be likened to craving for non-existence which the Buddha had lots to say about. There are a few instances of monks committing suicide in the tipitaka. I would post some links but im off to bed now. Im sure somebody will point you in the right direction.

:anjali:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by cooran » Thu Jan 28, 2010 7:23 am

Hello nowheat, and all,

These two articles on the same link by respected scholars may be of interest:

Buddhism and Suicide ~ Damien Keown

AND

Can Killing a Living Being Ever Be an Act of Compassion? The analysis of the act of killing in the Abhidhamma and Pali Commentaries -- Rupert Gethin
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma/suicide.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris
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---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by acinteyyo » Thu Jan 28, 2010 8:13 am

Hi,

in the Channovaadasutta (MN144) Ven. Channo commits suicide.
The Buddha declares that suicide is a fault if one gives up this body and seizes another.
Sariputta, if someone gives up this body and seizes another, I say it is a fault.
Ven. Channo must have been an arahant. The Buddha further says:
In the bhikkhu that fault is not apparent. Bhikkhu Channa took his life faultlessly.
So to commit suicide is not a fault, if one is not going to be reborn.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by cooran » Thu Jan 28, 2010 8:25 am

Hello acinteyyo, all,

The article whose link I gave above, points out the following about Channa and Suicide:

"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[54] that suicide is gravely wrong. By comparison, Theravāda 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[55] 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."[56] 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 which 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.[57] 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 Māra! . 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."

with metta
Chris
---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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retrofuturist
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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Jan 28, 2010 8:37 am

Greetings,
The above article wrote:The reason for this is that Channa's suicide was-- in all significant respects-- the suicide of an unenlightened person.
Yet Channa says...
Friend Sāriputta, it is not that I have no suitable food and medicine or no proper attendant. But rather, friend Sāriputta, the Teacher has long been worshipped by me with love, not without love; for it is proper for the discipline to worship the Teacher with love, not without love. Friend Sāriputta, remember this: the bhikkhu Channa will use the knife blamelessly.”
Sariputta did not believe him, so after Channa's suicide, approached the Buddha thusly...
Then the venerable Sāriputta went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, he sat down at one side and said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, the venerable Channa has used the knife. What is his destination, what is his future course?”

“Sāriputta, didn’t the bhikkhu Channa declare to you his blamelessness?”

“Venerable sir, there is a Vajjian village called Pubbajira. There the venerable Channa had friendly families, intimate families, approachable families [as his supporters].”

“Indeed, Sāriputta, the bhikkhu Channa had friendly families, intimate families, approachable families [as his supporters]; but I do not say that to this extent he was blameworthy. Sāriputta, when one lays down this body and takes up a new 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.”
The text seems to indicate that the Buddha knew what Sariputta didn't believe... namely, that Channa was already a blameless arahant.

MN 144 Channovāda Sutta
http://www.yellowrobe.com/pali-canon/su ... hanna.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I agree with acinteyyo, above.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"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)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by acinteyyo » Thu Jan 28, 2010 9:28 am

Hi cooran,
I cannot agree in that opinion.
cooran wrote:By comparison, Theravāda sources are a model of consistency in their refusal to countenance the intentional destruction of life.
When it comes to the action of an arahnt we don't talk about "intentions" anymore.
cooran wrote:Third, the commentarial tradition finds the idea that an Arhat would take his own life in the way Channa did completely unacceptable.
This is the view of the commentarial tradition, but I don't consider the commentarial tradition as a authority.
cooran wrote: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.
Why should we? The Buddha said about Channa's suicide:
Bhikkhu Channa took his life faultlessly.
cooran wrote: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[55] but no single underlying objection to suicide is articulated.
some sources mentioned [55]
1) It is an act of violence and thus contrary to the principle of ahi.msaa.
Suicide commited by an arahant is not an act of violence. Since actually and in truth a living arahant is not to be found, it cannot be said that suicide of an arahant is an act against someone nor against noone nor both nor not both. It's just giving up a body. If an unenlightened being commits suicide it is an act of violence.
2) It is against the First Precept.
The first precept is: "I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures." An arahant is not a living creature. A living arahant is not even to be found.
3) It is contrary to the third paaraajika (Cf. Miln. 195).
Same problem. I think it says: "Should any bhikkhu intentionally deprive a human being of life..." First, when it comes to the action of an arahant we cannot talk about "intentions". Second, ultimately we cannot say an arahant is a being.
This goes on and on. I'm not willing to take on every argument. And since I only accept the nikayas I can't even say somthing about the Milandapanna quotes.
cooran wrote: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."[56] 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 which 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.
In the case of an arahant comitting suicide we can't locate any delusion, how can we locate any wrongness then?
cooran wrote: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).
I don't think so. Buddhism does not value death nor life. It's right that death is mentioned in the FNT as one of the most basic aspects of suffering, but birth too. And what is birth, the beginning of life.
Suicide does not end suffering. The one who commits suicide to end suffering, does act wrongly. But the one who has already been gone to the end of suffering, the one for whom there is no further rebirth, can give up this body, can take this life faultlessly.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by cooran » Thu Jan 28, 2010 9:56 am

Bhikkhu Bodhi quotes the commentary notes to this sutta:

"MA: He cut his throat, and just at that moment the fear of death descended on him and the sign of future rebirth appeared. Recognising that he was still an ordinary person, he was aroused and developed insight. Comprehending the formations, he attained arahantship just before he expired."

RobertK once explained: "There are several cases of monks cutting their throats and becoming arahant just before death (Vakkali and Channa for example) but the texts do not say these were ariya. It seems they were putthujjana, but had the accumulations to attain arahaantship in the short time they had left."

I don't believe an arahant would ever commit suicide.

with metta
Chris
---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: Suicide and rebirth

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:13 am

Greetings,
cooran wrote:I don't believe an arahant would ever commit suicide.
I believe an arahant could "use the knife" blamelessly, without aversion or any other unwholesome mindstate prevalent, in the instance of a terminal illness or such. It would merely be a functional (kiriya), practical act, in calm equanimous response to circumstance.

I think the problem arises because the commentary has taken a very firm stand on the matter of suicide (firmer than the Buddha himself may have done) and assumes it must always be an act of aversion or ignorance.... thus, it then needs to devise elaborate explanations in order to maintain a degree of internal consistency when confronted with suttas such as this.

That's just my read on events - I don't claim it to be definitive, nor to have the backing of anything other than the Channovāda Sutta, viewed directly, without commentarial gloss.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"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)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by cooran » Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:34 am

retrofuturist said: I believe an arahant could "use the knife" blamelessly, without aversion or any other unwholesome mindstate prevalent, in the instance of a terminal illness or such. It would merely be a functional (kiriya), practical act, in calm equanimous response to circumstance.
What is your explanation of why an arahant would commit suicide? Why would he care to do such a thing?
An arahant would just allow the kammic accumulations and latent tendencies to dissipate.

This decision to kill a being (suicide) can only come from desire or aversion - there is no other reason to make a choice.
We are all terminally ill from a buddhist perspective .... just a very short time in this rebirth before death comes ... even if we live to a very old age.

Why would anyone allegedly already an arahant decide to end his life - when, in the entire tradition, no other arahant ever has? .

I accept the explanation above:
Bhikkhu Bodhi quotes the commentary notes to this sutta:

"MA: He cut his throat, and just at that moment the fear of death descended on him and the sign of future rebirth appeared. Recognising that he was still an ordinary person, he was aroused and developed insight. Comprehending the formations, he attained arahantship just before he expired."

RobertK once explained: "There are several cases of monks cutting their throats and becoming arahant just before death (Vakkali and Channa for example) but the texts do not say these were ariya. It seems they were putthujjana, but had the accumulations to attain arahaantship in the short time they had left."

I don't believe an arahant would ever commit suicide."
with metta
Chris
---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: Suicide and rebirth

Post by Abyss » Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:34 am

If we think of suicide only as self-murder, an arahant cannot commit suicide, since he is free from the conceit "I am". But the simple fact that "pain is painful" remains even in the case of an arahant. If his body comes in contact with fire for example, he will certainly make an effort to get away from the flames - not out of fear, but because it hurts. So if his body becomes painful due to an illness or injury, and if there is no way to get rid of that pain otherwise, I see no valid reason why he should endure a pain which is not going to cease or which is so intense that it is preventing him from any other activity (teaching for example).

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by acinteyyo » Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:35 am

cooran wrote:Bhikkhu Bodhi quotes the commentary notes to this sutta:

"MA: He cut his throat, and just at that moment the fear of death descended on him and the sign of future rebirth appeared. Recognising that he was still an ordinary person, he was aroused and developed insight. Comprehending the formations, he attained arahantship just before he expired."

RobertK once explained: "There are several cases of monks cutting their throats and becoming arahant just before death (Vakkali and Channa for example) but the texts do not say these were ariya. It seems they were putthujjana, but had the accumulations to attain arahaantship in the short time they had left."

I don't believe an arahant would ever commit suicide.

with metta
Chris
It's okay. Believe what ever you want.
I really would like to know how Bhikkhu Bodhi knows that just at the moment when Channa cut his throat (btw where does he know that Channa cut his throat) the fear of death descended? The Sutta doesn't even give the slightest hint to assume Channa feared death.
All we know is when it comes to suicide in case of an arahant that it's nothing more than giving up the body. But we all know from the Buddha that the body is not the arahant, thus actually no one kills anyone. All there is, is in fact a body giving up it's vital functions.

best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.

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Re: Suicide and rebirth

Post by cooran » Thu Jan 28, 2010 11:01 am

acinteyyo said:All there is, is in fact a body giving up it's vital functions.
A body is just rupa. It can make no decisions and have no intentions.

There is no "giving up ".

To cut one's own throat requires a strong intention, fueled by a strong emotion.
"....the texts do not say these were ariya. It seems they were putthujjana, but had the accumulations to attain arahaantship in the short time they had left."
---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: Suicide and rebirth

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Jan 28, 2010 11:05 am

Greetings,
cooran wrote:What is your explanation of why an arahant would commit suicide? Why would he care to do such a thing?
Persistent unpleasant sensations that showed no signs of abating (see also the quotation at the end of this post)
cooran wrote:An arahant would just allow the kammic accumulations and latent tendencies to dissipate.
By my understanding, an arahant has no kammic accumulations, nor latent tendencies (anusaya)
cooran wrote:This decision to kill a being (suicide) can only come from desire or aversion - there is no other reason to make a choice.
I thought the above stated possibility was pretty good. But what is "to kill a being" when there is no being?
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Then Ven. Radha went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "'A being,' lord. 'A being,' it's said. To what extent is one said to be 'a being'?"

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for feeling... perception... fabrications...

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for consciousness, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

An arahant has no "desire, passion, delight, or craving for form"... thus is not a being, in the Buddha's parlance.

Alternatively, if you prefer commentarial explanations, suicide was permitted in certain circumstances where ignorance and aversion had no hold...
Peter Harvey translates a section of the Vinaya commentary for us which gives a set of circumstances where suicide is not considered to be a breach of the Vinaya rules. The four situations are (1) suicide, by any means, is wrong if one is ill but medicine and attendants are available (2) In the case of long and serious illness, where one�s attendants are weary and disgusted and begin to ponder euthanasia, one may stop eating and taking medicine, and thereby die without blame, contradicting Keown�s observation that this was a Jain practice from which Buddhists wished to distance themselves; (3) When a person is clearly dying but has reached the meditative state aimed at, one may stop eating, which seems to be what happened in the case of Godhika; (4) when one is so absorbed in meditation that breaking one�s concentration in order to eat would be an obstacle to awakening.
(Vinaya III.73 quoted in Harvey, P. An introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.289)
Online source: http://www.westernbuddhistreview.com/vo ... ering.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Metta,
Retro. :)
"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)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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