What are the Buddhist views on (a) Self injurious behavior (such as mutilation) to distract self from mental pain and (b) suicide?
What are the Buddhist views on (a) Self injurious behavior (such as mutilation) to distract self from mental pain and (b) suicide?
As to self injurious behavior, such as "cutting" ... it would be seen as as manifestation of the poor person's inner self-anger, self-loathing, frustration and other Dukkha suffering. As with any destructive behavior ... to self or others ... the medicine would be to treat that anger and other Dukkha. The behavior itself would be seen as very unfortunate and tragic.
The same for suicide brought about by some hopelessness or depression of the small self. If that hopelessness and depression can be removed, it should be. The ONLY possibility where suicide might be countenanced that I know** would be perhaps (because it is ethically debated in Buddhism as in other religions) cases of suicide as euthanasia or "assisted suicide" in the face of a painful, incurable terminal illness or the like where the person was facing great pain that cannot be relieved. Here are some articles on the debate.
** There are also some other cases, such as the Tibetan and Vietnamese monks who set themselves on fire as political protest. The most well known is Ven.Thich Quang Duc, who set himself on fire on a busy Saigon street in 1963 to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the then South Vietnamese government.
On a trip to Vietnam a couple of years ago, I found that some there and elsewhere consider him a great hero. Other (most, I feel) Buddhists around the world think that such form of suicide, especially merely to make a political statement, is not in keeping with the Precept on Life (which we are looking at during our "Precepts Study" for the Jukai).
Was he a hero, or merely our own form of "suicide bomber" ... although perhaps not acting out of anger or hate, and not taking any other people with him? Anyway, I do not want to debate this here ... we can save it for our "Precepts Study" class.
Through the centuries, some other folks would sometimes commit suicide for religious reasons, such as "getting to the Pure Land" faster! Generally, that also is not widely accepted by the rest of the Buddhist community.
Thank you for your input.
In a sense, people who wish to commit suicide do so, because they are essentially trying to make their situation better.
Yet, they confuse their problems and feel the cause of it all, is the outside world, and the body. Since they identify themselves as the body, they think; get rid of body, get rid of suffering.
In a way, we all too better our situation, yet instead of blaming everything out there, we go directly to the source. Our attachments, thinking patterns, and sense of "I"
Suicide is complicated. Sometimes people do it because they are no longer mentally stable, not producing the appropriate chemicals to keep the brain in balance. Deep depression is a result of this; it's hard to "see" clearly when the brain isn't functioning properly. It's like being diabetic; if you can't produce insulin, you need to seek medical treatment. Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should absolutely seek therapy.
Very sensitive question. Extremely difficult, indeed. Threapy, counselling. Are good options. Keep all the channels of communication open. Killing oneself is a tragedy for other people and a dead end for the victim for it does not solve anything and does not dissolve the prison. The greatest non jdugemental compassion should be experienced and cultivated for the victims, parents, friends and the deceased.
Never forget this please: judging is nothing but another subtle form of killing.
Thank you for your input.
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I can only agree with most what has been said already. This is indeed a very serious topic and we all should tread lightly with our advice and judgement.
What comes to my mind (and I did lose a friend to suicide once) is also the need to distinguish a form of suicide ultimately caused by severe depression with either physiological and/or psychological root causes....and on the other hand an individual's right to choose when to die.
If a young person kills him/herself because of too much heartbreak etc. it's in a different ethical ballpark for me than for example a 75 year old who consciously chooses his/her own death instead of having to endure certain stages of a terrible illness.
Yet the word "suicide" could be applied to both scenarios.
Traditionally religions have often glorified suffering in a way that I don't think is completely compatible with our current medical reality.
Just my two cents....and yes, anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should absolutely seek professional help.
Hans Chudo Mongen
Being in a line of work where I have seen over a hundred suicides and suicide attempts (speaking not of euthanasia) I can say with sincere compassion that suicide due to hopelessness and depression is a completely selfish act that creates more problems than it could ever solve. Mostly this is due to our relationships or interdependence with all people but especially those closest to us. the effects of this act can be devastating and catastrophic. There are alternatives, good ones that were mentioned above.
Hans and Daido,
Thank you for your input,
I feel judging individuals who have taken their own life displays a lack of empathy and compassion.
Jundo's, Taigu's and Han's comments come closest to how I feel.
I would add that we are in danger of copping out of acknowledging the dire circumstances that some people find themselves in that are not of their own making.
Attaching too fervently to Buddhist doctrine of dukkha coming from attachment can harden people's hearts not soften them.
Suicide is often tragic, but what is more tragic is that we live in a world where so many people feel desperate and alone because they are in mental or physical pain - or both - IMHO.
Thank you for your thoughts Willow,
I respectfully am going to have to disagree with you. There is no loss of empathy in taking a stance against a person who has committed or is considering suicide, a completely selfish act. In fact their is great empathy. No judgement made against the person but the act itself. If they could only see the devastation and repercussions.
For me the answer is no and i would not give a person permission to do it. I myself will not support the decision of suicide (other than euthanasia) but fight against it.
I find it ironic to think disagreeing with suicide would be seen as having a lack of empathy for people.
Maybe I am wrong maybe. But no one dies on my watch I I can help it.
A disclaimer here. I really do respect all opinions on this forum as this is a powerful thread with a lot at stake.
Cannot agree more with you when you say you would do anything to stop it. As to the "selfish act", allow me to disagree, the person might be sick, mentally sick or totally deluded by the self but not selfish.
Thank you for your patience
I understand where you're coming from Daido and I respect your view.
For myself - I do not feel comfortable with labelling all suicides (apart from euthanasia) as 'a completely selfish act'.
This would mean that the person was totally in control of their actions and deliberately setting out to selfishly hurt others. I feel it's a bit dualistic to separate the act from the person - because the act is the manifestation of the despair that the person feels.
Anyway - this is a complex topic and I don't think I can do it justice with my few words.
Food for thought for sure. I was not considering mental in the sense of unable to care for himself completely. I can see that. I have seen that. At the same I believe that while a person may have mental problems even serious ones they in most cases should not completely absolve him of all responsibility.
No perfect answer. No pride just how to better help.
Gassho Taigu and Willow
Even in the case of a mass murderer who commits a heinous act, for example, harming many other sentient beings ... it is typical in Buddhism to say that the real "wrong doer" is the greed, anger and ignorance within the murderer, not the person himself. That does not mean we do not do what may be necessary to stop the murderer and save lives, including (in the majority Buddhist opinion, some might disagree) violent police action if needed to protect others and stop the murderer. It does not mean that we forgive the person on all levels, or do not put them in jail. It simply means that, deep down, we look at the murderer as also a victim of his inner suffering, anger, etc. ... the true murderer.
Something else to consider is that some accidents are viewed as suicide and some suicides are viewed as accidents. The only real response is compassion and understanding for the living friends and family.
I now view violence in any form as a sickness, something that needs to be healed.
There is a book on the subject: "Night Falls Fast:
Understanding Suicide" by Kay Redfield Jamison.
The SHORT answer to the question of how a Buddhist should deal with the matter of suicide and the matter of self-injury is "compassion." And compassion requires understanding, which requires (wait for it) that we not be afraid to truly, wholeheartedly use our capacity for empathy to enter into psychologically uncomfortable territory. You don't have to have been suicidal to empathize with someone who is, but you do have to be able to understand, without judging, how a person might have come to that state of mind, and what it might feel like. When you can put yourself there, it becomes a lot harder to moralize about it from the proverbial high horse.
The LONGER answer:
I too must agree with those who have taken exception to the popular cliche that "suicide is selfish." I mean, sure, it is selfish to a degree, as are many human actions we would not think to characterize as such, like eating breakfast in the morning, but not in the sense most people mean when they use it. People kill themselves for different reasons, and sometimes suicide is done as an act of anger or revenge, but I could say that the overwhelming common factor in suicide is an inability to cope with a present level of pain or distress. What you have to understand is that in most cases it takes a HUGE amount of pain or distress to override a person's life preserving instincts. Especially if the act is done after a long period of contemplation rather than impulsively. People tend to have to "psych" themselves up to do it, and many, if not most, attempts end up being quasi-lethal -- overdoses not strong enough to kill, nonlethal self-injury, and so on, which I believe has to do with how hard it is to override that instinct. So a person has to really be pushed to be able to make that fatal action.
I think as Buddhists it is our duty - our vow - to expand our capacity for empathy and compassion. And to enter compassionately into the realm of the suicidal is to understand that the amount of pain a person on the brink is being asked to endure, without any certainty it will ever get better, requires a huge amount of SELFLESSNESS on that person's part - to be willing to suffer incredibly by continuing to live, so as not to hurt his or her loved ones. For those who do finally say, I can no longer tolerate this pain for others' sake, it is not a simple case of "selfishness." It is simply failure to be a saint, a martyr, for others. Can we really condemn people for failing to be able to live COMPLETELY for the sake of others? Are we really THAT morally superior?
The problem of suicide is the problem of ignorance. I base this statement on personal and professional insight. Despite how I may have been mischaracterized here, I have not been suicidal since I was 13 years old (I am now 29), and even that period was fleeting and without action or any serious sustained intent. However, it was enough that I have some direct experience of what that state of mind is like. I am not alone among those who experienced such extreme states of mind as an adolescent, and what I was amazed by was how, three years later, the amazing turns my life had taken that I would never have imagined at that time. Research has shown that depressed people are actually physically less capable of imagining positive outcomes or even recalling positive memories. The neurochemistry of depressive states makes the chemical pathways to positive thoughts less able to become activated. The problem of suicide, at least in non-impulsive cases, is not as much to do with the emotional (or physical) pain, but more to do with the thought it will never get better, which almost always is untrue. Life is change and impermanence - and that is as true of the "bad stuff" as the good. That is why one of my number one purposes as a social worker is to "instill hope." To help a person who is mentally blocked from seeing the good aspects of his or her life or the good possibilities see and consider those, and act from them.
My current job actually makes me part of the process of involuntary commitment in my state, in which I assess and decide if a person needs to be temporarily hospitalized against their will to prevent harm to him or herself or others. I would say the majority of cases I see in this aspect of my job are those of people who are psychotic and simply incapable of caring for or protecting themselves, but I deal with many suicidal people as well, especially in the other part of my job where I assess people for outpatient mental health services. Two common components of suicidality, whether impulsive or planned, are being overwhelmed and being without hope.
For people who are either easily overwhelmed by what to others might be slight emotional stress, or who have trauma histories so profound that the average person could not even conceive of the inner struggle they endure, self-harming behaviors without suicidal intent can become a sort of "release valve" that shifts the focus from an overwhelming mind state to the sharp clarity of physical pain sensation. For some, there is symbolic meaning in masochism and the sight of blood, for some it is a way to communicate and express via the body something they may not be able to communicate to others in words, and for others yet it may be a simple, tactical neurological distraction mechanism.
To effectively prevent suicide, a person has to be able to help the suicidal person find hope and find supports and/or skills that increase his or her ability to cope with the painful feelings or circumstances driving the suicidal thoughts. Often, the very first part of the process is allowing a person to feel heard and respected. Knee-jerk, fearful reactions and moralizing are counterproductive - they only act to make a suicidal person feel more alone, more broken, and less hopeful. Now, in some cases, to those of us on the observing side it can seem like a person is overreacting, being "dramatic" or "manipulative." I have to struggle with my own reactions daily to people I see as giving up or going into crisis way too easily.
In the last few weeks I have noted how quickly I am judging people and have seen the need for a "compassion rehab." As part of this, I am trying to read and learn more from people who are able to articulate their experiences of suicidal behavior and self-harm, and what I am learning is that what may look like "drama" to a jaded outsider is in many cases a HUGE internal struggle. In some cases there is what in clinical terms is called a "low distress tolerance," in which even small stressors can precipitate a huge internal reaction - "freaking out," in the non-clinical term. The bottom line is that it is no different whether a person is flooded with stress due to circumstances that would be overwhelming to anyone, or is flooded with stress because they have a brain that is less able to counteract stress. Either way, they are overwhelmed by a state of mind that doesn't know how to deal with itself. When you are overwhelmed by the feeling your mind can't handle itself, that is so incredibly frightening it can lead to panic - and impulsive behavior.
Thank you for your input.
Thank you everybody for your wisdom,
In my experience, people kill themselves because they see no other way out, out of desperation. Up to a certain point, responsability to family may keep a person alive, but beyond that, the world becomes so contracted that there is no space for anything but one or two dark thoughts running in tight circles (as Kojip described it in a thread about anger). Indeed the three poisons are the real killer. The person is innocent. The precept about not killing does not apply, because to that person, there is no choice.
Thank you all for your input.
There is a book on the subject: "Night Falls Fast:Understanding Suicide" by Kay Redfield Jamison.
She is a world renowned psychologist on mood disorders and this is a good book and an easy read.
The brain is the body organ responsible for decision making. The act of suicide is made by a body organ that is not working well, a cancer if you will.
Sometimes people are lucky and they have a good support system that includes good families, doctors, psychologists, counselors, and a less severe form of this cancer.
Sometimes the cancer is more aggressive, but the resources to treat it are still enough.
Sometimes the cancer is aggressive, but people are lucky and survive its ugly grasp.
Sometimes faith and morality prevent the act. Sometimes faith and morality cause the act.
Sometimes its accidental, a cry for help that turns lethal.
I cry for the souls that are affected by this cancer. Their families, their friends, their counselors, their doctors, their animals, and mostly for the departed ones.
Thank you Stephanie for sharing your insightful experience.
"I cry for the souls that are affected by this cancer. Their families, their friends, their counselors, their doctors, their animals, and mostly for the departed ones.
I lost a very dear friend to suicide about 3 years ago. There were so many victims.
I have not had much to say in regards to this thread, but you all have shared some wonderful insight, thank you. :)
I want to pick up on JC’s comment comparing the compelling need to hurt or destroy one’s self to cancer. I understand why this comparison is used however cancer is not a communicable disease. I believe the type of mental illness we have been discussing here is more like AIDS; it is like a virus that can spread to those that are most venerable living in a close relation to those that are afflicted.
Over the past eight years as a father and a grandfather I have watched the insidious spread of family destruction caused by my daughter in law’s depression, bi-polar, self-hate, disassociation and “self” destructive behavior. It is not a road traveled by the person who is ill, but one where everyone who loves or cares about the person is dragged along.
Over the last years Jundo’s advise, teachings and his just being there when I crash, have carried my wife and I through the tough times. Sharing this guidance with my son has also, up till recently, gave him strength to do his work and then come home to rescue the children, clean the house, cook dinner and give what support he can to his wife. It was recently I realized that his wife’s illness that she was fighting was not just her affliction, but a communicable disease. In the last couple of years my son contracted restrictive lung disease and as a result was removed from his position of managing the law enforcement horse operations at his duty station. He was placed in a job he was unqualified for and now is failing in that with a real threat of removal from his department. As a result he is now suffering from reactive depression. I relate this so you all will understand that like AIDS, healthy people can co-exist with a person afflicted with mental illness by taking a margin of care however if the care giver becomes ill and his body systems including his mind become vulnerable, then the affliction of the person they care for can spread.
Several months ago I contacted Jundo. I had earlier that evening received a call from my son who had just come out of a meeting with his departments Human Resource Specialist and was crying saying he had lost everything worthwhile, everything that gave him identity. We talked for a while and then he hung up after saying he was leaving the office to drive home but would probably find a convenient telephone poll on the way. I sat for a while, then contacted Jundo, then sat again waiting, and hoping my son would be the next person to call, and not a DPS officer.
I have been on the phone with my son each evening for the past couple of weeks. His wife took the kids and left him. She explained that she could not deal with his anger and depression. She could not deal with the disease that had now spread to my son and to their son. Yesterday she did return and hopefully will keep her agreement to enter into family counseling with my son.
So a long story, however since all the comments have been in relation to the condition of a person afflicted with mental illness leading to self-destructive behavior, I felt it was necessary to point out that it is a communicable disease, but like all such diseases one can protect themselves from it by remaining physically healthy and following the practices taught by Jundo and Taigu at Treeleaf.
Four years ago, Jundo gave me the dharma name Shozan (life mountain) recognizing my struggles in trying to care for myself and family. Sometimes it feels more like “life bog” than Life Mountain. Still “just sitting” is a wonderful practice that allows me to watch this life pass without being sucked down in the bog.
Peace be with all of you.
Peace with you, Jim.
Deep bows Jim and thank you for sharing this part of your life.
Thank you for sharing Jim and metta to you and your family.
Metaphors are tricky and don't always resonate. Mental illness likened to cancer doesn't quite work for me either - but that's just my subjective response.
I understand what you mean by contractable - it is worrying, painful, distressing, to cope with a loved one who has a mental illness but the teachings/practice do help.
It's past 2 in the morning here and I've taken another sleeping pill in the hope of a few hours sleep - the first didn't work! Worry and concern as I heard earlier today that a young relative of mine is self harming and had to be collected from school as she'd cut her wrist three times in the classroom.
The effects of family karma are running deep through my family just now - clearing my mum's house I've had to process a lot of difficult material - the karmic seeds of distress from the past that have affected future generations. It has made me think more on the way in which everything is connected and what might be done to heal and plant more positive seeds for the future. I feel we do this by standing by our families, friends and those in the wider world in their difficulties.
Metta to all who are supporting family members with mental health difficulties.
Thank you Jim for sharing your story with us. Be well!
Jim, thank you for sharing this and much metta and prayers for your family. Seeing your son or daughter in suffering and distress is the most difficult situations to deal with. I don't know if it is communicable but we are most deeply affected by those around us and our inherited genes give us tendencies to react in sometimes negative ways. Hopefully this new day will be a gift to see a path to a better life.
This is a powerful thread. Thank you for sharing your stories. I've had a form of depression that has been mostly lifted by therapy and antidepressants. Living in the present, a cornerstone of Buddhism, works!
Thanks to all
Fortunately my son is doing much better with meds, therapy and our frequent and long talks. His deep depression is situational, I think they call it “reactive depression” which hit him as he seemed to be losing everything and was most vulnerable. It is obvious that those suffering like his wife have a much deeper cause and perhaps cannot be cured but hopefully they can learn to live with it at some level that allows them relief for themselves and those close to them.
Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread, while there are no answers it has helped to see the issue from other perspectives.
Thank you for sharing this Jim. We can never know what life may serve us and you show how this practice gives us the Way to face it. May your family be well and find peace. Metta.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us Jim, I have been touched by depression as well, and i am happy to hear your son is feeling somewhat better. It is very hard for people to be open about these sort of problems so you are an inspiration.
like so many threads I missed this and your story. Take good
care of yourself, may you all find peace and health.