Suicide is becoming an increasingly serious social problem nowadays. Not only in sociology, but also in medicine, people are devoting more attention to researching the signs of suicide. Religions have been participating in this discussion. For example, both Catholics in the West and Buddhists in the East, actively or passively, find themselves addressing the phenomenon of suicide. What are their views then? With my curiosity piqued on this question, I attended a presentation entitled “Life, Death & Life Beyond Death,” in which DM Heng Sure portrayed the Buddhist perspective and Father James presented the Catholic perspective.
It was a cold but sunny afternoon on October 28, 2006, when seven people from the Midwest Buddhism Association drove for over an hour from Minneapolis to St. John’s University (in Minnesota) to attend the lecture. The talk started with DM Sure’s talk. He explained how human beings deal with death, sharing many stories and experiences. For example, he told us about a young couple working in silicon valley who were inspired to believe in Buddhism by an elderly lady after they observed her Buddhist practice and peaceful death. DM Sure recited Buddha’s name as he tapped the wooden fish, telling stories while showing us the Buddhist Dharma instrument. At the end, he sang a song he had composed, exhorting people to recite Buddha’s name. I derived great benefit from his talk.
Afterwards, Father James gave an amazing speech. He also told stories about peaceful deaths and the magnficence of heaven. From the two speakers, I understood that there were similarities in the way in which Catholics and Buddhists face life, death, and life beyond death. The bliss of heaven and the peaceful Pure Land encourage us human beings to do good deeds, be kind, and sincerely practice so that we walk towards brightness.
The speeches were over, but the issue of suicide had not been addressed. This burning question made me raise my hand. I was the first person to ask a question: “How did Catholics and Buddhists view suicidal behaviors?” I then realized that many people in the audience were nodding their heads and I told myself silently, “See, not only I, but many others have the same question!”
Father James and DM Sure answered the question respectively. In their answers, I learned that neither Catholics nor Buddhists think suicide is acceptable. What impressed me the most was the metaphor that DM Sure used: “You are not living all by yourself in a large sense. You have parents, you may have sons and daughters, you have relatives and friends, you have colleagues and acquaintances. All these people, together with you, become a tightly woven fabric. If you kill yourself, one thread in that fabric is gone. Now look at that piece of fabric again. It’s no longer a complete fabric. It’s torn apart! Remember, you are not living all alone! Suicide is a selfish behavior. In addition, from the Buddhist point of view, killing one’s self violates the precept against killing.”
DM Sure continued to analyze two motivations that the suicidal person might have: first, they want to put an end to everything; second, they want to start over. From the Buddhist point of view, people who hold the first motivation ignore the fact that there is life after death. Furthermore, one’s physical death does not mean that one is gone from the universe; one will be reborn according to his karma. People who hold the second motivation of wanting to start over, believe that there is life after death. They want to end the suffering now and start over afresh. Could they get a better life then? Not really, because the fundamentals in Buddhism are based on cause and effect. The effect you are going to have depends upon the causes you have planted in the past. Good cause leads to good effect. Bad cause result in bad effect. If one kills himself, one has violated the precept of not killing, which is not a good cause. However, human beings cannot see their past or future. What shall we do then? We should, in this life, recite Buddha’s name and do good deeds; these are the ways to change our fate.
Father James said people who kill themselves have bitterness that they cannot endure anymore. True. If they were not suffering, they would not want to die. The suffering is so huge that they lose control of their life. They feel that their only option is to commit suicide. Sad! We shouldn’t let this happen! If one cannot control himself, there are many forms of assistance available such as: psychological counseling, medical assistance, 24-hour suicide prevention hotlines, keeping in touch with family members, talking to friends, exercise, travel, decreasing pressure by letting your boss or supervisors know your situation, and allowing yourself a break.
In addition, I suggest you can recite Buddha’s names over and over again. Buddhas are everywhere. Although you cannot see them, they will never give up on you. I would also like to say, you are the only person who can save yourself from suffering. All external power can only help you control yourself, but you are the one who can liberate yourself from suffering since mind is the Buddha, Buddha is the mind. Single-mindedly reciting the Buddha’s name, one can eventually get liberated. Let’s recite Buddha’s name. Amitabha!