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I have a limited understanding of Buddhism, but let me first explain my perspective. More traditionally, Buddhism is concerned with achieving enlightenment and ending the rebirth process. From a more modern perspective, Buddhism is primarily concerned with ending suffering. I realize that it is much more nuanced than this, but I am speaking in gross generalities.

This question really only applies to the working, modern interpretation of Buddhism. If the goal is to end suffering, why don't Buddhists simply kill themselves? I suppose this pertains to how they see themselves after death. If they believe in some shade of "nothingness" after death, I would think all Buddhists would commit suicide.

I apologize for this question being so broad. I also understand that different sects of Buddhism will probably have different answers. I am mostly curious as to what modern, practicing Buddhists believe--particularly those that reconcile Buddhism with modern science.

This question is really a segue for me to understand the existential beliefs of Buddhism. I can read about the teachings of Buddhism, but I do not understand the "why" behind it all. If I can understand why Buddhists do not commit suicide, I hope to gain a greater understanding into how they view the meaning of life.

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    The form of Buddhism that tries hardest to reconcile with science is secular Buddhism. – MatthewMartin Jul 15 '14 at 2:49
  • I would suggest Dr. Robert Thurman's lectures on "Compassion and The Power of Goodness," and "The Yoga of Ordinary Living." In the first series he discusses the absurdity of suicide from Buddhism's perspective. The second lecture covers the Vimalakirti Sutra, which explains the paragon answer of "nothingness" and how sunyata and materialism's interpretation are totally incompatible. Here is a preview to the Vimalakirti teaser youtube.com/watch?v=M1bmhhIaFos.. – DharmaEater Jul 15 '14 at 3:32
  • I've edited the title since, as others have pointed out, from the context that @David most likely means "Secular" when they say "Modern." – Hrafn Jul 15 '14 at 15:15
  • @Hrafn: As an outsider to this community, I was almost driven away by the "secular" part (whatsat ?), whereas "modern" is a word familiar to me. For as much as this is an experts' site, please leave some of the familiarly-worded questions as such, for the novices to your terminology to feel welcome on the site :) – Nikana Reklawyks Sep 24 '16 at 4:21

12 Answers 12

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I used to think much the same thing. I thought that the main problem according to Buddhism is suffering. But the Buddhist resolution to suffering isn't extinction or happiness, but is more like a in between peace. The bit about nirvana, is the historical Buddha attempting to explain his program of ending suffering, by using a word that sounded a lot like moksha. Re-using the language of his time (karma, reincarnation, brahma, etc) actually makes it more difficult for modern people to understand the core message.

Next, the central solution in Buddhism isn't re-evaluating one's desire, but a realization about who one is, in particular, we aren't a permanent, easily identifiable thing or soul, we're a temporary collection of things, and we can reframe our sense of self as being everyone. So the problems of suffering that anyone has is our problem too. So in with a Mahayana sense of how anatman (selflessness) works, to "solve" the problem with suicide, we'd have to kill everyone. This particular argument works regardless to if we think we rebirth or reincarnate or not.

Anyhow, with everyone dead, they aren't happy, unhappy or anything. Which brings us back to the goal, which is to chart the path between seeking pleasure (by working on your dad's farm, serving in the provincial Maghadan government) and asceticism (doing with out) and living a life without suffering, but instead something close to "peace" or "equilibrium". The Dalai Lama had a good quote about this, he usually uses the word "happiness" to indicate the goal of Buddhism, but noted that the English isn't quite right, Buddhist happiness means neither clinging to pleasurable thing, nor pushing away from things that make us suffer, leaving us in between. (Ah, I found it, it's in the video: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/11/the-dalai-lamas-guide-to-happiness-and-farting/ ) "Happiness is a neutral experience that can bring a deep satisfaction"

(I won't go into why traditional Buddhists thought suicide wouldn't work, except they said people who commit suicide would go to Buddhist hell. For a Buddhist extinctionalist (one who believes we do not reincarnate), then suicide is an unintersting solution. It brings no peace, it brings something entirely different, like asking for a cake and getting the color blue-- not even in the same category)

  • But why keep looking for cakes if it ends up in color blue anyways? :) – Sankha Kulathantille Sep 14 '17 at 2:43
  • Hmm, bad analogy, I didn't mean blue cake, which would be in the same category. I'm trying to say, peace isn't being dead, being dead is nothing, and nothing isn't in the same category as a state of experience such as being in a peaceful, suffering-free state of mind. Nothing just feels like an unsatisfactory answer for any goal. – MatthewMartin Sep 14 '17 at 14:41
  • Why peace is important if it all ends at death? – Sankha Kulathantille Sep 14 '17 at 14:55
  • My death is in the far future and most of the time it doesn't bother me. What bothers me, is another long list of problems, some classic, like aches and pains and some modern like anxiety and depression. Hence I'm on the Buddhist project, & that'd be the same be I mortal or immortal – MatthewMartin Sep 14 '17 at 18:04
  • Death can come at anytime. That's the whole point of Marananussati meditation in Buddhism. There are pain killers for aches, pains and not everyone has anxiety and depression. Even a person who has them can resort to certain drugs since you just need some relief until you die. There's no point of meditating tirelessly to give up craving if all ends at death. :) – Sankha Kulathantille Sep 14 '17 at 23:32
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If the goal is to end suffering, why don't Buddhists simply kill themselves?

Buddhism is a "Middle way" between extremes.

The doctrine of the Middle way is (after telling the bikkhus that he was the Buddha) the very first thing that the Buddha taught:

"There are two extremes, O bhikkhus, which the man who has given up the world ought not to follow-the habitual practice, on the one hand, of self-indulgence which is unworthy, vain and fit only for the worldly-minded and the habitual practice, on the other hand, of self-mortification, which is painful, useless and unprofitable.

IMO the following are each extremes:

  • I want to live forever
  • I want to die immediately

One of the first rules of morality (ethics) is not to kill. For example here are The Patimokkha Rules which apply to Buddhist monks:

MURDER

The third Defeater (Paaraajika) Offence deals with murder. The original story describes how some bhikkhus wrongly grasped the Buddha's meditation teaching on the loathsome aspects of the body[38] and, falling into wrong view, committed suicide or asked someone to end their lives for them. The rule can be summarized like this:

"Intentionally bringing about the untimely death of a human being, even if it is still a foetus, is [an offence of Defeat.]" (Summary Paar. 3; BMC p.78)

A bhikkhu must not recommend killing, suicide or help arrange a murder.[39] Also, because in this rule a human being is defined as beginning with the human foetus, counting "from the time consciousness first arises in the womb," he must not advise or arrange an abortion.

There is no offence if death is caused accidentally or without intention.[40]

Some people might have 'suicidal ideation', but that is explicitly not Buddhism.


Suicide will cause suffering:

  • Violence to your body
  • Sadness (death) to friends, family, people in society
  • Lost opportunity to gain enlightenment for yourself and to enlighten others.

Suicide isn't skillful; but skillful is IMO another of the core virtues in Buddhism.

There are more skillful ways to deal with suicidal ideation.


The "four noble truths" are arguably the core of Buddhist doctrine. The second noble truth says,

"And this, monks is the noble truth of the origination of dukkha: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming."

Buddhists should recognize desire for death as one of the many (wrong) "cravings" to be overcome: a craving which (by following the Buddhist way) you can be not attached to.


I can read about the teachings of Buddhism, but I do not understand the "why" behind it all.

People don't live in isolation.

The Buddhist way may include seeking and accepting skillful guidance.

The "triple gem" is the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

One of the (many) problems with suicide is that it becomes too late to get a second opinion.

  • Very good answer. Very much in line with my thinking. There are 3 question connected to Suicide today. Not very positive through. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Sep 22 '14 at 15:34
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All misbeliefs are basically said to be variations of 2 types of misbeliefs.

  1. Uchcheda Vada - Nihilism

  2. Sasvatha Vada - Eternalism

Buddha has repeatedly rejected both of them.

Believing that it all ends after death falls under "Uchcheda Vada". So if you believe in that, you can't be considered as a Buddhist. Any conclusion you come to or any action caused by having such a misbelief has nothing to do with Buddhism.

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The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta states the following:

"And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress (suffering): the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

The idea is that suffering is caused by craving. And there are 3 types of craving (sensual pleasure, becoming and non-becoming).

The third type is vibhava tanha (craving for non-becoming), which is discussed in this answer.

In other words, suicide is the idea to cease existing by death, in order to avoid suffering. It is also a form of craving according to the Buddha i.e. a craving to cease existing.

And these 3 different types of craving are the origin of suffering. So, suicide is in fact counter-productive to the attempt to end suffering. If you examine the rest of the noble truths, the Buddha has other solutions to end suffering, instead of suicide.

The other reason why suicide will not end suffering is because there is rebirth according to Buddhism.

As long as one has these cravings, one is subject to endless birth, death, rebirth, experiencing endless ups and downs of pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, gaining and losing loved ones, having unfulfilled desires etc. Nothing that is joyful lasts forever. Nothing that is sorrowful can be avoided forever. Just imagine undergoing these for eternity without rest. Not just as a human, but also as an animal, ghost, angel (deva) etc.

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There are excellent answers here, full of details, so I will just add a short one:

Killing yourself is a selfish thing, the opposite of Buddha's teachings! You have a precious human life, you can use it to make merits, you can help others to break free from the sea of samsara, you can increase the loving kindness in this world. When you are free then you are free here and how, you don't need to die by suicide, it makes no sense!

  • If you knew anything about mental illness you would not be making such harmful ignorant statements about suicide being selfish. This is an outdated view. Suicide is a desperate act by someone in intense pain who wants their pain to end. Please educate yourself and stop saying such things. suicide.org/suicide-is-not-a-selfish-act.html – Arturia Sep 17 '17 at 0:14
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The Buddha characterized our human lives as "dukkha". Often translated as "suffering", but that is really a bit dramatic. A more accurate definition is "unsatisfactoriness."

This "Unsatisfactoriness" doesn't arise from life itself, but rather from our response to it. As was said in Hamlet, "there's nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so."

The Buddhist solution to suffering is not to change the external world, but to change our thoughts.

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If the goal is to end suffering, why don't Buddhists simply kill themselves?

This is a good point, and not surprisingly you are not first to notice connection between suffering and potential suicide.

Buddha himself allowed his students "to use the knife" (traditional phrase) in cases of incurable sickness with no chance of recovery.

He did not see suicide as ultimate solution to suffering though, famously censoring those who commit suicide for not understanding existence and nonexistence:

If we look at the world at large, as was Buddha's manner, we can see a mass of sentient beings getting born, suffer, and die. Whether one of them ends its life prematurely in no way improves overall situation.

Because Buddha clearly saw that suffering is subjective in nature, he preferred to teach the masses his method of transcending the experience of suffering, rather than have them use their knives and leave the others to continue suffering. Besides, the dead can't share their success stories with next generation of students, so as far as attracting new followers, a doctrine of liberation has much better chances than a doctrine of suicide :)

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    By "allowed his student to use the knife" do you mean Channa? That was a narrower set of circumstance than your answer currently suggests: a) the Buddha didn't "allow" it in advance, only called it "blameless" afterwards b) Sariputta suggested alternatives and gave Dharma instead c) it wasn't just incurable sickness (everyone has that!), it was mainly unbearable pain d) Channa had medicine, which wasn't effective. Does modern medical care mean that option is now rarely correct? – ChrisW Sep 22 '14 at 13:03
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    Channa was only one case of many. – Andrei Volkov Sep 22 '14 at 13:57
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Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Nobody here or there could write this question just as you have managed to ask. Buddhism is not all about ending the suffering, it is also about ending self, right. But by committing suicide the unknown purpose might not fullfill. Consider life as a chance. Do not ask. Do it independently, practically and then confirm it to us. Help us. Do not live in confusion for so long. Confirm your doubts practically, do not follow any buddhist but yourself and reach at a status where you would even reject yourself. If you got a question then you got a job, a job assigned to you by your own nature to find an ultimate answer. Remember when you start invading your illusion, you start hurting yourself. But still 'oneself would be there to you to address and improve.

  • Love you seeker. – jitin Sep 12 '15 at 7:09
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More traditionally, Buddhism is concerned with achieving enlightenment and ending the rebirth process.

Generally, the word 'traditionally' means 'culturally', which means not the real Buddhism. The original Buddhism found in the Pali scriptures did not focus on ending the 'rebirth process'. It focusing on ending suffering.

From a more modern perspective, Buddhism is primarily concerned with ending suffering.

This is not true. From the original perspective, Buddhism is primarily concerned with ending suffering.

I realize that it is much more nuanced than this, but I am speaking in gross generalities.

It is not more nuanced. The sole purpose of Buddhism, to quote the Pali scriptures, is the 'unshakable freedom of mind'. The sole purpose of Buddhism is freedom from suffering.

This question really only applies to the working, modern interpretation of Buddhism.

No, it does not. How can there be a "modern" Buddhism that is different from original Buddhism? If the modern version was different how can it be called "Buddhism"?

If the goal is to end suffering, why don't Buddhists simply kill themselves?

There is no need to kill oneself because living or life is not the cause of suffering. Buddhism teaches ignorance, craving & attachment are the causes of suffering. Suffering is created by wrong (mental) views rather than by being alive.

I suppose this pertains to how they see themselves after death. If they believe in some shade of "nothingness" after death, I would think all Buddhists would commit suicide.

This is not relevant & also is inconsistent with the claimed "scientific" or "secular" approach. Science generally believes there is nothing after death therefore why do not all psychologists commit suicide?

I also understand that different sects of Buddhism will probably have different answers.

Valid point, possibly.

I am mostly curious as to what modern, practicing Buddhists believe--particularly those that reconcile Buddhism with modern science.

Generally, at the heart of each Buddhist school will be found the teaching that attaching to the five aggregates is suffering i.e., the five aggregates are not oneself. Thus, what happens after death is not so relevant. Suffering is arising in the here & now due to not-knowing, craving & attachment.

This question is really a segue for me to understand the existential beliefs of Buddhism. I can read about the teachings of Buddhism, but I do not understand the "why" behind it all. If I can understand why Buddhists do not commit suicide, I hope to gain a greater understanding into how they view the meaning of life.

Committing suicide is not required to end suffering. Buddhism explains Nirvana (perfect peace) can be found in the here-&-now by putting into practise the Noble Eightfold Path while living.

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  1. Anti-rebirthist = ucchedadiṭṭhi = one extreme = suicide.
  2. Rebirth-lover = sassatadiṭṭhi = another extreme.
  3. Profit-follower = eightfold path = middle way.

1st and 2nd see brahmajālasutta.

3rd see dhammacakkappavaḍḍhanasutta. (I am in plan to re-translate this sutta, but I can't not done it now. So if something wrong, I am sorry. I can't not check it deeply now, because my english still not good enough.)

"There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

"And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right contemplate, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

What is profit?

6 profit: self profit, the others' profit, public's profit (common interest), this life's profit, next life's profit, and nibbāna-profit. (pali for search: attattha, parattha, attaparattha, ditthadhammika, samparāyika, and paramattha.)

Self profit, the others' profit, and public's profit (common interest) are done together by sati.

"Because of what I have said here, monks, you should train yourselves such that the gifts of those whose requisites we use — the robes, alms-bowl, chair, bed, and medicine as a support when sick — will have great fruits, great merits [for the people who give them], and our going forth will not be in vain, will be fruitful, will have a result. Thus should you train yourselves, thoroughly seeing that for your own benefit, monks, it is right to strive with heedfulness; thoroughly seeing that for the benefit of others, monks, it is right to strive with heedfulness; and thoroughly seeing that for the benefit of both, monks, it is right to strive with heedfulness."

This life's profit and next life's profit are done together by sati (appamāda). So, person who do just this life's profit or next life profit is pamāda person. see:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn03/sn03.017.than.html

Nibbāna profit can be accessed by practitioner after he perfect finished to meditate magga. And that magga can start to meditate after sīla is done.

SN 45.149 Just as, bhikkhus, whatever actions are to be performed with strength are all performed on dependence on the earth, supported by the earth; in the same way, bhikkhus, it is on dependence on virtue, supported by virtue, that a bhikkhu develops the noble eightfold path (magga), that he cultivates the noble eightfold path.

Above sīla give this life's profit and next life. See (1st-4th are this life's profit, 5th is next life's profit):

Mahāparinibbānasutta 24. "Five blessings, householders, accrue to the righteous man through his practice of virtue: great increase of wealth through his diligence; a favorable reputation; a confident deportment, without timidity, in every society, be it that of nobles, brahmans, householders, or ascetics; a serene death; and, at the breaking up of the body after death, rebirth in a happy state, in a heavenly world."

So, anti-rebirthist & rebirth-lover are pamādo (person who has not meditating mindfulness).

That is one of many reasons that why I, who have never seen any ghost or any spirit, am not deny next life.

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Because we have a strong drive to keep living. Some people do kill themselves but it takes a lot of suffering to cause a person to take such action. I think about it often but actually going through with it is an entirely different matter. Buddhism offers hope. A way to understand why we suffer and a way to change that so that we no longer feel any need to want to end life. Why end life when you can live one of freedom and joy. I'm not there yet but I'm beginning to see some positive changes in my perspective and my mood.

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Did not read all the answers but if suicide would work it would be the way indeed but it does not work. Before we were born there is seemingly like a void, so from a void we came to be, after death seemingly there is a void, so its perfectly reasonably to assume that that void is no different from the one before we were born and that from it Experiences of a being can potentially arise. As disciples of the Buddha we try to eliminate the causes for such arising.

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