What Happens After Suicide And How Can We Help?

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Question: If one committed suicide, is there anything we can do to help the person? Is it true that the person will undergo seven lifetimes of suffering thereafter?

Answer: It is generally agreed that the act of suicide is so drastic and impressionable in impact upon the consciousness that once done, there is the tendency to do it again. This can be understood in a simple manner… For example, one who had killed oneself over a ‘trivial’ problem is likely to do so again over future problems of similar ‘light’ or ‘heavier’ gravity, as the threshold of withstanding suffering before giving up has already been set lower, forming a new actionable tendency.

Each time this tendency asserts itself, it might reinforce itself, out of a mix of attachment (to ‘escape’) and aversion (to the problem) that are yet to be dissolved. To deludedly take the ‘easy way’ out by dying can thus literally become a die-hard habit. This is why it is kinder and wiser to oneself to seek appropriate help to face one’s challenges bravely, to never take one’s life, which is to jump from the frying pan into the fire of suffering, repeatedly, partly as a form of echo-like karmic retribution.

Some believe this tendency to repeat can be within the bardo state (中阴) itself (intermediate state when the consciousness has left the body after death) every seven days for seven times, before actual rebirth. Some believe this tendency to repeat seven times can happen in future lives. As for the number of repetitions, it is hard to see any fixed number to be universal, as it should depend on how strong the impression of suicide was and how quickly it transforms or fades away.

There is also the general teaching by the Buddha in the Arya Sanghata Sutra《僧伽吒经》that suicide, being murder of a precious human rebirth, with the mind state of intense hatred, fear and/or regret can lead to hell swiftly as a worst-case scenario — ‘Killing one’s own life definitely receives the suffering of hell, immediately falling to the ground like an anxious arrow shot.’ — (杀害自身命,必受地狱苦,寻即堕于地,如被忧箭射。) Some might become ghost beings (hungry ghosts or wandering spirits).

What can be done to help those who committed suicide is to offer the power of meritorious virtues (功德) and guidance (引导) as much as possible to relieve suffering (whether already reborn or not) and expedite a speedy good rebirth, the best of which is Amituofo’s (阿弥陀佛: Amitabha Buddha) Pure Land (净土). More meritorious deeds can also be done in the name of the deceased, such as by donation to Dharma and good causes, such as printing of Dharma books for circulation and proper liberation of lives. Dharma chanting ceremonies (法会) can also be signed up in the name of the deceased to help dedicate merits to the person.

Related Articles:

What To Chant When Dying, After Death, During And After Wakes

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  • Other than the methods introduced in last paragraph, I wish to bring to attention the importance of empathetic listening and cultivation of daily communication techniques that are guided by the Buddha’s explanation and practice of metta (loving kindness).

    Empathetic listening involves more active and mindful listening than judging what’s right or wrong. The main objective of practising daily communication techniques based on metta would be to help cultivate inner peace and encourage others to behave in ways that encourage mindful giving and receiving of genuine concern for one another’s overall well-being.

    All this doesn’t mean we have to avoid the stating of facts at all. It just means, we as practising Buddhists or fellow human beings, first need to learn to empathise – to learn to ‘feel’ the pain even though the cause of the suicide has been established beyond doubt, to be what many wise men of ancient and modern times would regard as trivial, foolish, etc.

    Some of those who commit suicide (including their family members) may not be Buddhists and even if they are, may not readily accept Amituofo’s Pureland Dharma Door. That shouldn’t stop any of us from customising our methods of assistance (based on general Dharma concepts of compassion, loving kindness ,etc) to suit the needs of the deceased and his/her family.

    I would recommend such a group to either follow the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva sutra (recite any Bodhisattva or Buddha’s name wholeheartedly and dedicating merits thereafter), or/and encourage them to join support groups for the mentally ill and survivors of suicide.

    Personally, I wish there’s a Dharma book that educates, consoles and encourages family and friends of the deceased; not forgetting of course the general public as well, in reaching out to those who seem to be cracking under ‘trivial’ problems or have actually taken the irreversible path.

  • If a person is in strong pain due to serious desease like cancer and commits suicide, he is not in the mind of anger, fear or hatred. He simply can not bear great pain, so that he becomes free from the burden of the body. I think it is UNFAIR for such a person go to hell, to suffer more. I do not agree with this vision. He may go to hell, due to other karmic causes, not for trying to stop a great pain. IN BUDDHISM THERE IS NO God to judge people, to send thme to hell. So, who sends him to hell ? He goes by his will ?

  • Anyone who kills oneself in pain dies with intense hatred (anger) and fear of the pain, or there would not be suicide in the first place.

    There are Buddhist methods to not only relieve pain, but lead to bliss of body and mind, such as this: http://purelanders.com/2016/01/13/how-to-handle-pain-with-nianfo/ Here is an example in use: http://purelanders.com/2016/04/13/testimonial-how-nianfo-alleviated-my-suffering/

    The body in pain is a burden only if one allows it to. Having a possibly lower rebirth due to suicide is not fair or unfair; it is simply the natural law of karma at work, that if one dies with intense hatred, even having taken a human life, this is what can happen. (No one mentioned about any god doing any judgement at all.) To the amount of negative karma created from killing, is the amount of karmic suffering experienced, be it long or short.

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