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Lions Roar : July 2015
I DIDN’T REALLY KNOW TYLER, but a lot of my friends did. And they were pretty sad when he killed himself last year. That led people to ask me—not for the first time—what the Buddhist view on suicide is. I gave the same answer I give when I’m asked about the Buddhist view on abortion: I don’t really know. That says a lot about Buddhism. Imagine a person who had studied and practiced Catholicism for nearly thirty years not knowing what the Church’s position on suicide or abortion was. It just wouldn’t happen, because these are very hot issues for Catholics. That I don’t have a ready answer to the question tells you that these are not hot issues for Buddhists in the Zen tradition. The very prominent suicides by self- immolation that have been carried out by certain Buddhists in Vietnam, Tibet, and elsewhere have led some people to the conclusion that Buddhism sees suicide as a noble act. This isn’t true. Suicide is generally frowned upon by Buddhists as something to be avoided because it tends to lead to a less auspicious rebirth. It’s not believed that one is condemned to Hell forever for killing oneself, the way the Catholic tradition has it, but one is setting up conditions that will make one’s next birth more difficult than the life one chooses to end prematurely. This is because committing suicide causes so much pain and suffering to those who know and love the person who does it. I take all that stuff about rebirth with a big grain of salt, myself. Even if we really do get reborn after we die, how can anyone say what sort of next life a person is likely to have, knowing only the fact that the person killed himself? There’s a lot more to any individual’s life than just how it ends. For those who believe THIS DHARMA LIFE The Right Way to Kill Yourself Zen teacher BRAD WARNER on the time he considered suicide—and the different kind of death he chose. in rebirth, the entirety of the person’s life determines how he or she will be reborn, not just the last thing the person does. When dealing with someone’s sui- cide, vague speculations about rebirth don’t really help. It’s a way to avoid the real question: What do we do when faced with the fact that someone we cared about has killed himself? No one ever knows the right thing to do or say when something like this happens. It’s more important just to be supportive. Discussing what sort of next life the person is likely to have isn’t supportive, I’d say. I came precariously close to killing myself one sunny day in the spring of 1992. My life was shit. I was living in a decrepit punk rock house in Akron, Ohio. My girlfriend had dumped me. I had no money, no skills, no prospects. I’d released five records on an indie label that had gotten some good press but gone nowhere in terms of sales. My dreams of making a living as a song- writer and musician were obviously never going to come true. I felt like all I had to look forward to was eking out a meager existence in the muddy Midwest. NATALYABALNOVA SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 27 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE