“Views on Suicide in Buddhism: Some Remarks”

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The views on suicide in history and modern times differ considerably according to the period and variety of Buddhism examined. Suicide seems to be equated with the killing of other living beings rather rarely in the history of Buddhism. A host of explicit statements in this regard supports rather the assumption that more often a view is held according to which suicide does not fulfill all the requirements that are needed to judge it in the same way as killing other living beings, precisely because it does no—at least no immediate—harm to others. Moreover, it is very difficult to account for the multitude of suicides described in a rather approving way in a great variety of Buddhist texts without assuming that suicide and killing other living beings were often viewed differently.

It naturally follows that a position according to which life is considered as sacred and as a basic value in Buddhism is not in accordance with most of the ways in which suicide is dealt with in Buddhist texts. However, it is the way in which this doctrine seems to have developed that possibly presents one of the reasons why often only the killing of others has been condemned outright. It seems that both the idea that victims could take revenge against culprits in the afterlife and the Golden Rule were important factors in the earliest history of this doctrine.

Arguments against taking one’s own life that can be described as more or less ethical in character but which do not directly touch on the character of suicide as an act of killing seem to be met with rather rarely, although they may have had great influence. In this context the argument that suicide prevents one from performing more good deeds and furthering the welfare of other living beings, has to be especially mentioned.

Quite obviously, in many varieties of Buddhism the question whether and to what extent suicide has a positive or negative effect on the attainment of the ultimate soteriological goal is especially important for evaluating suicide.


Reference: Martin Delhey (2006), Views on Suicide in Buddhism, Some Remarks, p.25–63.

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