Suicide: Sutta versus Commentary

This was in reference to several (3 or more) Westerner Monks who are Suttanta only and killed themselves.

  • Ven NyanaVira (Clearing the Path)
  • The monk from the what-the-buddha-saiddotnet website
  • A monk who lived near to the Island Forest Hermitage where ven Nyanavira was from… recently last year or so.

The problem is being totally Suttanta and not believing the commentary…
There are many suttas which reference Suicide and then afterwards, the Buddha declared that they used the knife blamelessly.

144. Channovādasutta

Advice to Channa

With TPP you can search for “wrists” in English… then you can find suttas in pali / english. From there I grab the pali or sutta number and jump to the commentary and feel my way through a rough translation…

In this sutta (and several others), it talks about using the knife blamelessly. It should be noted that slitting the wrists is a wrong translation by Ajahn Sujato. Actually the neck was slit and mentioned in the commentary. When someone dies in this way, they do have time to think and practice. It is not getting the head chopped off by Muslim execution as many might think.

Satthaṃ, āvuso sāriputta, āharissāmi,
“The knife, friend-sāriputta, I will use”

You can quite easily see in the sutta that ven sāriputta is questioning him and not accepting that he is enlightened.

“tasmātiha, āvuso channa, idampi tassa bhagavato sāsanaṃ, niccakappaṃ manasi kātabbaṃ:
“So, Reverend Channa, you should pay close attention to this instruction of the Buddha whenever you can:
‘nissitassa calitaṃ, anissitassa calitaṃ natthi.
‘For the dependent there is agitation. For the independent there’s no agitation.

Calite asati passaddhi,
When there’s no agitation there is tranquility.

passaddhiyā sati nati na hoti.
When there is tranquility there’s no inclination.

Natiyā asati āgatigati na hoti.
When there’s no inclination there’s no coming and going.

Āgatigatiyā asati cutūpapāto na hoti.
When there’s no coming and going there’s no passing away and reappearing.

Cutūpapāte asati nevidha na huraṃ na ubhayamantarena.
When there’s no passing away and reappearing there’s no this world or world beyond or between the two.

Esevanto dukkhassā’”ti.
Just this is the end of suffering.’”

Atha kho āyasmā ca sāriputto āyasmā ca mahācundo āyasmantaṃ channaṃ iminā ovādena ovaditvā uṭṭhāyāsanā pakkamiṃsu.
And when the venerables Sāriputta and Mahācunda had given Venerable Channa this advice they got up from their seat and left.

Atha kho āyasmā channo acirapakkante āyasmante ca sāriputte āyasmante ca mahācunde satthaṃ āharesi.
Not long after those venerables had left, Venerable Channa slit his wrists.

So what does the commentary say?

**

  1. Satthaṃ āharesīti jīvitahārakaṃ satthaṃ āhari, kaṇṭhanāḷiṃ chindi. Athassa tasmiṃ khaṇe maraṇabhayaṃ okkami, gatinimittaṃ upaṭṭhāsi. So attano puthujjanabhāvaṃ ñatvā saṃviggo vipassanaṃ paṭṭhapetvā saṅkhāre pariggaṇhanto arahattaṃ patvā samasīsī hutvā parinibbāyi

**

A rough translation summary is below:

He used the knife to take his own life. He cut his throat. Then at that moment, fearful of death fell upon him. The gati nimitta (sign of death-destination) appeared. He realized he was not enlightened and knowing that, he got the urgency in dhamma and practiced vipassana. Fully grasping by knowledge the saṅkhāre he reached to become an arahant and attained parinibbāna.

Many people dispute this explanation and that is why people who are suttanta kill themselves.

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Thanks Bhante for sharing this information. Yes, it is very difficult for us layfollowers to understand such occurrence…but nevertheless commentaries gave satisfactory explanation on this matter.

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It should be noted that anyone who was alive during the time of the Buddha let alone someone who ordained during the time of the Buddha had incredible amounts of pārami, usually well planned / determined through many eons. This should not be attempted by anyone.

I think the Suttanta people:

  1. Miss the commentary note about ven Channa’s luck and dhamma urgency to attain at the near time of death
  2. They don’t understand the well thought out planning / determination to ordain under a living Buddha. This is also true with those who attain is such a short amount of time. They somehow believe this is possible after reading a few suttas, or a single nikāya.
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Bhante, i had discussions about the Ñānavira Bhante who commited suicide, because i remember a misguided Venerable who believed in his attainment
.

Actually Ñānavīra bhikkhu commited suicide as " sotapanna ", so he believed. But the reason to suicide was: he had too much lust.
He believed these strong kilesā came because his treatment, that it was physical only.

He even said " wife or knife": he would either disrobe due to lust and marry a woman or commit suicide.
Then he finally decided to suicide, and it was blameless according to him, because he was stream entered, he thought.

Such was his mind after “being a sotapanna” : too much lust, and hatred to himself to the point to kill himself. How he could be sotapanna? He killed himself! His rāga and dosa were such!
What kind of mind brings the attainment of stream entry? Defilement or purity?
ANd some misguided four nikâyist believe in his attainment :cry::man_shrugging:

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Seems he chose the right path. But he could have chosen a better path - Samatha Vipassana. He needed to take asubha kammathana or contemplation of 32 body parts. The training would sooner or later ease his torment.
Asubha kammathana is contemplation on decomposing body. One can contemplate on any stage any state of decomposing body.
Lord Buddha taught asubha kammatha to several monks, at earlier time of His career. Many of those monks committed suicide after they could no longer see subha (pleasure/delight) in the body.
After that event of mass suicide of the monks, Lord Buddha was asked to teach milder meditation methods. So He taught about other kammathana, such as anapanasati. As a fact, Lord Buddha often taught a monk a method suitable for him when such special need occurred.

“Seems he chose the right path”.

Wrong. I don’t agree at all. He killed himself, with dosa citta. One can only reborn in apāya. He has broken the first basic precepts, to abstain from killing.
Not only that, he killed himself with wrong views :
-he believed he was a sotapanna

  • he believed to kill himself was good and he would reborn in good place.

What a fearful mistake.

Even if staying as a monk would be better than disrobing and marry, but…At least as a lay man he could do some merits. In hell can not.

Good to know asubha and the purpose of it. But first of all better to know what is correct according to Dhamma and what is not.

I would suggest you to ask wise and experienced Venerables what is better between killing oneself or becoming a layman.

The sutta you mentioned, the commentaries explained it. The Buddha could not save these monks. He would give asubha or not they would kill themselves in everycases because of kamma. Asubha was not the real reason, actually it help some of them ( who didn’t suicide but have been killed by others) to have a kusala citta at the time of death. Otherwise the Buddha would have given ānapānasati from the begining.

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But the Buddha gave them an opportunity to get on the path and stay on it. Yes, those monks had past akusala kamma. Yet they recognized what’s good, and they became followers of the Buddha. In that case, their suicide was based on alobha/araga as they hated the body (five aggregates). You can say there was dosa in killing, but the dominant factor was araga (they wanted to give up existence, but they aimed for liberation. We don’t know in detail whether they attained something as the end of life. Here we can only speculate though.

There are some details in the commentary Note 301 translation by Bodhi
Spk: Why did he speak thus? In the past, it is said, five
hundred men earned their living together as hunters. They
were reborn in hell, but later, through some good kamma,

they took rebirth as human beings and went forth as monks under the Blessed One. However, a portion of their
original bad kamma had gained the opportunity to ripen during this fortnight and was due to bring on their deaths
both by suicide and homicide. The Blessed One foresaw this and realized he could do nothing about it. Among
those monks, some were worldlings, some stream-enterers, some once-returners, some nonretumers, some arahants.

The arahants would not take rebirth, the other noble disciples were bound for a happy rebirth, but the worldlingswere of uncertain destiny. The Buddha spoke of foulness to remove their attachment to the body so that they would lose their fear of death and could thus be reborn in heaven.

Therefore he spoke on foulness in order to help them, notwith the intention of extolling death. Realizing he could not tum back the course of events, he went into seclusion

note 302 :
Spk adds that the
noble ones did not kill anyone, or enjoin others to consent to killing; it was only the worldlings who did so.

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For some reason, these suicide suttas are considered controversial and the suttantrika followers claim these commentary explanations are: “one of the many band-aids that the commentary puts puts onto the suttas to fix things”. I have also had a conversation about this before with Western monk. They felt suicide was okay to do.

For me…the commentaries make total sense for this topic.

So… then we get to read our wonderful Bhante named… Bhikkhu Bodhi who is a major cause for such commentary hating movements. Below is the text from the footnotes to his co-written translation of the MN.

I’m not sure I understand his criticism or the pun that was involved. However, it is quite often that people read into things to much, “trying to discover” new things to make names for themselves. A great example is these unintentional backwards messages which were found on reputable singers’ records in courtroom defense to show they were unintentional. I might post about this later.

Spk: He cut his jugular vein and just then the fear of death entered him. As the sign of his rebirth destiny appeared, he realized he was still a worldling and his mind became agitated. He set up insight, discerned the formations, and reaching arahantship, he attained final Nibbāna as a “same-header” (saması̄sı̄; see I, n. 312).

55 Spk: Although this declaration (of blamelessness) was made while Channa was still a worldling, as his attainment of final Nibbāna followed immediately, the Buddha answered by referring to that very declaration. It should be noted that this commentarial interpretation is imposed on the text from the outside, as it were. If one sticks to the actual wording of the text it seems that Channa was already an arahant when he made his declaration, the dramatic punch being delivered by the failure of his two brother-monks to recognize this. The implication, of course, is that excruciating pain might motivate even an arahant to take his own life—not from aversion but simply from a wish to be free from unbearable pain.

The name of the village differs slightly among the various eds.; I follow Ee here. I take mittakulāni suhajjakulāni upavajjakul̄ni —the terms used to describe the lay families that supported the Venerable Channa—to be synonyms. The third term gives the opportunity for a word play. Spk glosses it as upasaṅkamitabbakulāni, “families to be approached” (that is, for his requisites). According to CPD, upavajja here represents Skt upavrajya; the word in this sense is not in PED, though this may be the only instance where it bears such a meaning. The word is homonymous with another word meaning “blameworthy,” representing Skt upavadya, thus linking up with Channa’s earlier avowal that he would kill himself blamelessly (anupavajja). See the following note.

57 When the Buddha speaks about the conditions under which one is blameworthy (sa-upavajja), upavajja represents upavadya. Though earlier Spk explained the correct sense of upavajjakulāni, here the commentator seems oblivious to the pun and comments as if Channa had actually been at fault for associating too closely with lay people: “The Elder Sāriputta, showing the fault of intimacy with families (kulasạsaggadosa) in the preliminary stage of practice, asks: ‘When that bhikkhu had such supporters, could he have attained final Nibbāna?’ The Blessed One answers showing that he was not intimate with families.” For intimacy with families as a fault in monks, see 9:7, 16:3, 16:4, 20:9, 20:10.

58 Also at MN No. 145, entitled Puṇṇovāda Sutta; the opening and closing paragraphs of the two versions are slightly different. According to Spk, Puṇṇa had been a merchant from the Sunāparanta country who came to Sāvatthı̄ on business. Hearing the Buddha preach, he decided to become a bhikkhu. After his ordination he found the area around Sāvatthı̄ uncongenial to his meditation and wished to return to his home country to continue his practice. He approached the Buddha to obtain guidance before departing.

For biographical details, see DPPN 2:220–21. Sunāparanta was on the west coast of India. Its capital was Suppāraka, modern Sopāra in the district of Thāna near modern Mumbai.

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“To marry a woman and live as a householder” and “to kill himself”

Well, from a householder POV and Kamma logic, which option is bad idea here? Definitely the latter.

Being a householder isn’t evil or reproachable. It is just this particular being wasn’t ready for the intense training. That’s all. We can’t say being a householder is sinful or evil. The Buddha never said so. Being a householder, can enjoy many fruitful things too, do Dana, practicing Sila, helping the monastics, listening to Dhamma talks, living a harmless life, etc. Just that our goal isn’t immediate Nibbāna. People could say it is due to ignorance.

For me, being a layman, if I ever get a wise wife, she might be a Kalyana mitta too. Just like how Bodhisatta Prince Siddhattha with Princess Yasodhara; Nakulapita and Nakulamata.

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Layman life is very difficult unless one comes from a wealthy family or having many connections for employment. Particularly for a monk who is not familiar with such a struggle would have no chance to lead a successful life to support one’s lifestyle.

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Yes actually as a lay person one has to do a job, and can not maintain a constant meditation lifestyle… Unless one is wealthy by birth. But in this case also, one may easily indulges in sensual pleasures and do less Dhamma work.
For Dhamma, Pabbajjā is better.
Wealth, wich means job or properties, is another path.

The Venerable Anuruddha during lay life had a very confortable life, with wealth, and he liked to indulge… But when he understood all the work and responsibilities wich includes such properties he preferred to ordain😊

Also, someone who knows the confort of a peaceful pabbajjā life will have difficulties to come back in the lay life and maintain a job because it gives little satisfaction and happiness and many troubles like stress and boredom and association with unwise people.

Monks cannot speak praise of death with the encouragement for the person to die. If this happens and someone dies as a result, even someone who is in a hospice, that monk has fallen into pārājika (defeat). While lay people do not have such rules, it should be well noted that it is not good to do karmically.

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Bhante,
Lay life is too complex, starting from food and ending with protecting oneself, family and society. Buddhists have to protect Buddhism as well, using physical force.
Even King Bimbisara, after becoming a sotapanna, had to command an army, to quell rebellion to keep peace in his kingdom. He himself did not go to war, but entrusted his general. Yet it was his command to them to go and keep peace.

Ever since the aged but valiant Elara, the Tamil king of Sri Lanka, was struck down and killed in single combat by the much younger Dutugemunu, the epic hero of the national chronicle Mahavamsa,1 the place where Elara fell and where his body was later cremated had been revered at the express command of his chivalrous foe. The Tomb of Elara at Anuradhapura - Dr.James T. Rutnam - also see About: Battle of Vijithapura

Samsara is such, one cannot have peace anywhere. One must struggle against all odds. One may be a good person now, but will certainly forget to be good in the next or later lives. One may be a good person now, yet one cannot escape social issues. Wars are here and there around the world. One may be good for now, yet must support one side to win so that peace would be restored, or even for a better world that remains as an illusion.
True, one must let go of sakkaya ditthi as soon as possible.

Dhamma001 difficult to follow you… We discussed about the madness of suicide, and the few Dvipitakin who believe it is good to do so as a monk with different pretexts… Your view is such about it that you praised a suicide from a monk… I said to you it was wrong view. Then you said it was difficult to do job for an ex monk. Now Subhūti Bhante again focused on the topic of suicide, mentioned vinaya to explain it was wrong to praise about suicide…
And now you try to explain to Bhante samsāra is dangerous :man_shrugging:

@Dhamma001 We had a monk kill himself at na-uyana because he had pārājika doubt. It was not pārājika but because he thought as you say, plus exmonks are “bad luck” in Sri Lanka culture, he killed himself. He was encouraged to become a sāmaṇera until he could figure things out. He also had an appointment to visit a psychiatrist the day he was found. There was another suicide one year before I came there, but I think that was more of a mental case. I know a Sri Lankan monk who worried. He was also not judged as pārājika but he disrobed and is now a sāmaṇera the last I checked.

Sri Lanka has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. I think they since they believe in rebirth, they wrongly believe they can just reset when things go wrong like a video game. The human birth is very rare. Dying as an emotional wreck, with enough baggage to kill oneself is not good.

So kamma exists.

Bhante,
There is a belief that when human dies becomes human again, which is influenced by some beliefs outside Buddhism. It would be good to have a conversation with some of these monks about such beliefs around suicide to find out the background of such influence.
Some became monks with a reason other than wanting to become a monk or to stay as a monk for life.

That is not so in Thailand and Myanmar, perhaps in Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam too. Temporarily becoming monks is very usual in these countries. This tradition should reach to Sri Lanka. Young people should join Sangha for 8 or 9 days every year.

I did that because the context is that monk was filled with lust and he had two choices - to live a lay life to be lusting around, or to die. The first choice sounded like to commit all the nasty things about lust.

But he said " wife or knife "… If it is so he didn’t have the intention to break the 5 precepts, his idea was to marry and have righteous relationship.
Between having a right partner according to Dhamma and killing oneself wich option is better?

I remind you that there are lay sotapanna who can have sex, that is, with their wife, wife with husband:

" there are not only one hundred, two or five hundred, but far more lay male followers (upāsaka), my disciples, clothed in white, enjoying sensual pleasures, who carry out my instruction, respond to my advice, have gone beyond doubt, become free of perplexity, gained intrepidity, and become independent of others in the Teacher’ s dispensation ". (MN 73)

Here im not praising sensual pleasure. Also, im not saying lust of a sotapanna is the same than a putthujjana, of course it is less, and more controlable, and not associated with views.

But im definitely saying that between suicide as a monk and righteous lay life indulging in sensuality, there is no comparison.
Far better to be upāsaka than to kill oneself and reborn in hell.

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I supported his option of death before your explanation about it. I also mentioned how hard lay life is in seeking for a living. Who knows why inside his mind was. We cannot know how he would make a living.

Individuals are different in terms of tendency and inclination. They fall to one or more of these. Layman life means differently to different people. Lust could be bad but after abandoning ‘I am’ sakkaya ditthi, lust is not unfit for a layperson. There are sotapannas who do not know they are sotapannas. That is what I learned from hearing about it.

anusaya: the 7 ‘proclivities’, inclinations, or tendencies are: sensuous greed (kāma-rāga , s. saṃyojana ), grudge (paṭigha ), speculative opinion (diṭṭhi , q.v.), skeptical doubt (vicikicchā , q.v.), conceit (māna , q.v.), craving for continued existence (bhavarāga ), ignorance (avijjā , q.v.) (D. 33; A. VII, 11, 12)

Vāsanā, (f.) (fr. vasati2 = vāsa2, but by Rh. D. following the P. Com̄. connected with vāseti & vāsa3) that which remains in the mind, tendencies of the past, impression, usually as pubba° former impression (Sn. 1009; Miln. 10, 263).—Cp. Nett 4, 21, 48, 128, 133 sq. 153, 158 sq. 189 sq.—Cp. BSk. vāsanā, e.g. MVastu I. 345. (Page 610)