Brad is at Tassajara Zen Monastery where there's no Internet access. Here is an oldie but goodie written for SuicideGirls to tide you over till he gets back.
Often in my writing for SuicideGirls I’ve talked about girls, but I haven’t talked a lot about suicide. Last week a friend of mine attempted it, unsuccessfully thank you Jesus. 25 years ago another friend managed to do it successfully and I’m still bummed about that. When I lived in Chicago my band used to play at a place called Batteries, which was booked by Jim Ellison of the band Material Issue. I was pretty torn up when I found out he’d killed himself in 1996. They played their song Valerie Loves Me at a club I went to this week, which got me thinking even harder about suicide and its consequences. I’ve known a couple people, including an uncle and a co-worker, who managed to commit slow suicide by drinking themselves to death. And I, myself, have come pretty close to doing the deed too.
We used to get into these long philosophical debates around the kitchen table of the punk house near Akron City Hospital where nearly everyone on the scene seemed to hang out 24/7. In one debate it seemed like almost everyone in the room agreed that suicide was a perfectly viable option and that it was up to the individual alone to decide whether to do it or not. I’m not sure I was the only one who disagreed. But I was certainly in the minority. I imagine a lot of “alternative” type people feel somewhat the same way as my friends did, that suicide is an acceptable option.
Intellectually, it’s easy to come up with a convincing argument that suicide is nobody’s business but that of the person who kills herself or himself. But in practical, real world terms this is never the case. Suicide is devastating to everyone whose lives a person touches. No matter how much of a loner you are, there are people who care about you and it’s never easy to deal with someone you care about killing themselves. In the case of my friend Iggy who hung himself in 1983, he seems to have been deliberately trying to hurt his girlfriend who’d recently dumped him. But she dumped him because it was the only way she could think of to make him deal with his alcoholism and general destructiveness. I don’t blame her. I would’ve done the same thing. What he did was really nasty and mean. And I don’t think it really solved his problems.
Most religions forbid suicide and imagine horrible punishments awaiting in the next world for those who take their own lives. If you dug through the Buddhist literature I’m sure you could find some variation on this. There must be a sutra or vinaya text somewhere saying what kind of future incarnation awaits those who commit suicide. But I don’t know about it since I’m a pretty lousy Buddhist scholar. This, in itself says something, though. Because even if such a text exists it’s not greatly emphasized. There are a couple scholarly articles on the Internet about the matter. Here’s one. Here’s another. And here’s one more.
Everyone knows about the
Vietnamese Buddhists who set fire to themselves to protest the Viet Nam War. For a while there that seemed like one of the most enduring images the general public in the West had of Buddhism. People on this side of the planet had already been taught by their early scholars that Buddhism was a Nihilistic religion filled with talk of suffering and emptiness. So it probably came as no great surprise to hear about Buddhists offing themselves. Buddhism isn’t nihilistic, though. And I don’t think those guys did anyone very much good by going up in flames.
In any case, I’m not terribly concerned with scholarly research or mass opinions. I scanned through those articles I linked to, but I really didn’t read them in depth. It’s interesting to know the history, but not really necessary. Buddhism, as far as I’m concerned, is more about our own experiences than about received wisdom from others. My own experience tells me that suicide is not really a viable option. It ultimately cannot possibly solve the problems it’s intended to solve and it causes a whole lot of unnecessary suffering and grief.
People kill themselves to put an end to their suffering. Ian Curtis of Joy Division did it to end his suffering over his marriage and finances. Pete Ham killed himself because he was suffering over the fate of his band Badfinger, the world’s greatest power pop band. Kurt Cobain killed himself to end his suffering from all those stomach-aches. Of course these are all over-simplifications. But it’s clear that all of these people, as well as anyone else who has ever taken their own lives, did so because they saw it as a way out of suffering. It’s certainly not something you do just for the hell of it.
But the idea that committing suicide will end your suffering comes from the belief that you and the world in which you live are two different things. You believe that you can leave this world and thereby leave suffering behind. But my own sense after years of zazen practice is that this is not true. I’ve spent a long time watching the boundary line between what I call “me” and what I call the rest of the world blur and fade. I’m no longer certain at all where the dividing line is. I’m beginning to even suspect that that guy Buddha may have been right when he said it doesn’t exist at all. In fact I’ve had a few times when this apparently nonsensical notion has come up and bit me on the ass in ways I cannot possibly deny.
So what I’m saying here goes a little further than just the old “the show must go on” type thing where people say you have a responsibility to your friends and family not to go off and shoot your brains out in the greenhouse. You also have a responsibility to yourself and even to the universe as a whole not to do that. Even if committing suicide solves the immediate problem by ending a poor relationship or making it so your stomach doesn’t hurt anymore, the suffering you thought was yours alone spreads out like a wave to those parts of the universe you’ve been taught to think of as separate from you. It’s impossible for me to believe that even the person who dies does not, in some way, continue to suffer just as greatly after suicide as before. I no longer believe it’s possible to leave this world. And that’s as far as I want to speculate about that. Anything I might say about the mechanism involved in how this happens would just be a load of stinky brain farts. Still, I have a very deep and unshakable feeling that this is true.
Anyway, please forgive the grimness of this little piece. What my friend did last week got me thinking hard about the matter. So SuicideGirls readers, don’t kill yourselves! Life is beautiful, so why not eat health foods instead?*
*This title of this article comes from a punk rock compilation album put out around 1979-80 by New Underground Records. The Descendents and Red Cross are featured. I’d love to find a copy of this or its sequel Life Is Beautiful So Why Not Eat Health Foods.