Suicide Is Not the Solution

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Chenrezig Institute, Eudlo, Australia (Archive #866)

In this teaching, Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains that instead of ending our life by committing suicide, we can use this precious human rebirth to bring benefit and happiness to ourselves and others. This teaching is excerpted from a nyung nä commentary given at Chenrezig Institute, Eudlo, Australia, 11–18 September 1991. Edited by Ven. Pende Hawter. Second light edit by Sandra Smith, August 2023.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1991.  Photo: Thubten Yeshe (Augusta Alexander).

If we put our concentration and effort into stopping the arising of the disturbing thoughts, if we practice the remedy in our everyday life, meditating on the path which stops the disturbing thoughts from arising and removes their seed, then in this way we don't need to commit suicide. Removing the seed makes it impossible for the delusions to arise again. Even if we don't remove the seed of the delusions but just stop the arising of the visible delusions, like a sprout coming, it stops the need to commit suicide.

Rather than using our perfect human rebirth to harm ourselves, we can make it useful if we have a long life. This perfect human rebirth, especially one that has met the Dharma and gives us the opportunity to practice and develop our buddha nature, is extremely rare and has been received this one time. We have the opportunity to develop all the qualities of the numberless fully enlightened, compassionate buddhas. With these qualities we can bring every benefit and happiness to every sentient being and even bring them to the highest, full enlightenment. In this way the perfect human rebirth is so precious, so we don't need to use it in the wrong way by harming or killing ourselves.

Suicide is something that even the dumb, mute animals don't do, so in some ways it is even worse than the thoughts of an animal. We don't hear of animals committing suicide. We don't hear of cows committing suicide because of so many problems, or monkeys committing suicide because of relationship problems, or snakes hanging themselves because of relationship problems, or of tigers committing suicide. So far we have never heard of this; I don't think that programme has ever been shown on TV.

If we use thought transformation to deal with our problems, they become enjoyable and we receive benefit from them. The problems, rather than causing suicide, become the cause of living and we can use the problems to purify their cause. The problems themselves become the path to liberation, the path to achieve the cessation of the suffering of samsara, to stop every single mistake of the mind, even the subtle obscurations, and to achieve all the good qualities and bring every suffering sentient being to the state of full enlightenment.

In this way, experiencing problems and using them in our Dharma practice brings infinite benefit. The benefit is much more than just transforming the problems into happiness, long life, and protecting us from creating the heavy karma of committing suicide.

Committing suicide is not the solution because it doesn't end the problems, it doesn't do anything to stop the cause of the problems, which comes from the mind. The cause of the problems is the disturbing thoughts and their seeds, so ending this life or injuring our body does nothing to touch these and hence doesn't solve the problems. Ending our life is nonvirtuous because it results from anger or attachment. It starts with attachment, the evil thought of the worldly dharmas, which in turn results in anger or jealousy toward others. It comes from the attachment of clinging to this life, not getting what we want, what we’re looking for, the comfort or happiness or object that we’re looking for.

So attachment is the main motivation and behind that is the ego, the self-cherishing thought, the thought that believes that this "I" is so precious and important. So to obtain happiness for this I and to avoid having problems for this I becomes very important.

The point that I'm trying to emphasize is that the action of killing ourselves can be creating a result similar to the cause because the same thing can occur again and again in future lives. From the one complete act of killing, after some time even if we are born again as a human, we experience the four suffering results, including being killed or killing again.

As long as we don't purify the negative karma, the imprint of the action left in our mind, in this case the action of killing, it goes on and on from life to life without end. So ending our life is not the solution because as long as we don't purify the cause, which is in the mind, we will experience the same thing in future lives.

The consciousness does not cease when the body disintegrates, so if the past karma, the past actions done out of disturbing thoughts, such as committing suicide, are not purified, we will experience the same problems again in the next life.

If we do not practice the remedy, the path for stopping the delusions of anger, attachment, ignorance, etc, which have been left by the imprints of past negative thoughts, then the same problems will arise again.

For example, we may experience the four suffering results of sexual misconduct. Experiencing the result similar to the cause would be relationship problems—there is a lack of harmony with our companion or that person leaves us or gets taken by somebody else.

If we have not purified the cause, which is in the mind, we experience the same problems again. But as well as that we constantly create more and more problems by repeating the action, such as sexual misconduct, again and again.

We can therefore see that committing suicide is completely crazy because rather than solving the problem it just makes it worse and in reality it is the complete opposite to what we expect. We commit suicide with the belief that we'll never have to experience the relationship problems and so forth again, but this is completely our own hallucination. It is our own conclusion or philosophy that this will be the end of our problems.

We haven’t purified the past karmas and on top of that, we’ve created the causes again and again, so we are in reality creating more problems.

Committing suicide is simply stopping our life forcefully, cutting off this life and leaving this precious human body. It is negative karma because it endangers and interferes with our mind. We leave this precious human body which is so rare to find, that we have made so many prayers over hundreds and thousands of past lives to receive in order to meet Dharma, for which we have undergone so much hardship in so many lifetimes.

From our own experience we know how difficult it is to keep even one precept purely in this life. Just to be born as an ordinary human requires keeping pure morality, not to mention a human rebirth that has met Dharma and has the opportunity to practice. Impure or degenerated morality or vows cause us to be reborn in the lower realms, as a naga or animal and so forth, depending on how heavy the karma is.

So degenerated vows can never cause even an ordinary human body, which depends on the practice of pure morality for many hundreds or thousands of lifetimes. It says in one of the teachings that to receive a perfect human rebirth with the opportunity to practice the pratimoksha, bodhicitta and tantric vows requires creating the cause by having practiced these three types of vows in the past.

The reality is that the ego makes us decide to kill ourselves because the ego doesn't want to experience the problems, such as having a bad reputation, all these things. The ego makes the conclusion to kill, so the mistake is following the ego and becoming a slave or servant of the ego. If we do not follow the ego then even if there's a problem, we do not kill ourselves.

Last night on the TV there was a person who has written a book on how to commit suicide in many different ways. This book has become famous and a bestseller in America, maybe in other countries also. There was an argument, contradictory views, about the book between a man from Melbourne and a Catholic scientist or doctor.

But if we practice Dharma, meditation, we can control the disturbing thoughts or delusions and stop them from arising. That is what Dharma means, the practice that stops delusions from arising. Not only that, the practice of Dharma also removes even the seed which gives birth to the delusions. When the seed of delusion is completely removed then that is the sorrowless state, nirvana, complete liberation.

Therefore practicing Dharma, meditating on the graduated path to enlightenment, stops the arising of delusions such as jealousy, attachment, the self-cherishing thought. Jealousy is one of the many reasons why people commit suicide, as is attachment, which leads to people not getting what they want or not finding satisfaction. The self-cherishing thought which doesn't want to experience problems is another reason for committing suicide. So the practice of Dharma stops the disturbing thoughts from arising and it also removes the imprint of the disturbing thoughts, thereby cutting off the delusions.

For example, in the Buddha's time the king of Maghada, [Bimbisara], was killed by his son. The son felt much regret so he came to see the Buddha who told him that the father and the mother were the objects to be killed. The Buddha presented the Dharma to the son in that way and the son realized that this meant to abandon the two objects of self-grasping—the self-grasping of the person and the self-grasping of the aggregates. These are the objects to be killed or abandoned, to be removed from our mental continuum.

The two objects of self-grasping to be renounced, to be realized as empty, are the concept apprehending the merely labelled I as truly existent and the concept apprehending the merely labelled aggregates as truly existent.

In other words, if we want to kill something then we should kill the ego, the disturbing thoughts. This is the best practice of Dharma. By practicing Dharma, meditation on the graduated path to enlightenment, we are killing all the delusions and their imprints. We become free of them and free from all problems and suffering forever. Immediately in that day, that hour, that minute, as we practice Dharma, thought transformation, we become free of problems. The problems are no longer seen as problems and become utilized into the path and transferred into happiness.

By becoming completely free of the seeds of the disturbing thoughts we become completely free of the problems forever. So by practicing Dharma and training the mind in the graduated path to enlightenment we can become free of all the problems without needing to harm ourselves, without needing to stop the precious human rebirth or interfere with it.

So practicing Dharma is cutting off the cause of the problems, the disturbing thoughts, karma. It is a way to become completely free of all problems without the need to experience them again or to harm ourselves.

These Dharma practices also have no side-effects or danger. With the book on how to commit suicide, for example, there is a great danger because there is a kind of encouragement. When there's a small emotional problem or some upset, depression or loneliness, because the person is so concerned about themselves there is more danger of committing suicide.

It is therefore better to talk to or educate people about the potential of the mind and universal responsibility and how we can use our own life in infinite ways to obtain infinite benefit (temporal and ultimate) for ourselves and especially for other sentient beings.