Reaching out ~ more Buddhist thoughts on suicide


8.5 mins read

When it comes to suicide, one of the best things we could probably do is reach out – those considering it and the rest of us too.

Carrying on from this article on suicide.

help i want to dieClearly fame, money, and the rest of it is not enough to keep the demons at bay. If we are not in control of our thoughts, they will control us. Judging by the number of articles about them, the recent celebrity suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have been a bit of a wake-up call. Time magazine describes it as:

A one-two punch to our belief that there are some people who are living the perfect life.

The article describes their lives and achievements and then asks, “What more could a person want?”

Inner peace.

Without inner peace, we have no real happiness OR safety, whoever or wherever we are. Fame, fortune, relationships, and everything else outside the mind are causes of changing suffering, not causes of real happiness. As Time magazine puts it:

Many lives are not as they appear. Happiness is not the end result of a sum of accomplishments. The people whose wealth/wardrobe/job/talent we wish we had have their own struggles.

Thought experiment

inner peace outer peaceImagine having everything and everyone you’ve ever wanted and worked for and dreamed of. You made it!

Now, are you happy?!

……

Maybe, for a minute, until something upsets us, or we still feel we haven’t got it all, or we wonder why on earth this isn’t working. As Bourdain put it at the end of one show:

What do you do after your dreams come true?

According to this article in USA Today:

In an interview this year, the comedian and actor Jim Carrey talked about “getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamed of and more.”

As it says in How to Transform Your Life:

External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful. We can understand this from our own experience. For instance, even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had everything many of us can only dream of:

Yet these two could not bear to live their lives any longer. ~ Time

Depression

chink of lightTalking of anger, going so far as to inflict such painful violence on ourselves must involve some anger. Anger directed outward — or perhaps more inward, as depression or self-loathing.

A couple of friends lately have told me that during times when they felt very depressed, the darkness that took over seemed impossible. Even getting out of bed felt like having to climb a mountain. There was no chink of light. Feeling trapped in their own minds, by their own minds, they only didn’t take their own lives because they understood that death is not the end of suffering, that it simply brings new sufferings. They knew that they would still be trapped in their minds where all the pain was really coming from.

However, they also found that by not going that route, a chink of light did have an opportunity to emerge. Hope reappeared and the clouds gradually parted. Now their lives feel very meaningful and blessed. They are both beyond grateful that they didn’t kill themselves.

Reach out

People need to find the refuge of inner peace and the refuge of love that overcomes loneliness, for nothing external can take away that ache, at least not for long. People need wisdom and compassion. People need some kind of Dharma.

If this master storyteller left us a lesson, it is this: You are not truly alone. People care about you more than you realize. Please don’t leave us. Reach out. ~ William Falk in The Week 

Anthony BourdainPeople were astonished to hear that Anthony Bourdain, that great lover of life we thought he was, had taken his own life. He was not alone, everyone loved him, he apparently knew that in his wiser and happier moments. But not when under the influence of the deceptive demon of self-cherishing telling him that he was alone, that no one truly cared.

Bourdain once noted that although he had “the best job in the world,” he often woke up in hotels far from the people he loved. “The truth is,” he said, “I’m alone for most of that time.”

USA Today suggests “community and family bonds have broken down, as people work endless hours in pursuit of material success and numb their loneliness with drugs, alcohol, TV, and the internet. The shallow interactions of social media do not fulfill our yearning for connection.”

Small talk

While I agree with this in general, I have had some deep conversations on Facebook and shallow conversations in person. We cannot blame the medium for our shallowness or lack of connection – I think it is more about where our interests lie and how deeply we are prepared to think.

small talkSometimes the people I talk with seem entirely uninterested in the real questions of life, even though they affect us all equally, including IMHO:

“Who am I? Where do I come from? Where are we all headed? What happens to me when I die, which will be in a few hundred months, at most? What are the real causes of this suffering we are all experiencing, including all that outrageous ageing and sickness, and how can we get rid of it permanently, especially as politics as usual is never going to be enough? Etc.”

I know the value of small talk, especially if we are genuinely interested in the other person. But if all we ever talk about is the weather, or the job, or where we’re going on vacation, or who has to be voted off Love Island, etc, I confess to finding it a little frustrating and tiring, to be honest, because people are ignoring the elephant in the room and yet that elephant is trampling all over their lives. Finding ways to communicate more meaningfully and with less inhibition seems invaluable if we are to genuinely help ourselves and others. What do you think?

Love is the great protector

We need love. Love cures loneliness. And I am not talking about self-involved attachment for just one person or a few people, but open-love is the great protectorhearted love for everyone we meet, a growing affection and concern for everyone we think about. This positive mind is based on reality and will keep us happy and free from danger.

This month I was walking down a pretty steep hill in Archway, London, when I saw an old woman, bent almost double, slowly walking the other way. She paused to pick up a piece of rubbish and carried it to the next bin. Then as we passed, she looked up and gave me what I can only describe as a radiant smile, accompanied by a cheery Good Morning! Then she carried on up the hill.

A day later I was walking down the same hill at a different time. Once again this old lady hobbled past me, looked up, and said good morning. She was smiling not just from her mouth but from her eyes, and I felt the affection coming off her.

She must be in pain to be bent over like that, her arthritis not only hurting her back and shoulders but crushing her internal organs. Yet she seems happy to be alive, happy to smile at strangers. I don’t know her full story, of course, but it seems she has at least some ability to transform suffering through love.

Buddha calls love “the great Protector.” As Falk puts it, beautifully I find:

At the heart of human experience is a paradox: We are each trapped inside the boundaries of our flesh, alone with our histories, our wounds, our brokenness. Yet our isolation is an illusion — a constriction of perception. All the great spiritual traditions teach the same truth: We are connected in a fundamental way to everyone and to everything. 

How can we help?

Someone who works with suicide victims wrote an interesting comment on the first article about suicide, and I quote a bit here:

While there are many people more qualified than me to discuss the determinants of suicide, a common thread I see seems to be a patient’s strong belief in their separateness; and so while I can’t necessarily help all beings yet, I can be kind. I can choose to extend myself a little further in my conversation with others to give them time and space to be heard. I can cultivate a genuine interest in their experience so that the possibility of connection can begin to outweigh that of separateness; so that the possibility of relationship can become more appealing than that of severance. I certainly pray for this.

Kate SpadeWe need to be alert, to look a bit more deeply, to remember that:

Outward impressions of people’s lives are often wildly off-base. ~ Time

Back to my thoughts on Denis at the time … 

Our friends in retrospect are saying “If only we could go back 24 hours and find him!” But we can’t. There are many things we want to say to him, but we can’t. We will do the Powa he requested, obviously, we would have done it even if he hadn’t requested — we will do our best to get him to the Pure Land, but his self-cherishing has not made it easy. It is lucky he has made friends in high places. Venerable Geshe-la said he was doing prayers and Powa for him. Denis did create a lot of good karma, so there is something there for the Buddhas to work with.

This may be what the Buddhas think about us — we will do our best to help you, but your self-cherishing does not make it easy. Still, they never give up and this has strengthened my determination to never give up as well. I really appreciate this precious human life right now, and what we can do with it, including the transcendence of all suffering. Right now, at least, I don’t want to waste another day.

One more article coming up about ways to cope with others’ suicides, including doing transference of consciousness (Powa).

Over to you. There were some great comments on the first article, and I value any more comments, stories, or other feedback that might be helpful to other readers. Thank you.

Related articles

A brother’s suicide  

Happiness from the inside out 

Feeling lonely? 

What can we really know about anyone? 

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 37 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to our everyday lives, and vice versa. I try to make it accessible to everyone who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

8 thoughts on “Reaching out ~ more Buddhist thoughts on suicide”

  1. As I stand in the wake of another pediatric suicide, my heart is heavy. As I think of the beautiful girl, who’s mother I spent the last 3 days with: tears roll down my face, my throat tightens and my shoulders clench as if she were my own. “I was trying to protect you” said her mother over and over as she told me again, the story of the phone, of the app, of the boy, of the argument, of the confiscation. “I wish I’d checked sooner” said the grandfather, barely my own age, as he described the cord, her neck, the breaths he gave her.

    This year I have been called to support the families of 7 Pediatric suicides, 4 fatal, 2 severe (near fatal) and 1 masked as an accident. I’m no longer afraid of tears at and around these times. I cry; I cry a lot, in fact it gives me comfort. It gives me comfort because when I cry, I feel a close to Avalokiteshvara. Avalokiteshvara is not afraid of tears, not afraid to stand in the center of suffering and cry at its unbounded nature. He is a Buddha who has an inextricable connection with Tara and her mantra rushes through these tears like the air between train cars that pushes through you as you move from one carriage to the next.

    Her mantra, his tears: they give me comfort as I ache. They give me courage to believe that I can move from ‘this car’ to ‘that’ and it’s for this reason that I am not afraid. Even though my heart aches, deeply. Even though I am lured by the ideas that there are solutions ‘out there.’ I am not afraid, because like her mother, I could not protect her. Like her grandfather I could not save her, like her doctors I could not bring her back to life. So I must attain enlightenment, there is simply no other way.

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  2. Hi Luna Just letting you know that your pictures are not displaying and a message comes up on my iPad saying this site may be dangerous, all joking aside I know your topic is not to be taken lightly! Just thought I would let you know love and light Tracey 🙏

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  3. Suicidal feelings and thoughts are very close to my heart. For me, I have wanted to die almost all of my life. If I may, to hopefully benefit others, I’d like to write the reasonings I tell myself when the feelings are overwhelming.

    * As a Buddhist I have conviction in karma and future lives. Therefore if I kill myself it will not be the end of my suffering but in fact will increase the mental pain I’m feeling right now and continue for a very, very long time.

    * I will lose my precious human life and the ability to practice mahamudra, this human body has the channels, winds and drops I need to complete my path.

    * Mu suicidal feelings are an over exaggeration of the appearance of negative karma arising and the inherent existence of myself, my feelings and the situation.

    * This painful mind is my self cherishing mind, a supremely selfish mind which disregards the mental pain my action would cause my entire family for the test of their lives.

    * The minds that wish to die are just old habits of mind from a previous hell realm, they have no bearing on my current human life.

    * I would likely die with a mind of fear which would ripen a seriously negative seed and propel me into an existence I cannot bear to contemplate.

    * I would likely lose my connection with my Spiritual Guide.

    So, they might work for some, they might not, but they’re just some of the things I try to consider when I get those old, very familiar minds arise.

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  4. 
Thank you, Luna, for your recent articles on suicide and an effort in understanding those of us who suffer with depression. It is often a frustrating process for us when we are in the depths of our despair because instead of acknowledging our struggle, we are bombarded by advice, and often advice that we cannot implement at that time because, you guessed it, we are in the depths of our despair. We have no energy. At least no physical energy to do things like get out of bed and take care of basic needs like showering or making something to eat.

    What’s funny (probably not the right word to use) about depression is sometimes the triggers are unidentifiable. I mean originally it might arise due to the death of a loved one, due to some overwhelming stressors or traumatic events, but sometimes you just wake up with this paralyzing sadness. Nothing makes sense. No motivation exist. All you can do is lay there and while your body is paralyzed, your mind is going non-stop, usually obsessed with self-cherishing delusional thoughts (I’m not saying this as something negative about the depressed person; it’s just how our mind is used to thinking).

    Despite my effort in the past few years to practice Buddhism with some success in controlling my anxiety and depression, I found myself experiencing an intense and unmanageable flair this past December that forced me to ‘take a break’ from my center and my practice to seek medical care. I was reluctant to do this because, up to this point, I found the Three Jewels to be pretty darn effective in helping me control my mind, but apparently this flair was trying to tell me something.

    Although this break made my formal practice suffer, my informal practice actually strengthened. I am so acutely aware of all the suffering occurring in the world today and it bothers me that I am limited in my ability to alleviate this suffering. I obviously cannot benefit myself or others if I were to harm myself. So what am I to do? How can I benefit myself and others? I need to appreciate my precious human life and take the opportunity to focus my energy on my practice so that I may eventually become a limitless being. In this way I will be able to permanently prevent all other sentient beings from suffering in the future.

    I am fortunate to have had many amazing teachers along the way who managed to explain Venerable Geshe-La’s teachings in such a way that it was something that I was able to remember when the delusions overtook my mind. Thanks, again, Luna, for keeping the conversation going which helps reduce (and will hopefully eventually eliminate) the stigma of talking about mental illness. And how can the rest of you help others who might be struggling with depression? Just be there. Don’t panic. You don’t need to say anything; don’t need to offer advice. Maybe offer a hug. Have tea. LIsten. (Thanks for listening 😉)

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    1. Listening is such a gift! No judgment, just having another be fully present to you. I’m in nearly exactly your situation, Debbie, and it is a long hard lesson that we have been fortunate to receive. (Hard to feel that way in the dark of the morning). Sometimes we have to take medicine to be able to function with our intentions in the Dharma . . . forgive yourself. I think Geshela would say the same thing. If one is diabetic, one has to take insulin to be able to continue your practice. This is a good thing. No guilt. At times we need the good parts of western medicine so we are not completely helpless. I’m sure Buddha Shakyamuni does not want you or me to be completely helpless when we have the intention of lessening the suffering of all sentient beings. The Heart Sutra helps me (in English) every morning, as well as The 3 Principles of the Path . . . reminds me of all those appearances I foolishly try to grasp, and I let them go . . . into Dharmic flow that permeates in and between every molecule of your body. Today is a new beginning. The difficult lunar eclipse is subsiding. We are healing. I was advised to simply keep up my daily routine to come to balance. It will happen . . . peace

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  5. Going to friends to share one’s suicidal anxiety and depression has been a disaster for me. Friends stop calling. My brother heard of my dire medical situation and said right out Let’s Change the Subject. My son. My grandchildren. My father. My mother. My sister. I believe the reason no one can have a simple heart-to-heart talk to this traumatized 66-yr-old woman living at the poverty level, is . . . I remind them of their own mortality. And that while they disempower me with my many needs, and no one calls for 6 months . . . they must preserve their fantasies, and stop the law of cause and effect. Their ignorance scares them. They are getting old, and they just don’t get why they are here. Their fear becomes jealousy, I believe, that they know I have fought to sustain the core of my Tibetan Buddhist practice for over 18.5 years . . . and this has carried me through the burning burning off of so much of my negative karma that a lobotomy, and Electroshock Therapy came to mind. And the latter was encouraged by a health professional just the other night, near the lunar eclipse. My first husband had one and was dead in 6 months.

    My best solution is to daily improve my 24/7 routine of a healthy life. JUST KEEP GOING. KEEP DOING WHAT YOU DO EVERY DAY TO CARE FOR YOURSELF. Take BigPharma only if you know it will get you through for awhile. Wean yourself from them as soon as a crisis is balanced. Never take antipsychotics. Seroquel gave me Tardive Dyskinesia (like Parkinson’s in the face and jaw and neck). Get medical marijuana: easy in New Mexico and of course Colorado. Not Ohio. It has been legal for medical since 2016 and nothing has been done. Some of us need this as medicine. Do not feel guilty if you have taken the lay person’s vows concerning no intoxication. It is medicine, and I think my guru would feel the same way.

    To end on a positive note: READ JUDITH LIEF’S “MAKING FRIENDS WITH DEATH”, a slim simple Buddhist encouragement to have a happy death, and to help others have a happy death.

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