Buddhist and Christina Ethic on Suicide and Euthanasia
The ethical issues associated with suicide and euthanasia are often viewed through the secular eyes of our modern world, yet many of the issues that are a part of the reasons why an individual might be for or against suicide and euthanasia are based almost entirely upon religious ethics. In this work a comparison will be drawn between the Christian and Buddhist views of the ethics of suicide and euthanasia. Comparing these two faith's standards and moral guidelines regarding these two issues will demonstrate a greater understanding of the ethics and standards associated with the modern secular moral stand on the issue in a political and personal way. The Christian and Buddhist ethic on suicide and euthanasia demonstrate a historical perspective of a very ancient ethical dilemma and the similarities and differences of the outgrowth of social and cultural responses to it demonstrate a foundational picture of the current standards associated with faith and free will.
The contrasts and compromises that exist between the Buddhist ethical view of suicide and Christina ethical view of suicide are many and are often confused by the motive associated with the act. Within both the Christian and Buddhist traditions there is room for error on the part of the individual as some deaths, associated with martyrdom are acceptable but the general stand about suicide is almost universally negative in both faiths. (Harran 1993) the standard belief associated with the taking of ones own life is demonstrative of the misuse of human free will. It clearly goes against the plan of God and Universe to wantonly destroy a human life, as living things are meant to live and die at the will of a higher power or order yet, strangely the complications of doctrine and mythos of both the Christian and the Buddhist faiths demonstrate strange associations with suicide as acceptable and even honorable given the right circumstances and motivation. Ultimately, both faiths regard suicide as wrong without a direct sign of its purpose for the higher cause of faith.
Within this work several sources will demonstrate the tenets of the similarities and differences of the ethical view of both Christina and Buddhist on suicide. Within the Encyclopedia of Religion there is a basic overview of the standards of faiths upon issues regarding the taking of ones life. The Buddhist view will be farther examined through the work of Damien Keown, who details three examples of suicide in the Pali Canon of the Buddhist faith, and Carl Becker, who writes extensively on the issue of suicide and euthanasia from the Buddhist perspective. Additionally selected works by and about the famous church father Augustine will demonstrate the Christian ethic on suicide.
Within this work the foundational arguments against suicide, based on Christina and Buddhist ethic will be detailed through literary analysis. Moving forward from there the situations of questionable value with association to historical acts of suicide will then be detailed.
The summation of the work will detail a discussion of how the Christian and Buddhist faiths agree and disagree on the right and proper motive for suicide.
The whole of the work will attempt to begin a dialogue for the conceptualization of the differences and similarities within these two prominent faiths, so different yet strangely similar in many ways.
Although the Bible nowhere explicitly forbids suicide or its assistance, from almost the earliest moments of Christian society these acts were judged serious sins. Addressing the question in the fifth century, Augustine argued that intentional self-destruction not committed on direct instructions from God constituted a violation of the Sixth Commandment's instruction, "Thou shalt not kill."(155)
In comparison the Buddhist stand on suicide can be seen as equally strong and foundational.
In his 1922 entry on suicide in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, de La Vallee Poussin wrote: We have therefore good reason to believe (1) that suicide is not an ascetic act leading to spiritual progress and to nirvana, and (2) that no saint or arhat-- a spiritually perfect being-- will kill himself. (Keown 1996)
In addition the standards set by Buddhist philosophy make clear that suicide is not an escape from the inevitableness of life, as death and life are only transitional phases rather than the ends to a means.
Buddhism sees death as not the end of life, but simply a transition; suicide is therefore no escape from anything. Thus, in the early sangha (community of followers of the Buddha), suicide was in principle condemned as an inappropriate action. (Becker 1990)
Gracing the world with the life of the creator, be he God or Universe demonstrates the power of creation and the role one takes in the greater plan.
From the Buddhist perspective, the next rebirth might be as an animal preyed on and eaten by others, as a frustrated ghost, or in hell: so suicide may lead to something more "intolerably painful" than the present life." (Harvey 2000)
Within faith there are bound to be contradictions and questionable situations, especially with regards to the conflict between the free will of man and the plan of a greater power. Issues of life and death and the influence the individual has upon them are universally conflicting, in fact are possibly a composition of one of the most universally challenging questions regarding faith and the human role in life. The higher power has given us both the demands of living by the rules of faith law and also the demands of choosing, at least to some degree the way in which we will fulfill our role in the greater plan of existence.
Within the Buddhist canon there are several significant examples of situations regarding individuals who were revered for their own actions in taking their lives. In addition there are many examples of suicide demonstrated as martyrdom within the Christian faith. Some philosophers regard suicide as a largely non-religiously motivated act, demonstrative of an individual's weakness in the face of personal and social challenges.
On the whole, what we may term religiously motivated suicides constitute but a small portion of the total number of suicides. In his classic work Le Suicide, Emile Durkheim discussed the social causes for egoistic altruistic, and anomic suicide. His work and that of many scholars demonstrate that suicide has most often occurred for reasons other than religious ones. These include the desire to avoid shame, to effect revenge, to demonstrate one's disappointment in love, and to escape senility and the infirmities of old age. (Harran 1993)
As pointed out by Keown in his extensive work analyzing and comparing the suicide of Channa with those of the other two suicides detailed within the Pali Canon there is much scholarship associating with the acceptance of the self-inflicted death of Channa with a pronouncement of acceptance of suicide by Buddha. (Keown 1996) Though Keown does not agree with the scholarship accepting suicide as a reasonable answer to the Buddhist follower, the challenges to the foundational assumption that suicide is wrong or in the very least a futile act of avoidance by the wielder of the knife, there is also demonstrative proof that the acceptance of many things by the Buddha is based upon circumstances and motivation.
Dying for one's god is the only acceptable way in which a person may take a life, including that of his own.
To say that suicide is wrong because motivated by desire, moreover, is really only to say that desire is wrong. It would follow from this that someone who murders without desire does nothing wrong. The absurdity of this conclusion illustrates why a subjectivist approach to the morality of suicide is inadequate. Subjectivism leads to the conclusion that suicide (or murder) can be right for one person but wrong for another, or even right and wrong for the same person at different times, as his state of mind changes, and desire comes and goes. (Keown 1996)
Within this passage there is a clear sense of the vastness of the questions regarding both suicide and euthanasia. In the work of Becker there is a clear sense of the modern incarnations of old moral questions regarding suicide, as the world seeks a foundation from which to stand on the moral and ethical questions of the secular taboos against suicide.
Japan has long been more aware of and sensitive to the dying process than modern Western cultures. Moreover, Japan already has its own good philosophical and experiential background to deal effectively with "new" issues of p.547 bioethics, such as euthanasia. Japanese Buddhists have long recognized what Westerners are only recently rediscovering: that the manner of dying at the moment of death is very important. (Becker 1990)
Though Becker clearly points out the modern concerns associated with medical issues regarding death and dying, it is also clear that the cultural wash of historical views on death still influence the masses in their ability to accept and even inflict death upon themselves or others.
This fundamental premise probably predates Buddhism itself,…
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