by Peter Holleran
It is a well-known story that the famous Tibetan adept Milarepa
was brought to the brink of total despair eight times by his guru Marpa as atonement for his evil deeds. Even so, Marpa lamented that if he could have plunged his favored disciple into utter hopelessness one more time he would have saved him many years of suffering. Yet throughout his ordeal Milarepa never fundamentally lost faith in his master, and went on to become one of Tibet's most illustrious spiritual heroes. This type of situation is particularly evident in schools where the Satguru or Master - with the chela's
implicit or explicit permission - plays an intimate and crucial role in the latter's complete transformation, and where the disciple may have exquisite extremes of experience, possibly for years, not undergone by the average person or seeker. As written by Irena Tweedie, chronicling the ordeals she underwent with her Sufi master Bhai Sahib:
"There is only one Teacher; only one Spiritual Guide in the whole world for us. For only he alone is allowed to subject a free human being to sufferings and conditions; only he, and nobody else...Ancient karmas form part and parcel of the blood. It was in you. It would have dragged you back again and again into the womb, but from now on it will burn itself out. From time to time this fire will burn in your body. This is purifying fire, this suffering, and you will need a lot more."
"But..Bhai Sahib...I am afraid of new sufferings you may give me; it seems I have had enough of them by now." "Sufferings?" he asked. "You have not begun yet! It has still to come. On our line such suffering is given that there are no words for it....
[But] if you knew what I have in mind for your future, you would never cry, never be upset."
"I remember L. telling me that the disciple is subjected to such states of loneliness and longing that it could be almost suicidal. A great Master is needed to get the disciple through this state of separation."
"Then I noticed: the Great Separation was here...It is useless to try to describe it to someone who has never experienced it. It is a peculiar, special feeling of utter loneliness. I use the word 'special' intentionally, because it cannot be compared to any kind of feeling of loneliness we all experience sometimes in our lives."
"I am in complete darkness. I am in silence. My heart is crying for You. It is said that in silence and in darkness grows the seed. In all the Sufi books it is mentioned that after moments of great Nearness the heart is plunged in loneliness and even great depression sometimes."
This is similar to the Bible passage, "Before the soul is exalted, it is humbled, and before it is humbled, it is exalted." [Prv. 18:12])
What Tweedie described is an existential crisis, somewhat peculiar to but not solely reserved for various devotional or bhakti
paths, that is often not so easily resolved by forms of mental inquiry as some teachers and teachings today might suggest. Its roots lie deep in the soul, and is even suggested may be earned by the quester, perhaps as a gift at the hand of a true Master. Many others seekers have faced a similar bitter situation, even to the point of contemplating suicide, including Paul Brunton (PB), Muhammed, Elijah, Sri Ramakrishna, Rumi, St. Therese of Lisieux, Tukaram, Swami Rama Tirtha, and countless other saints and ordinary souls. Including Bhai Sahib mentioned above. Tweedie wrote that she told him that several times she was in such a despair that she felt like committing suicide. He replied: I was in this state many times with my Rev. Guru Maharaj. He never spoke to me in a kindly way...Many, many times...Now I can laugh, but then...it was not a laughing matter."
So a discussion of this issue, albeit an uncomfortable one, is appropriate and necessary here. Just so one is assured that many noble ones have gone through such a bleak passage and time of great suffering, the reader is referred to The Deeper Meaning of the Dark Night of the Soul
; one will, at the least, find that he is in good company, for many have reached and passed through such a point as he may find himself in. That article is a consideration of that which is an archtypal period of trial for those particular souls in whom it is a necessary part of their development. It greatly augments and broadens out the present piece and from which the student will hopefully profit from. The current essay likewise attempts to be exhaustive - and perhaps exhausting - demanding as much of the reader as it did from the writer - therefore, topic headings have been provided to break up ones study.
There are approximately one million suicides each year, and between ten and twenty million attempts, so it is a serious issue on this Earth - the so-called 'dustbin of the zodiac', a place where it is said hard lessons are learned and rapid spiritual progress is possible. The topic at hand is a most sensitive one, with serious consequences, and there is nothing but compassion
for those bent down by overmuch pain, whether for spiritual purposes, the ripening karma of lifetimes - or a traumatic upbringing (including one of the most pervasive yet invisible traumas such as a catastrophic birth) which has set up an imprint towards fear, self-hate, and the lack of the impulse to struggle against odds, a quality so needed to endure all that life brings our way. This article addresses the issue from several perspectives, including that of terminal illness. it is not a 911 manual, but addressed primarily but not exclusively to spiritual seekers brought low by their chosen destiny who still have the light of hope, however dim, and are in need of help. We first offer some insight into the spiritual aspects of pain, then practical guidance for dealing with negative thoughts and healing wounded feelings, followed by the words of many traditional sages on the subject, both comforting and sobering - albeit seemingly harsh - and lastly, some newer material with a more positive, non-judgemental perspective on both the motives and consequences of suicide.
Some Dimensions of the Quest: Existential and Psychological Pain
As a starting point, it might be said that there is conventional psychological pain, and a particular variety of this known in its pure form only by those on the spiritual quest. The two are in fact often combined.
At times of more strictly, spiritual ‘purgation’ - when the ego of a percentage of devoted souls is severely tested and confronted with its apparent demise - and which we are not speaking of an event that is the effect of one lifetime alone - nor which must occur for everyone - we are reminded of the words of St. John of the Cross:
"When this Divine contemplation assails the soul with a certain force, in order to strengthen it and subdue it, it suffers such pain in its weakness that it nearly swoons away..for sense and spirit, as if beneath some immense and dark load, are in such great pain and agony that the soul would find advantage and relief in death."
"There is.. an unpredictable element in the pattern of human life, which increases rather than decreases as the quality of that life rises above average. We see it markedly in the case of a maturing aspirant who has to undergo tests and endure ordeals which have no karmic origin but which are put across his path by his own higher self for the purpose of a swifter forward movement. They are intended to promote and not delay his growth, to accelerate and not impede his development. But they will achieve this purpose only if he recognises their true aim."
Sant Darshan Singh writes:
"We are people of little faith and fail to recognize and appreciate the hand which guides and which sustains. Hazur (Baba Sawan Singh Ji) used to say that once a saint has taken a soul under his wing, he is keen to compress the progress of twenty births into a single one. And if we desire to pack the accomplishments of twenty lives into a single one, we must pay for it."
PB similar writes:
"If his evolutionary need should require it, he will be harassed by troubles to make him less attached to the world, or by sickness to make him less attached to the body. It is then not so much a matter of receiving self-earned destiny as of satisfying that need. Both coincide usually but not always and not necessarily. Nor does this happen with the ordinary man so much as it does with the questing man, for the latter has asked or prayed for speedier development."
Yet many great beings have unanimously proclaimed the value of such periods of trial for the mature soul; the following quotes are powerful:
"That which hurts, but is profitable, is drunk by the wise like medicine. For the result,
afterwards attained, becomes incomparable."
“What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.
I could explain this,
but it will break the glass cover on your heart,
and there's no fixing that. ”
"If he could see his nothingness and his deadly, festering wound, pain would arise from looking
within, and that pain would save him."
"The Overself knows what you are, what you seek, and what you need...We sometimes wonder whether we can bear more,
but no experience goes too far until it crushes the ego out of a man, renders him as helpless as the dying person feels."
"The spiritual being will be born in the human soul, provided one willingly takes upon oneself
the burden and pain caused by Divine Love."
“The body is like Mary. Each of us has a Jesus, but so long as no pain appears, our Jesus is not
born. If pain never comes, our Jesus goes back to his place of origin on the same secret path he
had come, and we remain behind, deprived and without a share of him.”
- Meister Eckhart
This article, as mentioned, is basically about suicide from the point of view of the spiritual practitioner. Truly speaking, however, everyone is such a person at one level or another. We are all Spirit. As such we will not over-emphasize the offering of psychological advice, trying rather to point out some words of the wise on the matter and offer a few resources for one who finds themself in such a position. It is far too easy, moreover, to just say, as has traditionally been done, that it is the worst option possible. It may in fact not
be, according to some wise sources, yet there is much understanding that needs to go along with saying that. In the meantime, one needs to know that there is help, both visible and invisible, even though one may have seemingly tried all of the help he can find.
There is a fine line sometimes between a classic dark night of the soul, and a purely psychological issue. As spiritual beings, however, the latter is never solely the case. And in this day and age - not five hundred years ago, when St. John wrote his treatise - the 'fine line' may be gradually disappearing. It appears as is many souls are now incarnating with the intention of healing old wounds, which some argue has little or nothing to do with the quest or enlightenment; we feel otherwise, that the karmic clearing and the conscious awakening are not water-tight compartments, but interrelated. In any case, the pain of a person maybe as severe, be he conscious questor or not, only the understanding may differ. Therefore, in both cases, a purely psychological tack will not always work. Most often, a mixed approach is best: physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual. Having said that, it must be accepted that there is little in life that is as it seems, and much happening beneath the surface. And further, we are overestimating ourselves if we take responsibility for the suicide of another. Sometimes it just can't be helped, and the loved one must be held in a state of acceptance and compassion.
There are, however, many good, practical resources on this topic - of healing old and current wounds - regardless if one sees them as a symptom of holding a wrong view of the self, or a karmic momentum exascerbated by a harsh upbringing. We will mention some of those sources shortly. For those on the path, specifically, there are existential dimensions to the quest that can bring up powerful feelings of despair at times, in part because such a one has asked
for speedier development. That is one reason why it has traditionally been warned that there be respect for the ‘lions at the temple’s gate,’ before embarking on a spiritual journey. The benign company of the Master may be behind that which, while felt as a disaster, is really a healing in progress. “One does not begin to discover his spiritual miseries until they begin to be cured,”
said the wise Fenelon. And it might even be said that one might to beware of approaching such characters unless one is somewhat prepared to confront Truth rather than just personal satisfaction. Sri Nisargadatta spoke these fierce words:
"The inner guru is not committed to non-violence. He can be quite violent at times, to the point of destroying the obtuse or perverted personality. Suffering and death, as life and happiness, are his tools of work. It is only in duality that non-violence becomes the unifying law."
Disciples, sometimes close ones, of greats such as even Ramana Maharshi, Kirpal Singh, and more than a few other well-respected adepts, have committed suicide or gone schizophrenic, and while such events are rare and unfortunate and no intentional fault of the teachers, considering the thousands of disciples they have have had (and who also do not make it a common practice to 'spiritually invade' a person for their own good, and more often than not 'tone down' their transmission to more naturally interact with others), many more persons no doubt have faced great inner turmoil as their 'psychic wiring gets a restructuring' due to the effect of such potent company. The great teachers try their best to modulate their influence according to the needs of the student, but we would be dishonest if we failed to mention the existence of casualties along the way. Wherefore it has traditionally sometimes been advised that one not even approach such characters or embark on the journey if he is not prepared to go all the way, as deep wounds are opened that must eventually be healed. anadi states:
"Suffering is a fundamental characteristic of the earthly dimension. It does not occur exclusively during times of misfortune - it is the permanent shadow of the unawakened self...It is an existential condition so chronic in nature that unawakened minds simply cannot detect it...It is better not to begin the spiritual journey if we are not ready to complete it - better not to open the wound of unconsciousness if we are not determined to heal it fully."
It is likely that those reading a piece such as this have likely already chosen to go a ways down this road. Just as a preliminary suggestion, before we get down to the heart of this article, are offered a few insightful resources that may help those people teetering on the brink. Some of this introductory information has previously been presented in the article Doubt As A Doorway To The Divine
on this website, but not all, so please don't skim down too fast if it looks familiar, as there are some very important video clips not to be missed.
Practical steps that may help
Suicide, whether such an urge be in the spiritual seeker or average human being, has little chance of being dealt with outside of relationship. Which means either reaching out, or intervention. For those in a desperate situation, please read here words on Emergency Advice
. Effort has been made to present much in the following pages to offer help, guidance, perspective, and consolation. If personal strength, a glimmer of hope, and healthy doubt of oneself are still there, the following practical considerations and words of sages may prove useful, to both the would-be suicide and loved ones. Otherwise one may simply take this as information to be assimilated and filed away for a future that hopefully will never come.
We are not writing now of the nature of the ultimate self, or whether the ego is real or not. This is 'street talk' for the wounded and bewildered. One approach to therapy to get one past a rough patch, more mature than most in that it respects relative wisdom while striving to keep a spiritual perspective in mind, also avoiding what has come to be known as spiritual bypassing
- using a spiritual path as a way of avoiding life, common among seekers for whom often the fear of life is greater than even the fear of death - is described in the following excerpt from The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy
, in which one both supports and does not support the conditional or ego-self:
"We meet the client where they are. If they believe that they have a problem, and certainly there will be compelling evidence to support such an interpretation, we join them there and begin the process of intimately exploring what the actual experience of the "problem" is. As apparent problems are gradually unpacked and clients deepen in their self-intimacy, they will eventually encounter a profound sense of emptiness that has been fiercely defended against. They discover that their prior problems were all outcomes from and compensatory expressions of this defense against what at first appears to be annihilation and in time reveals itself as unconditional love. When we believe that we are not enough, we think, feel, and act in all kinds of ways that create suffering for ourselves and others. Yet even this avoidance of emptiness is not seen as a problem. It is simply a misunderstanding of our true nature that is fundamentally empty - of everything we have taken to be true about ourselves and the world. This misunderstanding is also part of the divine play. Facing emptiness either will or will not occur depending upon the motivation and readiness of the client. It is not up to the therapist, who is free of any agenda, to change things as they are."
Jeff Brown, in the book, Soulshaping, speaks of 'ascending with both feet on the ground.' For the soul will always come back for what is left behind. He writes:
"Although appearing spiritual, bypassers are actually cut off from various aspects of reality. By turning away from old pain, they shackle themselves with their unresolveds. With their head in the clouds, they cannot see where they are walking. This may be a tool for survival for a time, but real growth demands that we come back down to earth and face our demons. We have to grow down, to grow up....Any movement away from reactivity is a movement towards our truth...Knowing why you do something is not enough to heal you....If we do not deal with the emotional body itself, there is very little chance of healing our defensive patterns”...(8) In some sense, the word enlightenment is misleading. It is no more about the light than the dark. In Carl Jung's words, "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." Resisting the shadow just makes it darker. We must turn toward it - honor the nervous breakthrough with great regard! - so that we can taste the reality that waits on the other side. It is not about becoming permanently blissful. It is about becoming more authentic, more genuinely here. It is about holding the light and the shadow all at once. Perhaps we should call it enrealenment, or enheartenment? Moving forward on the path demands that we develop a positive, working relationship with our discomfort. In a distracted world, pain is a direct portal to the real. In addition to the lessons it teaches us, it can open the gate to Buddhaland."
He issues a caveat:
"On the healing journey, many of us devote a lot of our energy to healing our trauma. Sometimes we are focussed on our pain for many years without experiencing any real pleasure. But when we are ready, we have to remember to invite pleasure into our daily experience. Good feelings are a manifestation of our healing, but they are also essential to it. Pleasure nourishes and strengthens us. This is often missed in the therapeutic movement."
This is important. The darkness can only ultimately be shed by bringing in more light. It is not all
about making the darkness conscious. The spiritual path is also one of Hope. That is why a relationship with a Master who is the embodiment of that Light is such a help, if one be so fortunate. We all need help for embracing the kind of wound, the emptiness, 'that only God can heal'. PB writes:
"It is not within the power of man to finish either the purificatory work or its illumination-sequel: his Overself, by its action within his psyche, must bring this about. This activating power is grace."
"Ask for your share of the divine nectar and it shall not be withheld from you. Indeed, those who have turned from the peaceful hearth that is their due, to move through the gloomy houses of men to dispense it, have done so because of the dark flood of secret tears that break daily through the banks of human life."
In its most pathological form, a result of deep imprints from birth, or many repeated such births with the creation of negative elemental thought-forms surrounding the self, the fear of life - also found in many 'spiritual bypassers' in a lesser form - can become something reminiscent of the "sickness unto death" written of by Kierkegaard:
"The torment of despair is precisely this - not to be able to die... not as though there was hope for life; no, the hopelessness in this case is that even the last hope, death, is not available. When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life; but when one becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful danger, one hopes for death. So when the danger is so great that death has become one's hope, despair is the disconsolateness of not being able to die."
This is certainly about as low as one can go. It is unfortunately very difficult to impart the will to live to somebody who no longer possesses it. We know that. No amount of logic, reasoning, or reminders about all they have to live for will likely put a smile back on the face of a loved one who is seriously contemplating suicide.
Yet even for the bleakest of cases there is hope. There are guardian angels and many benign and helpful presences looking over each and every soul, besides human help and that of the masters. One needs only the will, the faith, to remain open to it. And even if one doesn't have that, the help will still be there. There is no predicting the ultimate outcome of a personal action. Those who have been on a spiritual path may also be facing not only the above disappointments but also the regret or dissillusionment of not having made the progress they were hoping for, of feeling lost, being separate from their master or even their own soul. That such is not the real truth may be little comfort at such an impasse. [We will visit the point about one's form of practice itself being an impediment in a little while].
There are, nevertheless, several things that many can still do before the most dire, critical point is reached. One is, as suggested, to (carefully), in relationship with a trusted counsellor
, feelingly explore the roots of his pain, particularly that which is deeply repressed or denied, and try to put words to it
. If one feels deeply enough the words will come by themselves. This is important to create a conscious connection between different levels of the brain. Feeling basic, primal feelings such as fear, sorrow, shame, and anger (which are covered over by what can be called 'protectors', such as boredom, doubt, discomfort, procrastination, avoidance, shyness), and ultimately the hurt and need that underlies them, enables much of ones current story that has been overlaid or constructed as a defense against these feelings to begin to dissipate. However, this may be too difficult at an extreme juncture. And it has the danger that it may increase identification with the very imbedded story that is fueling the continuation of the pain. Scott Kiloby addresses this with some wise advice in two short talks, Coming out of the Deficiency Closet
and Suffering Consciously
. He advises directly allowing the feelings, the suffering, without trying to make it go away, but not
to put words to it. This has its advantages for some in that it keeps one out of the analyzing and ruminating head. However, there is something to say for connecting the heart (feelings) and the head (understanding). Repressed feelings have meanings encoded in them. Making them conscious is key. Moreover, there is a difference between describing, uncovering, and releasing feelings and dwelling on them. This is a large topic beyond the scope of this article. A good book on the subject is The Mandala of Being by Richard Moss.
Non-dual teacher Jeff Foster writes about deep listening and acceptance as a key when offering support for persons facing depression and/or suicide
, that may help clarify the nature of the self that wants to die and the self that really wants to live.
Another approach for this ground-level work, basic psychological sadhana or 'housecleaning', is a more cognitive one. Here one observes his thought patterns, again becoming conscious of his protectors, as well as habitual modes of mentalizing, such as "catastrophizing," "black or white thinking","emotional reasoning", "mind-reading", "inferiority", "superiority", "not good enough", etc.. This can also be combined with mindfulness, and, in fact, is a psychological off-shoot of the mindfulness tradition. These lead him to the next necessary thing, which is to act in new ways to make these habits what could be called "obsolete by non-use." A key technique here is "opposite action," or "act as if." For example, if one is always avoiding something, he would go and do it anyway in spite of his fear. This may take many tries. But eventually, as Mark Twain said, "Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain." The point is that taking action eventually will create new feelings, which are more transformative than only changing thought patterns.
A participant in a Twelve-Step program had this to say about the power of 'opposite action':
“What I've learned is that taking action is almost always the gateway into feeling better. Rarely have I been able to think my way into different behavior or results, instead it's only when I take action (especially when I don't want to) that things begin to shift, and I begin feeling better.The program, like life, doesn't work when I'm into thinking, only when I'm into action. It's interesting how, even with this knowledge and experience, my mind still tells me not to do the things that will make me feel better. Often I'd rather watch TV than go to a meeting, rest after work than go to the gym, procrastinate rather than take action. The good news, though, is that it always works out for the best when I go ahead and take action anyway. Whenever I bring my body, my mind always follows...”
"Do the thing and you shall have the power,"
adds Emerson. What power? A power of the Soul. Develop that power and you regain your Soul, says Anthony Damiani. And, as someone once said, "in order to change one not only must be sick and tired of being sick and tired, but also brave enough to try something new in the face of an uncertain outcome." This will take some time. Some, unfortunately, have such a wounded background or have reached a point where they just do not feel up to this, with any benefits seeming paltry and insignificant compared to the effort required. Yet endurance
is an essential part of the path, and one is advised to take it to the 'count of nine', and keep getting up. Again, changes of behavior can eventually change feelings which will make the personal overlay called the 'story' with its attendant psychological suffering less and less insistent. Nevertheless, none of these methods, however useful, will bypass an inevitable confrontation with ones darker side or 'shadow material', as well as fundamental existential position. Such action will in fact likely produce a sense of vulnerability, and deeper, core feelings may arise. If one goes deep enough, he may even recognize fear as a 'protector', protecting the separative self-sense from the experience of what seems like an empty void. Holding these feelings in the light of awareness, while painful, is the direct way to move beyond them and their crippling effects, and, in essence, to distinguish consciousness from its sensations. This, then, will reach beyond mere psychology into a spiritual dimension. Yet perhaps this is too hard also. One hopes for honest tears to help dissolve the hard crust of ego and its pain. Fear is perhaps the most difficult because it often cannot be cried out, although there may be tears beneath it. It can be either a 'protector' or
a core feeling. In either case one usually needs the help of someone who can be there in a supportive, skillfull, and non-judgemental way for one to safely go into the depths of these feelings. Alice Miller explains:
"Living with the fear" (or any other painful feeling) simply means letting the discomfort remain in your body, without trying to get rid of it.
[Cognitive Behavioral therapists call this "radical acceptance", i.e., what you 'do' when nothing else works; Eckhart Tolle also recommends this when feeling the ‘Presence’ seems beyond ones capacity] This is very hard to do; we have spent our lives automatically attempting to protect ourselves. Changing to unconditional acceptance will take time and effort. It means being willing to maintain almost constant vigilance over what you are feeling and allowing to happen to you, day after day, hour after hour. Surrendering to something you have always unconsciously believed could kill you is something that can be done only little by little. It will take both time and energy."
Richard Moss similarly writes:
"If, as you step back into the Now position, you cannot find the compassion to see others as they are and accept them that way, if instead the old stories keep pulling you out of your beginning and into resentment or hurt, it is because underneath these painful feelings lurks an even more threatening feeling, one of the untamed emotions. Perhaps it is a core feeling of worthlessness, or a terrible sensation of abandonment that has crystalized into a belief...This primal fear will not go away simply because you can recognize the falseness of your you stories. You cannot truly come back to the beginning of yourself until this feeling is fully met and held in the Now....When we begin to consciously face feelings that do not immediately dissipate even when they are no longer reinforced by thought, it means we are uncovering fears that our faith is not yet great enough to allow. We are getting to the root of our present survival structures. This is deep work, the darkest hour before the dawn. But even at the darkest times, the power of awareness abides: we are always larger than what we are aware of. By trusting this truth and resting in the Now of ourselves, embracing anything at all that we feel, we steadily build muscle until we are no longer accepting our limited identities, no longer the victims of our stories about others. More and more, we live authentically in the fullness of our beings."
anadi also emphasizes the potential limitation of strictly regressive approaches:
"On the whole, psychological therapies are based on the false assumption that we can be transformed by manipulating the subconscious, or by becoming more conscious of the unconscious. They fail because they give too much power to the past. By overemphasizing our personal history, they perpetuate our dependence on it rather than freeing us from it. For example, by delving too deep into childhood issues we can actually reactivate memories that are no longer relevant to our present identity...It is certainly important to address past issues, but only productive if we are empowered by the Now."
In short, these approaches are leading the client to: accept the energy of fear, embrace the wisdom of no escape, and merge with the seemingly empty space of non-being or impending doom when it arises. Again, this is very hard to do, particularly in human isolation.
A large note of caution is needed here about entering into various regressive therapies, such as rebirthing, holo-tropic breathing, primal therapy, etc., when one is in a precarious position. There have been many successes with these approaches but also many failures. And, for people on the edge, or undergoing a period in their sadhana or spiritual practice where there is lot of pain, extreme pain, and where they may be tempted to go into it further to advance or accelerate their process or progress, this may can be very counter-productive. A wise spiritual friend of mine wrote to me during such a period of my life:
"I did not imagine that you were thinking about doing deep-feeling therapy, but rather was responding to you wonderings about whether you were resisting just feeling it all more fully, and maybe you should/could try to go deeper into it, so to speak. I would call the general process of purging/catharsis/deep-feeling/etc. a process of uncovering what is in the subconscious, by whatever method or at whatever rate, and I wanted to make the point of discouraging any version of that right now, even on your own such as just simply intentionally feeling the body, emotions and pain directly for any significant period of time. Even that is probably best kept to a minimum right now so that things can calm down. I understand it is hard to ignore it like that. But one can at least not energize it too much with more direct attention."
"I believe that one of the most important limitations of the practice of most modern forms of psychotherapy (and other growth systems besides many of the spiritual ones) is the lack of understanding of reincarnation. Daskalos once said (and I am paraphrasing to make his point more clear) that 85% percent of an adult's character and psychological content is brought over from previous lives. Some of it is, as they say 'kriyaman karma', or freshly acquired in this life - from new thoughts, emotional reactions, traumas, karmic decisions, and so no. But the rest of the content of the character and subconscious is from the past. I would say that for many it is probably more than 85%. So based on my feeling about you and what you said above, particularly about how early and strongly you felt shut down, drained, blocked, etc., is that mostly this pain in your subconscious is from previous lives. And, as you know, when there is significant pain, then defense mechanisms work subconsciously to defend against the pain, and the body shuts down, more or less, in proportion to the pain. This cuts off emotional freedom of expression and vitality, which get blocked as well with the presence of defense mechanisms. Blocking out painful feels also blocks out positive ones as well."
"During one of the first training workshops I did in my Psychosynthesis training with Martha Crampton she said something that has stuck with me. She said something like: defense mechanisms get a bad rap - but they are very important. They serve to defend us from feeling pain and subconscious material that could be overwhelming if experienced too quickly. I would add to that that it is best not to think of defense mechanisms as necessarily a rigid boundary. They may be viewed more like a valve that gradually releases material/karma to be healed/released/transformed. Sometimes the valve gets stuck and we need to do something to open it up more. But experiencing significant pain is a sign it is open all it needs to be right now. It is not the defense mechanism that shut us down somewhat that is the problem - it is the karma they are helping us manage. And that can usually only be healed gradually."
"But because we can be cut off from our feeling nature by them [i.e., our defense mechanisms], our sense of feeling dead, blocked, shut down, depressed and so on can lead to feeling frustrated and wanting to just open it all up. But sadly, too many of us are simply not ready to open up very quickly. We are on a longer road to healing. So patience, trust and acceptance of the situation become our best friends, waiting for the day when our healing is far enough along that we can be more open again, with greater feeling, life enthusiasm and vitality."
"In summary I am saying a few simple things: one is that I feel what you are going through is mostly part of a deep cleansing of the subconscious, a lot of which material comes from past lives. And that you are not remiss or missing an opportunity if you don't try to go deeper into the feelings. Better not that direction right now - focus more on the positive, as hard as that might be. And accept yourself that this is all you can do. You are not failing yourself or anyone else that this is your situation and all you can do. Try to trust in the process and in Grace and hang in there."
"In my experience, sometimes there are deep karmic pains that are either not too 'big', or are ripe for healing, so that we can engage in some type of cathartic process, directly opening or entering into it, and thus facilitate a healing or breakthrough of some sort. But at other times the karma is not yet ripe for this kind of approach, and so in those instances to work in that way with the karma/emotions/pain will not only not lead to a short-term healing, but can open us up too much to these feelings and cause greater pain than necessary. It needs to be worked off more gradually. This is a part of psychological and spiritual healing that I don't think has been well understood and can lead to problems or make things worse. So I counsel caution about this and suggest people generally use other strategies, particularly trying to keep busy and to do what one can to get one's mind off of the pain (as it tends to be intensified with awareness), and, if possible, to focus on positivity rather than embracing the pain. I know this sounds contrary to some modern sources, but it is becoming more and more widely recognized. For instance, there is a book called 'Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness' that recognizes these issues. Daskalos was very keen about emphasizing that this is really no different than concepts like opening up one's chakras prematurely."
"Of course, much suffering cannot be avoided on the path. So I am not saying that we don't need to work with pain, face the shadow, purge and purify karma, etc. Only that we try to maintain some balance. But if someone is experiencing substantial suffering already, it is often not valuable to escalate that by trying to connect more fully with it. Focus on ordinary and positive thoughts and actions as much as possible. When Jack Kornfield was in Asia he saw a woman come to his teacher with great suffering. She couldn't sleep and was racked with pain. So the teacher had her do 'jhana' practices, deeply concentrating on something positive or neutral and putting the suffering out of her mind. When she left Kornfield asked the teacher why he didn't recommend vipassana, which he thought was the cure-all and ultimate Buddhist practice, and a Buddhist form of, among other things, allowing the subconscious to purge. The teacher said that she was suffering too much already, and that vipassana would make it worse. But trying to engage in positive action and thought is sometimes more accessible to some people. She did this practice for some time and was able to balance out her suffering somewhat, and then he gave her vipassana to do. Note: she was, perhaps, a "lucky one" and fortunate enough to be able to do a practice like that; not everyone is. This is a good example of this type of wisdom, one which the Western sangha, and even the psychological community, is sometimes not adequately aware of. Work like primal scream, holotrophic breathwork, rebirthing, etc. can useful to many people and not good for others."
The debate over therapy as an adjunct versus 'pure' practice is succinctly contrasted in the following two, well-written articles: Even the Best Meditators Have Old Wounds to Heal, by Jack Kornfield, and Still Crazy After All These Years: Why Meditation Isn't Therapy, by Patrick Kearney. Both sides have their merits. However, in respect with what is being discussed here the prospect of just 'gutting it out' with one's sadhana is not likely a realistic option.
One final note on practicalities of taking care of oneself. Attention must also be directed to maintaining a healthy brain and body. Rest is important, as is exercise and diet. There are many 'neutracuticals' proven to be effective in reducing depression, improving cognitive functioning, and boosting general health. There is not space here to go into this in detail, but a good beginning is found in the book, Buddha's Brain
, by Rick Hanson. In serious cases conventional medication may be a necessary consideration. See Medicate or Meditate
, in Buddhadharma
, Spring, 2009, by physicians Roger Walsh, Robin Bitner,
Bruce Victor, and Lorena Hillman, for an important discussion of this issue. However, it must be pointed out that much evidence shows that commonly prescribed SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors), such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, etc., which prevent the metabolism by the body of serotonin on the theory
that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin in the brain (but for which most patients are not actually tested for), are associated with an increase in the rate of violent behavior, anxiety, and suicide
. Big pharmaceutical company warnings only state that 'these drugs might increase the risk for violence and suicide in children under the age of eighteen', but my understanding that the reason they stipulate eighteen is because there hasn't been adequate testing for the effects on people over that age. Evidence is in that a lot of the mass-shooters
have been on these drugs. So theoretically, it seems reasonable to assume, anyone is at some risk when taking them. There is also such a thing as serotonin syndrome - too much serotonin, which is also not a good thing
Another issue to consider is that these drugs have have been shown in a number of studies to be no more effective than a placebo - usually with the caveat of "except in the case of severely depressed individuals". How that can be so is unclear - i.e., what is the mechanism of action in severely depressed individuals that is not present in the less depressed? I don't think anybody knows. The recommendations, useful or not, seem based on clinical results alone, and not hard scientific data.
Of course, the placebo effect can be very powerful. Perhaps the most amazing example was in one case study where sham knee surgery was performed (the patient was anesthetized, an incision was made, and closed, but nothing else was done) and produced the same results as actual surgery; this in fact led the participating surgeon to question if he wanted to continue in his profession!
In a double-blind study on the anti-depressant drug Effexor a woman who had been taking the drug for a long time was given a placebo, but when later told that was what she had been taking absolutely refused to believe she had not had the real thing, for all of the usual symptoms, effects - and side effects - she had when taking actual Effexor had occurred. So the irony is that the drug may have actually been useful - but not for the reasons claimed by marketing. I am not a professional so cannot recommend one way or the other on this issue. Other newer therapies for depression such as TMS or Trans-Cranial-Magnetic stimulation are promising and without major reported side effects. So please do your own research).
When spiritual practice may be part of the problem
This brings us to another important issue, which is that the very approach one takes towards spiritual life may itself
be the problem leading to despair. In this respect those under the influence of a partial or incorrect teaching may be in a similar position to those in helping professions such as psychiatry and medicine, where higher than normal suicides rates have been said to exist, perhaps to an extent due to a failure to fulfill healing expectations as a result of following incomplete or inadequate paradigms of health and healing. Even today there are teachers whose spiritual philosophy likewise leads seekers into overdoing practices that are helpful in moderation but harmful in the extreme. We speak about types of meditation or yoga which pursues the 'inner self' in either an ascetic or exclusively
mystical way. If approached in a mature, balanced manner without wordly escapism, with a healthy psyche, under the guidance of a genuine adept, one may safely pursue this to its logical end. (16) Inasmuch as Atman or Brahman, the Self, the All and Everything, the Truth, is ultimately neither within or without, and is always present, however, such a path is still a halfway-house, chiefly useful for developing concentration and tranquility of mind which can then be used to inquire into or more deeply contemplate Truth. But if one seeks to avoid the world in an overly strategic way, forgetting that it, too, is Brahman or 'God', then he may be, in a sense, heading for a fall or form of madness. In the medieval ages this was criticized as "Quietism". But in the twenty-first century, it can lead to schizophrenia, psychosis, or mental breakdown if not coupled with emotional balance and a full understanding of self and world. A recent medical study also argued that meditation retreats can be bad for your mental health - because unconscious fears, etc., can come to the surface. Which is actually what traditionally is accepted as part of what will happen! It is a complicated and difficult issue. Philosopher V.S. Iyer wrote:
"The right person will get his mind concentrated and sharpened by yoga, the wrong one will get it dulled and weakened...Samadhi is useful as a discipline to mystics to help to subdue the ego and to control emotions, thus fitting themselves partly for philosophic discipline. But if they overdue it they go insane...A peculiar difficulty confronts those engaged in attempting to stop all thought and invert on the inner self as the ultimate goal. There is a lack of understanding of truth involved. The logical end of the suppression of the senses is to commit suicide and be finished with them."
Fourteen hundred years ago the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Hui-Neng, similarly spoke:
"Good and learned friends, I also know some who teach people to sit and look into their minds as well as to look at purity, so that the mind will not be perturbed and nothing will arise from it. Devoting their efforts to this, deluded people fail to become enlightened; consequently they are so attached to this method as to become insane. There have been several hundred such cases. Therefore I know that to teach people this way is a great mistake."
Drastic words, perhaps, but containing a truth worth pondering seriously. The logical end of such meditation is 'suicide' of a sort - the end of life as we know it. It is not the completion of the philosophical 'life', but the exclusively mystical 'death', such as in nirvikalpa samadhi. Even so, few attain it, and fewer yet understand it if they do. Nor may its classic trance form be necessary, or, for most people, even possible, anymore. We have opted for an integrated life in the world, are not born ascetics, and the intuited essence of the thoughtless nirvikalpa state may be had without full inversion through inquiry. PB, a student of Iyer, spoke of this traditional problem more positively in several ways. One is a word of caution not to expect or be overly dismayed if one does not have a rapid, linear form of spiritual progress:
“The expectation that progress will be constant and steady fills many beginners until time and experience teach otherwise. They have failed to allow for the possibility that there may be steps back and aside as well as interminably long pauses. Some go still farther and expect Grace, whether direct or through a master, to come prematurely or to work some spiritual conjuring-trick and change their nature almost overnight. The error of these egoistic expectations should be replaced by the correct attitude, which is hope. This is inspired by nothing less than the Overself. It is a genuinely intuitive leading. But it must be followed in patience and without imposing the ego's false emotions upon it.”
He also distinguishes between a ‘Long Path’ of self-effort, discipline, and purification, that needs at some point, either at the outset or later depending on the ripeness or need of a person, to be dropped and/or concurrently practiced with a ‘Short Path’ of faith in Being and reliance on Grace:
“On the Long Path the aspirant tries to improve himself. He experiences successes and failures, ups and downs. When he is disappointed, he gets melancholy. On the Short Path such a situation cannot arise, because he has faith like a little child. He has given up all his future to Overself-God and he has enough faith to trust to it. He knows he has made the right decision and therefore is always happy. He depends on this GRACE, he knows It, that It comes from the wisest being behind the world. Whatever will come, it will be the best. He is always relying on the Overself and having the joy in it.”
“The Short Path is a cheerful Path, a Path of happiness. Just before this begins, the aspirant may experience the Dark Night of the Soul
[some today prefer to use the terms Self or Being rather than Soul, to avoid any cultural misinterpretation]. He feels utterly helpless, has no feeling of spiritual Reality. It is a melancholy time - no feeling of spirituality or longing for it. He is neither worldly nor spiritual. He feels alone and abandoned and separated by a wall from his Guru. He feels God has forgotten him. This dark night may last a short time or long years. He is unable to read spiritual things, or think about them. There is no desire for ordinary things either. He feels sad and disappointed and may even try suicide. In this unhappiness even those who love him cannot bring him comfort. In both hemispheres, Western and Eastern, there is a saying: the night is darkest just before dawn. He is on the lowest point. After that, the Short Path brings back the Joy - just like clouds moving away from the Sun.”
“The best advice is, first, that it will not last forever; he must have patience. Second, he must have hope. Then he reaches a better level than ever before. The Dark Night of the Soul does not come to every seeker. It is like a shadow thrown by the Sun. When the Sun appears in the subconscious, the shadows arise. But it is the beginning of a great inner change. It is not a wasted time; there is a great deal of work going on - but in the subconscious - to root out the ego. It is being done by the Overself. It is a sign of Grace, but the aspirant nevertheless feels unhappy.”
Therefore, if one is frustrated by a lack of anticipated progress in attaining what he had hoped was the glorious goal, he would do well to inspect if he is involved in an unnatural approach, and whether truth lies in another direction than his expectations. Various preconceived views about realization may have often held up seekers for years in a futile attempt to willfully divide their human and divine natures. If one has become tired, therefore, and bereft of 'the patience needed to empty the ocean with a teaspoon', he is ready for another way. Then he may let go of his worry about 'getting there', and start from scratch as a simple child of the universe, knowing that he has a right to be here and all is well. And begin to study the right books and find good company that doesn't reinforce such an abberated course. You are as a fish swimming in water and even now are in the divine arms whether you know it or not. Hurry and worry never helped anybody.
Even in this day and age there have been popular meditation masters giving such advice as, "children up to the age of five should be blindfolded in order not to be polluted by worldly sense impressions." Yes, that will be the result, and they will also not learn anything and become raving neurotics if not psychotics as well! Another who we respect from time to time tells his followers "to meditate five, ten, or more hours a day." That, too, is crazy advise, especially if one is not able to even meditate relatively successfully for twenty to thirty minutes. So, for those involved in such an endeavor, question whether you KNOW what you are attempting to achieve is truth and whether your means to get there is also true. This alone can not be overemphasized. The first rung of the Buddha's Noble Eight-Fold Path happens to be "right view", which translates as, "if you don't know what you are trying to achieve how will you recognize it if you get there?"
Further, as anadi points out:
"The spiritual path is not to be perceived as a way to escape the world. The human in us has to become fulfilled through a total experience of life in order to reach completion. Many seekers are actually driven by their fear of life, not a deep longing for awakening. To proceed on the path, however, we need to be well-grounded in the world and free of fear...By developing a harmonious connection to the world we begin to experience it as a place of fundamental goodness where we can reach spiritual awakening and completion...The purpose of evolution..is not only to reach self-realization, but to become whole... Far from being an escape from the difficulties of human life, the way to wholeness involves the completion of many aspects of our human existence: purification of the subconscious mind, emotional healing, psychological maturation, the development of a harmonious connection with the world, the fulfillment of core desires, and the ending of karma...For the soul to become whole, she must.. align her human identity with her awakening process. She has to reach maximal integrity within her human personality before she is free to realize herself, for unless the personality matures to the highest level of wisdom and purity, she cannot integrate her human incarnation with her eternal essence. The human conscious of the soul must be refined to the point that it can serve as a suitable vehicle for her awakening and transcendance."
This appears like a radical departure from traditional spiritual teachings: emotional healing, fulfill core desires? But it is just so. The emphasis here is not on every compulsive negative desire, but essentially benign core human desires, not the least of which are soul aspirations, or what might be called needs of the whole being. This is a positive message. Thus, all is important, and there is no way to bypass basic human development on the path to liberation. Even the ego, when seen, as PB puts it, "as none other than the presence of the World-Mind in one's own heart," is given the okay and not what some have called 'death by Advaita'. In fact, the ego can not die. It certainly can not kill itself, even if it wanted to. One can experience its absence, in samadhi, satori, or sleep - but there is no problem with its presence. It is fundamentally not a dilemma, despite many teachings which make it out to be the 'great unpardonable sin'. It is a necessary functional self-referrant. Some teachings would make self-referencing a crime. Yet it is the evolutionary precursor to the desire to know oneself as a limitless, free soul, with its own inner wisdom and strength, whose individuality is retained even in the Oneness of its true Home. This lowly ego is actually part of the natural intelligence of Being, and the active agent on the quest, and can certainly peacefully and without a problem coincide with the sense of ourself as unbounded, unconditioned, apparently impersonal, and one with all that exists. If not, why not? Especially if, as some teachers argue, it is not real, or doesn't even exist - what need then is there to bother oneself about it?! It is only 'me', and what is wrong with 'me'? We see nothing the matter with it. Let it live, it is not a mistake. Excessive egoism
may be undesirable, but even this is largely the product of an unawakened, wounded character, and therefore still nothing to judge. For what is judged becomes separated, and what is separated cannot be healed. But the ego itself is not misidentification or error, although it has traditionally been regarded that way for thousand of years. One may misidentify with
it exclusively, in which case it may appear, for a time, as a crafty opponent. That much we can say. The human inevitably will
be led to depart from much of the animal within him, but without divorcing the human from the divine
. We therefore prefer to see the ego as the product of a long evolution rather than 'endless eons of karmic bondage'. Many on the quest have been stranded and shipwrecked on the shoals of such negative and partial teachings. Time for the battle to stop, for the millenia of dissociative war against the self to be counterbalanced by the universal mother energy of complete embrace and acceptance.
Traditional admonitions often given: helpful or harmful?
Let us now what a number of sages say on the issue of suicide. We know we are on dangerous ground when broaching this subject of practical ethics and morals. And we judge no one for what they feel compelled to do or have done. "There but for the Grace of God go I" remains our only justified attitude. No one can read into the deep heart of another, even the sages, who while sometimes speaking strongly on this matter, also do not judge.
The traditional argument against suicide is that, since obtaining a human birth is such a gift and opportunity, that voluntarily ending it out of fear, depression, even extreme physical or emotional pain or hopelessness, is not the wisest choice. Yet there are those few who, having tried all available help, still feel overwhelming loss and despair, and upon whom blame is not to be cast. True, it must be accepted that it is karma, the cosmic will, the cooperation of Nature, and even certain 'pre-birth' planning that have contributed to producing the particular birth, upbringing and character one has been granted, which may be a hard and bitter pill to swallow. Such a life may be much more challenging than most, no doubt. The Master's life is the same in this respect; he must endure much more if he is to be of real help to others. Yet we do not accept the words of those who say that God will punish or is punishing such a person. One’s own higher or true Self will arrange circumstances in whatever way will be for ones ultimate good, however hard it may be - and perhaps even harder than it would have been if the present life were allowed to play itself out to the end. Or perhaps not, in some cases.
We will not try to motivate such persons solely out of fear, however, as in theosophy where it has been said that a person committing suicide, it being such a strong tendency, will commit suicide in four more lives. Such a pronouncement invites an infinite extension, for here we essentially have a cause becoming a future effect, which then becomes the cause of another future effect: which means that cause and the effect are the same, which is a logical contradiction. All we really have are two distinct appearances. Even granting a causation, how do we know that such a cause will produce the same effect? There could be other consequences. Even more, how would one know which of those four lives one was in, and would not each successive act of suicide have to produce another four such lifetimes, such that there would be no end to such a destiny? Such is implied in this rather heartless declaration:
"If a man commits suicide he leaves the physical body but his soul will not enter into the astral region. With his astral body he will remain in the physical world. Such souls don't get any help since they did not help themselves to overcome the negative effects during their life. These souls begin to live with other souls who already committed suicide. They live at certain places, which are called 'haunted places'. Since they could not solve their purpose of human life, they left their body in negative condition. All such souls become corrupt and they work for the negative power. They further influence weak and emotional people and lead them to suicide."
- Dr. Harbhajan Singh.
That drastic, damning, and divisive conclusion we also can not accept. An opportunity has been missed, however, with the desired outcome generally not considered the most favorable one. The masters will certainly help, as will also countless benign presences within the infinite Being of God, but only as allowable within the constraints of karma. They may, as Swami Rama put it, 'place a comma' in one's destiny, altering it somewhat in a more benign direction, but they can not eliminate it all. This no doubt stresses the naturally compassionate human heart to its limits, but it appears to be the case. A number of saints have, therefore, given similar forceful, sobering denunciations; yet, it cannot be said enough, that we - and they - have only compassion for all concerned. The following statements may seem harsh and judgemental, but it must be remembered they were addressed directly to someone in particular, in their best overall interests. Still, we will offer some newer perspectives on the matter, more apparently positive and accepting. Perhaps one of the more reasoned arguments is from PB:
"When suffering has reached its zenith or frustration is drawn out too long, when the heart is resigned to hopelessness or the mind to apathy,people often say that they do not want to live any more and that they await the coming of death. They think only of the body's death, however. This will not solve their problem, for the same situation - under another guise - will repeat itself in a later birth. The only real solution is to seek out the inner reality of their longing for death. They want it because they believe it will separate them from their problems and disappointments. But those are the ego's burdens. Therefore the radical separation from them is achievable only by separating permanently from the ego itself. Peace will then come - and come forever."
Anandamayee Ma more bleakly stated:
"One who commits suicide enters such a deep darkness out of which it is very difficult to be liberated. One may remain in it for ages, unless someone who has power has compassion and frees one from it. Suicide is a heinous sin. In that condition one cannot meet anyone
[in the after life]. The human body is born in order to enjoy and suffer the fruit of one's deeds of former birth. To try to escape from this by suicide is most foolish and only prolongs the agony indefinitely. No one who is in his senses can take his life; at the moment of doing such a thing the person is out of his mind. Suicide does not solve anything, on the contrary."
Vipassana master Dipa Ma said:
"Depression and suicidal feelings are a disease. It happens sometimes even to a highly developed meditator. Try to develop a practical outlook. On the one hand, you must know the result of committing suicide: it is an act from which you cannot rescue yourself for many successive births. Also try to remember that human life is precious. Don't waste it."
[Just so one is aware of it, Dipa Ma, after a lifetime of disappointments and sufferings, was near death in a physical breakdown and very deep mental depression, until the venerable monk Munindra personally nurtured her for weeks and weeks until she finally started coming out of it, and then went on to advance through the four Buddhist stages to enlightenment in a few short months. So one must assume that she spoke not intentionally in an unkind way but as one who knew the depths of suffering. Whether one is really lost for 'many successive births' is debatable and will be argued, to the contrary, later on. This could be an instance where she talked to an extent as she had been taught, and where the traditional instruction may not have been perfect, or is no longer adequate. The lesson, however, is that as long as there is breath, there is hope. One never knows when things will take a turn for the better].
The Islamic tradition says that we owe our very existence to an act of the Divine Mercy. Especially the human birth countless spiritual masters have said is a great blessing. (23)
The Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece laid stress upon the evil of suicide, explaining that there was a profound mystery concerning this crime of which they could not speak, but warning that a great sorrow comes to all who take their own lives. The reason is suggested in the myth of Bacchus, in that he who attempts to destroy himself raises his hand against the god within him, as man's body is indirectly the tomb - and womb - of that god, and must be preserved with great care.
And if, as PB in more modern terms wrote:
"The ego to which he is so attached turns out on enquiry to be none other than the presence of the World-Mind within his own heart. If identification is then shifted by constant practice from one to the other, he has achieved the purpose of life"
then the immensity of what one is considering is laid bare. Destroying the body may be destroying a precious temple, which it is said that countless souls are lined up waiting to receive.
The mystic healer of Cyprus, Daskalos, explained:
“Those who commit suicide may find themselves un a difficult situation when they enter the psychic world. Occasionally such persons may be trapped in the etheric
[plane] of the gross material world, unable to move to the higher psychic planes. The individual will vibrate too close to the material world which will not allow him to find rest.”
However, he writes further that this is not forever, and there are always inner helpers whose work is to comfort and guide along those souls until such time as their further upward progress may continue.
Paramahansa Yogananda wrote:
"Those souls who ruthlessly and foolishly commit suicide, are considered unclean souls in the astral world. They roam in the lower astral spheres, imprisoned in their astral and causal bodies, finding no rest, and either hating to be reborn on the earth or grieving for the loss of their physical incarnation. These forlorn souls have to wander about in the ether until some of the karmic effects of their bad actions are worn out through the operation of the divine law."
With all due respect to this venerable saint, according to the most recent 'research' this is just not so
- certainly not for most. Yet Yogananda also said that "all souls are destined to return to God, 'because there is nowhere else to go"
, and therefore no one is lost forever.
All of these great beings, while the embodiments of love, were trying to make a strong point. We certainly would be hard-pressed in accusing them of lacking in compassion. Their whole lives were a sacrifice out of compassion for humanity and all beings
. But some will no doubt feel their words were unkind and extreme, and maybe not even true but rather part of the baggage of their teaching lineage, in collision with an awakening Western world. And, as mentioned, it is said that there are invisible helpers for all, including the most unfortunate souls. David Spangler writes of presences that shelter beings in such a state. He speaks of meeting a woman in a dismal place in the inner worlds which his spirit guide 'John' told him was a region where souls go who:
"cannot see beyond their own selfish interests. They are caught within themselves, and some have died in despair and depression, having concern and pity for no one but themselves. They care little for their environment. The light of the higher realms is painful for them. There are dedicated souls who attend them here in whatever way they can to help them come to that point of liberation and advancement. But there is one in particular I wish you to meet."
"At that point a woman appeared in the dimness. She was beautiful and there was a compassion and sweetness about her, but she didn't seem like a person. She was more like an animated image of a feminine presence, an embodiment of womanhood rather an an actual woman....But then the perspective changed and instead of seeing her standing with John and me on the dim outskirts of this town, we were standing inside her. The whole place seemed to be inside her."
"She is the presence who creates and sustains this realm," John said. "You might think of her as a goddess of sorts, though none that you would know by name. She is one of many such beings who use their own living energies to create a place dedicated to the welfare and succor of others...This realm exists because it is needed as a place of healing, but she is its architect and its life. This is not just a place, you see, but a living presence."
"She takes into herself the condition of the people who are here," John said. "Left to themselves, their self-pity and depression could implode into a hard nugget of selfishness and despair, making it very difficult for them to find liberation and move to higher levels of consciousness. But held within her love and spirit, their energy is kept lively and moving in ways they cannot yet do for themselves. It is as if they have forgotten to breathe, and she is breathing for them. This will make possible their eventual liberation from their self-enclosed state."
Of course, this is not a permanent condition in any case, but an unfortunate and undesirable one nonetheless. If instead one endures in spite of the suffering, mental imbalance does not necessarily follow one after leaving the body, and a brighter future awaits him.
Vedantist V.S. Iyer rationally affirms the special value of the human body and the spiritual purpose of pain:
"You are born to know the truth and therefore the body is needed as a means of getting this higher thing, not as a means or mere pleasure. Suicide is unpardonable. Even those in great physical agony should not kill themselves for it is teaching them every moment not to be attached to the body. Hence although they are not able consciously to reflect on truth they are doing it unconsciously. Moreover it will drive them to seek that which is above the body and its pain."
Yogi Ramacharaka writes, in commentary on the classic text Light on the Path by Mable Collins:
"The body is yours in pursuance of the Divine plan, and is in fact the Temple of the Spirit. If it were not good for you to have a body, rest assured you would not have it. It is needed by you in this stage of development, and you would be unable to do your work of spiritual unfoldment without it...The body should be recognised as the instrument of the soul and Spirit, and should be kept as clean, healthy and strong as maybe. And every means should be used to prolong the "life" in the body which has been given you. It should be respected and well-used...You will never have another chance to live out just the experiences you are getting now - make the best use of it...The sense of immortality will come gradually as the consciousness unfolds, but the student must not allow himself to live too much in "the upper regions," or to despise his body or the world and people around him. This is known as "spiritual pride," and will have its downfall. You are here in the world for a purpose, and must get the experiences necessary to fully round you out. You are in exactly the best position for the experiences you need - and you will not be kept there one moment longer than is necessary for your ultimate good. Live, grow, unfold - living your own life - doing the best you can."
One bold aproach to take in a few cases might be to offer a person exactly what he or she doesn't expect: rather than anxious concern or a pep-talk to the effect of "please don't die", "you have so much to live for", "we need you", etc., bring to them an acceptance of their desire, with also the beginnings of an inquiry into exactly what it is they want to be done with. Adyashanti suggests asking, "What is it you wish would die?" "What is it, really?" The gist is that it is the ego and its misery that one wishes to die, and not the body. However, the fact is that, in reality, the ego can't kill itself. As Shree Atmananda pointed out (30), if one tries to kill the ego, as some spiritual teachings suggest, it will only make it stronger. It really does not want to die, and will only pop up somewhere else. If it is to 'die' in any sense, it is only the light of awareness that can satisfy that requirement, and obviously this is in short supply with a person contemplating suicide. This approach, then, obviously is not to be taken as medical advice, is not without risk, is useful only with someone whose reason is available (and suicide being essentially an irrational act, this may not be the case), and requires much
intuitive skill. However, the acceptance of a person's desire may and will be part of enlightened counselling on suicide. In some instances it may free up something within a person that obviates the intensity of the felt need to go through with it. Just knowing one is okay as he is and not a sinner may be enough to open a new path for him or her. Spirit guide Jeshua states:
"To someone considering taking your own life, I say that you need not be ashamed of the thought. You are simply seeking a way out of your despair. I say to you that nothing you can ever do will take God's love from you. There is always help available to you, whether on this side or the other. God or Spirit does not condemn suicide and instead favors a humane, compassionate approach to anyone considering this option. If you will allow suicide to be one possible pathway to take, you will see, again, paradoxically, that the number of suicides decreases."
We will not offer - except for an otherwise intact ego capable of absorbing the shock of a 'shamanic shout' - the advise of Thomas Merton, when he wrote:
"Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love. It is reached when a man deliberately turns his back on all help from anyone else in order to taste the rotten luxury of knowing himself to be lost."
Only a relatively healthy person can take to heart such words without breaking. And in general, desperate people, deeply wounded and burdened with toxic shame, need much help and encouragement, self-love and affirmation, to be met where they are, until such time as they may deal with spiritual matters more directly. To some we might even hesitate to offer the less condemning words of Paramhansa Yogananda, who also compassionately said:
"God doesn't mind your imperfections: He minds your indifference."
We say God is unconditional love, plain and simple. While we do not judge the person, therefore, being as it may be a sad act of self-hatred, or other-hatred turned inwards, or simply despair or pain, and may not produce the desired result as the true self never dies
, neither do we advocate suicide as an action. It is said that one is almost always better off embracing his fate. Those who have killed themselves have appeared in vision to people I know personally and told them that they regretted what they had done. Spirit guide 'Aaron' concurs that this most often the case:
"The most common reaction after one has moved through the transition is sadness that one has lost this hard-earned opportunity to be in physical body and learn. This is true even if the physical incarnation seemed impossible and unbearable. From the perspective of the other side, one sees opportunities one did not see while one was feeling thus so trapped. But it is not a sin; it is simply a loss."
Even so, it is not always entirely negative, as we shall see. Nothing is entirely black or white in this world.
The possibility while yet alive before such a person, difficult, extremely difficult as it surely may be, is to start where he is, to begin to learn compassion for himself, to love himself, and, when possible, to serve others and praise
others, "praise being the cure for the loveless heart"; to have the courage to endure discomfort and pain while at the same time believing one is fundamentally all right, even though he feels deeply broken and unfixable, yet knowing that is not true, that there is nothing fundamentally wrong; to seek out whatever help is available, to know one has self-worth, that one is where he is supposed to be under God's care; to refuse and refuse again to believe the negative self-talk of the the mind, to agree to be accountable for ones actions, yes, but without falling into a bottomless pit of morbidity and guilt: this is to be a trusting patient under care of the Divine Physician. The effort will not go unrewarded, for a Higher Power is with one always. Yet we acknowledge and honor that this may take everything a person has inside, and that he may be battling the effects of lifetimes of karma. But perhaps it may of some small help to know that the rewards for endurance will be great, and that one way to love God is to begin to love oneself, admittedly often the hardest thing to do.
It is a reality that people who say and believe they yearn for God often do not realize the degree of sacrifice and commitment that may entail. The spiritual teachers themselves often keep it a secret until a relationship of love and trust is developed between them and their disciples. There is no blame in that; it is of the nature of spiritual blindness and ones state of evolution. The path has many a rough patch. We have all been there many times before. Often the only light we have is the example of our trustworthy Guide holding aloft a shining torch. Mariana Kaplan writes:
"The spiritual path is a winding road strewn with obstacles and ever-deepening disillusionment as the depth of our own falsity, suffering, deceitfulness, and perceived separation is revealed. Under such circumstances it is difficult to remember our soul's deepest longing and to align our lives in accordance with that longing. The true teacher will remember for us, ever calling to us or simply existing as an external expression of our own conscious wish to live lives of freedom and surrender."
Many other wise people have spoken on the matter. Here is an example of the graceful intervention of a sage in one man's life:
Sista Subba Rao came to Ramana Maharshi disconsolate and wanting to kill himself. He wrote his desire down on a piece of paper and handed it to the sage. Ramana read it and handed it back, and remained quiet. Later, the man confessed:
“Soon there was a change in my outlook on life. I said to myself, ‘Suffering is the result of sinful deeds in the present or past life and everyone must pay for his misdeeds, for every action has its own reaction. By putting an end to the present life, we are adding interest to the principal. Our past sins are the principal, while the suicide will be its interest. All karmic debts are to be cleared to the last penny. It is cowardice to try to escape from the hard facts of life.’ This changed attitude towards life put an end to all thoughts of suicide that thronged the mind previously. I became a changed person, ready to fight out the battle of life at all costs and under all circumstance.”
Sri Nisargadatta also addressed this problem:
“Acceptance of pain, non-resistance, courage and endurance - these open deep and perennial sources of real happiness, true bliss...Pleasure is readily accepted, while all the powers of the self reject pain. As the acceptance of pain is the denial of the self, and the self stands in the way of true happiness, the wholehearted acceptance of pain releases the springs of happiness.”
“Q: What is wrong with suicide?
M: Nothing wrong, if it solves the problem. What, if it does not? Suffering caused by extraneous factors - some painful and incurable disease, or unbearable calamity - may provide some justification, but where wisdom and compassion are lacking, suicide can not help. A foolish death means foolishness reborn. Besides there is the question of karma to consider. Endurance is usually the wisest course.”
Damiani explains this overall issue from a philosophical standpoint:
"You shouldn't expect otherwise than that you and the World-Idea are going to go on forever...The soul will always be incarnating with the World-idea, and be included as part of the World-idea, and will evolve along with the world-idea. So why look for exits?...If you understand a little bit about the World-Idea and the way the soul is evolving the appropriate and necessary vehicles along with the World-Idea, why should you expect...a finis or a side-issue, like absorption here, absorption there? Why not except what is? If the World-Idea is going to go on forever, and you're part of the World-Idea, then you go on forever, too...
"There seems to be some truth to Freud's notion of the "instinct for death," that we all insist that somewhere we write the word "finis." Somewhere along the line, we want to be able to write the words, "It's all finished now. It's all ended." And it's very possible that in trying to understand how they're describing soul, this is one of the psychological obstacles that has to be overcome. In other words, this inherent desire to come to rest, to write "finis," is one of the things that has to go. This idea that there is an end has to go."
Letting go of this concept is necessary - like it is with all concepts, yet it is not really an ordeal to do so, but actually a great relief, being one less thing to worry about! Imagine, to be burdened with needing to know whether or not there is an 'end'? Some are afraid of coming to an end, while a few are worried about not
coming to an end. It is, after all, however, only a thought. Remember, all is well.
And, of course, ultimately it is the wrong attachment
to, or understanding of, the "I" that is the problem. If the self-reflective ego is made an end in itself, a complete absorption of attention, we agree with Iyer when he states:
"All the different forms of insanity and mental disorders, the dissociations, delusions, obsessions, complexes and hallucinations are connected with the I. If you want to have a sane mind get rid of the ego."
But if ego is seen as an reflective extension of the soul in its physical human incarnation, and part of its practical intelligence, then to try to 'get rid of it' prematurely is not right either. Much acceptance of the human personality is needed before one can realize a true freedom from, in, and even as it. No doubt all hard to see when one has come far down the road to consider ending it all, but well worth being reminded of while there is yet time to forestall what may turn out to be an unfortunate course of action.
An insightful and compassionate discussion on the overall implications of suicide is offered by my contributor Mark:
“In a certain sense, many types of spirituality are really just seeking a kind of spiritual and permanent suicide. As a Buddhist master said 'no self, no problem'. The problem is, of course, that bodily suicide doesn't work. Only spiritual suicide works! I don't actually believe that awakening as 'spiritual suicide' is really a balanced description of awakening, but it is half true, and very true in certain ways. My view of karma is clearly impersonal - I believe it is a natural law governing relativity whereby the effects of one's actions are mirrored back to oneself. I do not believe that some cosmic entity has a list of all the bad things we can do in one column, and a list of corresponding punishments in another column, that are dished out to the transgressor. I believe that karmic effect are a natural outcome of their causes. This is not an uncommon view, but it is definitely not the only view of karma, and many of the perspectives I have encountered in Asian literature, for instance, seem to be not very dissimilar to the hell-fire nonsense I heard as a child, foolishly designed for the fear factor. This is a compassionless view.”
“So I do not feel that there is a standard punishment for suicide. On the other hand, karma must be considered - what are the consequences of suicide. One consequence is that suicide is obviously throwing in the towel, which is not an ideal moment to end an incarnation on. It is not necessarily terrible, and can be quite understandable in many circumstances. So although I believe the individual is most commonly going to feel some regret in the afterlife in this regard, it is not likely going to be considerable, unless they give themselves a very hard time. Incidentally, I subscribe to the 'hell is a state of mind' theory. People will tend to go to the inner world that corresponds to their state of mind, because they will feel most comfortable there, and often do not feel it is hell, as it mirrors their state of mind and so is what they are used to. If, on the other hand, one ends up ending a life on a tragic note, an unwholesome decision, then there is the possibility that they will temporarily go to a heavier, more painful region because of the guilt/remorse/sadness they are feeling. Their own capacity for self-understanding and forgiveness is all that keeps them from ascending to more positive environments.”
“Other karmic implications also need to be considered - which are two main ones for most people. One is that our suicide is going to impact people that love us. Our psychic awareness (which will be much stronger from no longer being in a body) of what others are feeling in reaction to our death, and our own reactions to knowing this, is another whole dimension of suicide that is probably the most painful for all involved. And since in the afterlife we are basically the same person we were when we were in incarnation (at first), then not only do all our issues follow us there (minus the ones caused by physical karma and imbalances), but now we add all the new karma/pain/reactions that we have created. This is likely to be pretty 'hellish' for most people for a time, until they are able to let it all go and move on, those some of those karmas will remain and be added to the next personality we form upon reincarnating.”
“The other issue is the karma of taking a life. Even though it is 'our own', it is really a gift, this body, that has been provided by our parents in cooperation with the Intelligences of Nature, which are part of the System that is set up by Enlightened Intelligences for the purpose of providing opportunities for incarnation in a human form to accelerate evolution. Energy was expended by many beings to make each body and life possible, and it is not only an act of harm against a sentient being (our body) when we commit suicide, it is an act that reinforces our disconnection to the Greater Spirit that gave opportunity to us through providing this body. This Greater Spirit is boundlessly compassionate, so it is not an affront so much as something that we ourselves come to realize on the 'other side', which inevitably brings regret that we could not have appreciation and honor for our body and its source.”
“In the end, suicide is a understandable act, but I do not believe that it ever brings the desired consequences, for all of our karma, physical and psychological, will follow us. The psychological will follow us immediately into the afterlife and be negatively affected by our suicide, and then both streams of karma will follow us into the next rebirth. How all that affects us is probably partially individual, related to differing circumstances and character, but is obviously generally not a positive move.”
This is sober, and yet needed to be offered within a balance of deep empathy. There is no way sometimes to avoid speaking in this way. It may, in fact, propel a person into action to seek help.
Western teacher Ramaji, in his book, 1000
, explains suicidal depression as a not infrequent accompaniment of many modern enlightenment breakthroughs:
"Suicidal depression in which the thought "I cannot live anymore in this painful state" keeps appearing as a pattern in modern day time. Eckhart Tolle awakened this way. Jeff Foster awakened this way. One of my students also awakened this way...What I learned from the student who went through this process is that the thought pattern was spiritually precise. It was not an ordinary suicide drama, a call for attention motivated by self-pity and narcissism. The specific thought pattern was "I cannot stand this 'I' anymore. I want this I to die!" Looked at closely, this is a revelation. A differentiation is being made between one I, the false I, and another I, the true I... At this stage, it is not necessary to know who the true I is. What is needed is to know that "you" are not the false I. In this knowing, an urgency for the death of there false I escalates...The student who explained this process so eloquently to me also pointed out that the depression functioned in a positive way, fixing and stabilising the mind. A typical problem for seekers is the the mind jumps around and will not focus. In the case of depression, the weight of that state holds the mind down..."
Foster characterized his post-awakened state as one, no longer of being "de-pressed", but now of "deep-rest."
Easier said than done, no doubt, but needing mention.
Positive, hopeful views on the subject
Help is always being sent our way, and from unexpected sources. Bill Buggenheim, authority and researcher on a cousin of near-death experiences (NDE's), called 'ADC's' ('After Death Conversations'), reports on a specific category of such contacts from the beyond:
"In all the cases we recorded a deceased loved one intervened and dissuaded them from taking their own lives. They were told that committing suicide was not the way out of their problems. Because of the sheer transformative power of a suicide intervention ADC, these people were given another chance on Earth to work out the great emotional pain, fear, and confusion that led to their near-suicides."
He mentions a specific subset of this form of intervention:
"People who are suicidal are often contacted by deceased loved ones who took their own lives by suicide. It seems that deceased loved ones who have taken their own lives by suicide have a special mission to dissuade others from taking their lives."
So all such souls are not lost after all; some good for them and others may in fact come out of their misfortune.
In Your Soul's Gift
, author Robert Swartz has collected many channeled messages by and for those who have committed suicide or have a loved one who has done the same. While we usually look askance at such material, preferring the direct words of sages, due to the high probability of contamination from an egoic-perspective, there are so many accounts of this nature being transmitted at this time, many apparently quite sober, that we can not merely dismiss them put of hand. And in almost all cases, non-judgement by oneself, the soul, or God
is the central theme. This is a much-needed message. In contrast with the afore-mentioned admonitions of the masters, it is not
always considered to be the worst possible action, but rather, while certainly a free choice, is also seen as a product of a hard life, chosen in love, on this Earth at the present time for the learning of certain lessons which may simply prove too difficult to fulfill. Jeshua states:
"Suicide is not wrong. Spiritually, suicide is simply a possibility,a choice one can make among others. it is not necessarily the worst choice one could make. Let me explain. Sometimes a person can get sop stuck in a certain mood, a state of mind, that it is very hard to get out of it without taking drastic measures. Life is all about change. If you get stuck in one state of mind for a very long time it becomes unbearable, and life itself will force you to do something, even if it means you take your own life."
"Cameron, for example, landed in a deep depression and tried several ways of getting out. He did his utmost to come to terms with very difficult emotions. He had a fierce temper, combined with a very sensitive and kind-hearted side. it was hard to balance the two. There were angry parts inside of him that he dared not face. The energy got stuck there, and in the end it became impossible for him to stay in touch with the natural flow of his feelings. he became shut off from himself. he felt as though he were dead while alive. This is a very painful state of being. He committed suicide as an act of desperation but ultimately also as an act of hope - a hope for change, any change."
"Now, would he have healed if he had not killed himself? It is not certain. We do know that right after he killed himself, he regained his feelings. He awoke in the shock and horror of realizing that he had cut himself off from the ones he loved. While physically alive he could not feel his love for them anymore. When dead he realized the full extent of his love, and from the soul's perspective this was a great breakthrough. The suicide forced change upon Cameron, and in his case it worked out well. It was a turning point for his soul." (39)
"In saying this I wish to take away the traditional judgement about suicide, that it is the gravest sin. God or Spirit does not feel this way. God has the greatest compassion for people who take their lives in despair. There is always help available for them on the other side. They are never abandoned."
'Aaron' concludes this point of view for us:
"Society does not yet recognize that there is a sanctity on suicidal thoughts. The one who contemplates suicide is a Holy Being standing at a crossroad. From that crossroad, regardless of the decision made, one being will die and another will be born. If suicide is not chosen, then the one who wanted to die in fact died, and a new person, equally holy and now laying claim to physical life, is born. If suicide is chosen, then the one who wanted to die in fact died, and a new being, equally holy and now laying claim to nonphysical life, is born. For the soul a divine rebirth occurs at a crossroad and there is no judgement of either form the rebirth may take. Whether physical or nonphysical, the new life is known by the soul to be sacred. If the rebirth is into the nonphysical realm, the soul does not view the suicide as bad, sinful, or an affront to God. In complete nonjudgement and with utter compassion and unconditional love, the soul simply says, "The lessons are unfinished. Let's try again."
Nor must it be understood that the 'lessons' will be necessarily dealt with in the next life; there may very well be difficult and easy lives following upon one other, with certain things reserved for a later time when they may be more successfully processed. Very few are ready or capable of handling all of ones karma in one go without breaking under the strain. It takes a rare and heroic personality.
This book speaks to the subject of 'pre-life' planning, and the role of the wisdom of guides, important persons, the soul, and Spirit in overlooking the future lives of personality. It says that while suicide as such is never planned as part of a life experience, the possibility and even probability of it may be, in cases of what maybe an extremely challenging life. In fact any such pre-llfe planning is not set in stone, with alternate scenarios also planned, and in which at any stage free-will is always an intervening factor. Also, the plan is not just for the individual, but also for those who may play the role of the apparent abuser or adversary, for healing karmic reasons of their own. There are many variations on the theme, but it basically comes down to learning self-love and non-judgemental compassion. There may even be cases where a more advanced soul will sacrifice its growth temporarily in order to serve the learning process of another. The seemingly unlikely example is given of such a one choosing a difficult life of becoming an alcoholic, for instance, to increase the tolerance and compassion of someone else. We say 'seemingly unlikely example', because a fundamental tenet of this point of view is that things are not always what they seem in this life.
The very introduction of the idea that there may be such planning seems a good step in introducing a necessary element of loving-compassion to a delicate topic. That such actual processing actively takes place in the 'beyond' is a long ways from the 'howling through the Bardos' and being 'blown helplessly on the winds of karma' as taught in Tibetan Buddhism. Yet we do not feel uncomfortable in granting an intermediate reality and a guiding intelligence to such experience, and feel that a blending of the wisdom of the East and the West is reasonable and necessary at this point in time of human history.
Spirit guide Seth tells us:
"Suicides, as a class, for example, do not have any particular "punishment" meted out to them, nor is their condition any worse a priori. They are treated as individuals. Any problems that were not faced in this life will, however, be faced in another one. This applies not only to suicides, however."
"The conditions connected with an act of suicide are also important, and the inner reality and realization of the individual. I mention this here because many philosophers teach that suicides are met by a sort of special, almost vindictive fate, and such is not the case. However, if a person kills himself, believing that the act will annihilate his consciousness forever, then this false idea may severely impede his progress, for it will be further intensified by guilt."
"Again, teachers are available to explain the true situation. Various therapies are used. For example, the personality is allowed to change the decision. An amnesia effect is induced, so that the suicide itself is forgotten. Only later is the individual informed of the act, when he is better able to face it and understand it."
One other point before leaving this issue of life-planning, which further deepens the need for non-judgement, is that some events, like suicide, may be decided by soul and personality during
life, but in a way that avoids the actual taking of ones life, for various reasons. The example is given of one such personality, who, having experienced a life ever since his time of birth with so much unbearable sadness, remorse, lack of forgiveness, and the feeling of being unloved, but not wanting to commit suicide, 'made' a contract with his soul (possibly during the sleep state), and to which the soul 'agreed', to develop AIDS (in a time when there was no cure), and thereby withdraw the soul's energy and exit the earth plane in this manner, without the actual consequence of suicide and also to receive much love and caring which he had been missing his entire life. This is a possibility which may happen with some frequency, and who is to judge such things? Certainly not the soul, which is an all-loving being.
However, the soul is not an all-knowing
being, otherwise why would it send forth an projection to garner experience in the dimensional worlds, such experience which is distilled and passed 'upwards' to enrich the soul and, according to some teachings, even the 'Tao' or ground of Being itself? Therefore, ordinarily, the personality cannot be killed even by such an act. According to other channeled material, that of the entity Michael (an entity or group of 1050 souls whose base is said to be on the causal plane - wise, therefore, but not omniscient, and which are in turn aided and informed by beings from even higher frequency, formless, non-personal planes), there is, however, a rare form of self-termination called astral suicide
, in which the the essence or deeper individuality itself decides to terminate its current incarnational cycle on this planet with its gradual development both horizontally and
vertically, and be abruptly reabsorbed 'into' the 'Tao'. Such is said to occur only to 'deeply troubled souls', something difficult to understand and no doubt a controversial idea. What is lost in such a case? Presumably the opportunities provided by incarnational experience, such as increasing self-awareness of the soul's emanant or projection, paradoxically and simultaneously becoming more impersonal and more individuated, in an ongoing enrichment of the soul itself and of the whole, or All-That-Is. Even here, there is said to be only a deferral until a next great cycle begins with the 'casting forth' of the divine spark (in truth, not really 'cast out' but extended non-separately and dynamically within the whole), and of which there are many such enrichment and expansive, creative cycles in a perpetually expanding and 'ascending' spiral, with nothing ever lost in 'All That Is', our true and ultimate identity. It is not actual annihilation, therefore, but a postponement. To say it is a major postponement is also both true and not true, for we cannot rightfully speak of these things in terms of time and space, our journey not being a fixed or necessarily linear one.
There is one more issue to mention, somewhat a continuation of the previous line of thought, and for which there is also no hard and fast answer. That is the difficult situation of painful, hopeless terminal illness. While we have options not available to those in the ancient past in terms of life-prolonging but not necessarily life-enhancing technologies, there is the issue of enduring until the bitter end (which - the end itself - is often a beautiful release), or simply ceasing to struggle. The two, of course, are not mutually exclusive. Especially if one has a gracious Master he may be better off enduring, recognizing that his very pain is a balancing of karma, to be embraced if at all possible. It is in any case a time of self-surrender into the arms of grace. The state of mind is more important than what path is actually chosen. Rather than end life on a sad note of failure, Anya Foos-Graber writes:
"In everyday life, people speak about making a "good first impression." Well, at the time of death, we have an opportunity to make a good "last impression" - on the cosmic memory banks of the Universal Mind, that is. If it is a really good last impression, we may not have to return to human form - the soul will evolve on a higher dimensional octave of creation."
Here of course she is talking of the Hindu and Buddhist traditional importance given to the last thoughts upon dying as a major determinant of the soul's destiny. It is not the only determinant - one's overall character, intention, aspiration, and karmic completion, are equally if not more important. But it is said that we may in a sense miss out on such an opportunity if we are not truly 'there' for our death. This does not apply for those who are in a tragic accident, or who die in a natural coma or the like, for these are involuntary, and in fact many saints have passed in such conditions. Yet, even so, we also do not know another man's heart or the karma he has chosen to work out in this life and are, therefore, in no position to cast the first stone one way or the other on anyone.
Regarding terminal illness, there is one scriptural precedent we are aware of for a way of dealing with such a situation that must be mentioned. This is by voluntary fasting to death. In the Garuda Purana Lord Krishna says:
"The man, who realizing his inevitable demise, dies by fasting, leaves the human form and secures an effulgence equal to me. The person who on realizing that he is suffering from an incurable disease observes a fast until death never has to suffer again from disease, and he reigns in heavens like a god. If a mortally sick man takes Sannayasa
[renunciation of the world] he is relieved from the cycle of rebirth from this world full of sorrows and afflictions. The one who during his last days forsakes his sons, wealth etc, and takes recourse in a holy place, gains both contentment and nourishment. In fact, if such a person, after undertaking his vow, even dies before he has reached the holy place, even then he gains a meritorious place amongst the great saints. If he dies under the vow at his house, even then he goes straight to the heavens. The person who during his last days, casts off food and water, and drinks only the waters from my feet, he is not reborn on this earth...The one who embraces his inevitable death by voluntarily fasting, he gains an everlasting merit."
Such a practice was also followed by the Essenes of Palestine and the Jains of India. In Jainism, purported by some to be the most ancient root-religion of india itself, it is called sallakhana
, the rite of voluntary self-starvation, and countenanced only if one is in the final throws of his existence, and then only if undertaken with the purest of intentions. The parents of the avatar Mahavira, and later Mahavira himself, ended their lives with sallakhana
. For all these societies it was not considered a form of sin. It must be uncategorically stated, however, that this is not suggested as an ‘out’ for the young whose life-force is yet a long way from ebbing away. Nor, again, is it, in fact, a recommendation for anyone. The quotation above was specifically addressed to a devotee of Krishna - and, a long time ago
. We have the opposite words in the Gospel, “He who endures until the end shall win an eternal crown, which the Lord has promised to them that love Him.” Sri Nisargadatta and V.S. Iyer felt that endurance was the wisest choice no matter what the circumstance. But what can one say about the Buddhist monks who burned themselves to death in protest of political injustice? Was it wrong? It is for a higher power and/or the individual to weigh such things. Similarly, is it wrong for a terminally ill person to refuse medical intervention and technological enhancements, suffering to the bitter end, to the financial ruin of many as well as the poor quality of life they more often promise - when death appears inevitable? We think not. The American radical economist, educator, writer, political activist, homesteader and advocate of simple living, Scott Nearing
, made this choice at the age of 100. Again, each one must decide, but there are positive views on making such a decision. Jeshua states:
"Sometimes it will be quite obvious that someone will not survive a disease anymore. The body gradually succumbs to the disease. The 'earthly "frame" does not persist. At that moment what does the soul that finds itself within the body do? As long as you keep resisting the disease, you cannot get in touch with your soul and your inner knowing that tells you that it is time to say goodbye. Sometimes you sense in advance that you have to leave,. but the idea strikes you with such horror and sorrow that you keep on fighting. You are eager to try another treatment or wait for the that new medicine to be launched."
"This is quite understandable and I certainly do not want you to condemn this attitude, but you are hurting yourself in a terrible way. If you let go and allow death to come closer, you will notice that death is not an opponent but instead is a friend. Death releases you from the struggle."
"It would be a pity to overshadow this process by an attitude of battle in which you try to hold to life at any expense. Often by then the body has already become so fragile that life is not worth living anymore. Let it go. Death is a liberator who is there to serve you. Death is not your enemy. Death brings you new life."
The sage Plotinus felt that suicide was neither good nor bad. Like everything in the realm of relativity, however, this all depends on circumstances and intent.
We do not label or judge this particular situation a suicide, whether one stops eating or simply refuses advanced medical help. But here we are shifting to general issues about the process of death, and the reader is directed to
In the Bosom of the Lord, and Dying in the Master's Company
on this website for more insight.
Some have put forth the argument that, based on stories that such and such great Zen master committed suicide, or that even very good teachers that they have known were 'clear as a bell' one day, and 'overwhelmed with depression' the next, that such is the nature of Reality, of what is, even of Enlightenment, since there is no perfect human, without weaknesses or flaws. This itself, in our view, is flawed reasoning. That there are very few people purified of emotional karmas to the extent signified by even the second of the Buddha's four stages ('stream-enterer', 'once-returner', non-returner', 'Arhant'), does not indicate that this is the nature of enlightenment, or that anything goes and our current state is just the 'luck of the draw', so to speak. Enlightenment implies more than just an understanding, but also a transformation. A Zen Master who commits suicide out of despair, or a teacher 'overwhelmed with depression' on any given day, then, can not be said to exemplify the fully enlightened state, as uncomfortable as that may be to accept. Everyone is as awakened and purified as they can be, no doubt, given where they stand. There is no praise or blame, and therefore compassion is always in order. But true mastery implies outgrowing of lower stages of development, or it does not merit the name. Realization is the work of many lifetimes. Of course, without appreciating the law of karma, this position may not be acceptable to some. Yet that remains the nature of things, in our position. Therefore, upon hearing of the following story from The Travels of Fa-hsien, we do not believe it a genuine portrayal of truth:
"Issuing from the north of the Old City (Patna in Central India) and going down for three li to the east, there is Devadatta's rock cave; and fifty paces from this, there is a large square black rock. Formerly, a religious mendicant, pacing backwards and forwards on it, reflected as follows: - 'This body of mine suffers the bitterness of impermanency; in vain do I attain to an outlook which is not impure. I loathe this body!' Thereupon he seized a knife,meaning to kill himself; but he once more reflected: 'The World-Honored One has set his canon against self-slaughter.' Then he further reflected: 'Although this is so, I now only desire to slay three baneful thieves, - lust, hate, and ignorance.' He then took the knife and cut his throat. At the beginning of the cut he became a Srotapanna (stream enterer); when half through, an Anagamin (non-returner); and when quite through he became an Arhant, and attained to pari-nirvana (and died)."
There are, however, instances wherein a sage has committed suicide - but not for urgent emotional reasons. Socrates drank poison Hemlock when he could have escaped his fate merely by professing allegiance to the state, rather than set a moral example for the youth of Athens. This can not be called suicide. Similarly, knowing the time of his death had come, a famous Tibetan Lama, Alak Zenkar Thupten Nyima Rinpoche (1881-1943), took a poisoned cup from an enemy, saying, "This cup is for me. I must drink it by myself...I was offered poison by the same person for the third time. This time I took it, for the time of my death has also arrived."
He asked everyone present not to harm the person by any means, and passed away amidst miraculous signs. (47) This also would not be considered life-negative or inauspicious, but rather a conscious action by one in tune with the greater will.
Final words of hope
Be all this as it may, we believe firmly that, “all things work together for the good for those who love God.” Just having faith in the face of hopelessness is evidence of such love, and the way through all troubles. Dear one, do not doubt these words!
PB offers us this loving promise:
"When life in the world becomes so formidable or so frightening that in desperation or bewilderment, panic or mental unbalance, the idea of suicide seems the only way out, then the time has come for a man to cast his burden on the Higher Power."
"Indeed, the hour may come when, purified from the ego's partiality, he will kiss the cross that brought him such agony and when, healed of his blindness, he will see that it was a gift from loving hands, not a curse from evil lips. He will see too that in his former insistence on clinging to a lower standpoint, there was no other way of arousing him to the need and value of a higher one than the way of unloosed suffering. But at last the wound has healed perfectly leaving him, as a scar of remembrance, greatly increased wisdom."
“You are never alone. There are powers and presences who serve you all the time most faithfully. You may or may not perceive them, nevertheless they are real and active."
- Sri Nisargadatta (49)
Also, for those so fortunate have faith in the Friend who has taken you under his wing:
"Having received the protection of a God-realized man, do you think he would ever forget you? The Master always holds his disciples in the innermost heart center."
- Sant Kirpal Singh
Whose heart center? His and yours, of course, for they are the same. One is never out of it.
1. Irena Tweedie, The Chasm of Fire
(Great Britain: Element Books, 1979), p. 76, 88 89, 97, 100
1a. Irena Tweedie, Daughter of Fire
(Inverness, California: The Golden Sufi Publishing Center, 1986), p. 776
1b. Ibid, p. 731-732
1c. E. Allison Peers, trans. The Dark Night of the Soul
(Garden City, New York: Image/Doubleday, 1959), p.
2. Paul Brunton, Essays on the Quest
(York Beach, Maine:Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1985), p. 197
3. Darshan Singh, Darshan Singh, Streams of Nectar
(Naperville, Illinois, 1993), p. 407-408
4. Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 6, Part 2, 3.347
5. Sri Nisargadatta, I AM THAT
, (Durham, North Carolina: Acorn Press, 2008), p. 373
6. anadi, book of enlightenment
(www.anaditeaching.com, 2010), p. 45, 36
7. John J. Prenderegast, Peter Fenner, Sheila Krystal, ed., The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy
(St. Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House, 2003), p.7
8. Jeff Brown, Soulshaping
(Toronto, Canada: Pipek Press, 2007), p. 48, 39, 175, 176
9. Ibid, p. 127
10. Ibid, p. 74
11. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 12, Part Two, 5.119, 5.42
12. Frank Lake, Clinical Theology (1966) p. 595-6, quoted in "Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death" 150-1
13. Alice Miller, Reclaiming Your Life
(New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1996), p. 105
14. Richard Moss, The Mandala of Being
(New World Library, Novato, California, 2007), p. 202-204
15. anadi, op. cit., p. 187-188
16. And, in general, this has traditionally been considered the necessary first stage of a two-part process. First one is advised to engage a practice to break ones fixed identification with the world, to attain 'self-knowledge'; then one must 're-absorb' or 'see' that world in and as oneself for full Self or God-Realization). As PB wrote:
"Ultimately, the aspirant has to rise into that pure atmosphere whence he can survey his personal life as a thing apart. Still more difficult is it for one to live on that level while expressing the wisdom and goodness known to him. It is, however, almost beyond human strength to achieve the second part of such a program. Therefore, he has first to establish the connection with the Overself so that its strength and understanding will then rule him effortlessly. The moment this connection is established, the aspirant will become aware of results from the descent of Divine Grace upon his personality. Such a moment is unpredictable, but, for the individual who sticks to the Quest, its arrival is sure."
(Brunton, op. cit. Vol. 2, 5.419)
The ‘problem’ is when this first stage is taken as the end-all and be-all of life, in an ungrounded and dissociative way
, ignoring much human growth, karmic/emotional 'clearing', and understanding necessary for the path's wholeness and completion. Thus, with right discrimination the two stages need not be radically separated as so often has been the case on the past. Hence Iyer's warning. In a way this can lead to a 'spiritual seeker's version' of Kierkegaard's sickness-unto-death mentioned earlier. That is, when by erroneous thinking due to a partial doctrine one conceives of the goal as lying in a virtual abandonment or transcendence of the body and world, the 'fear of life' so common among seekers and lack of appreciable success in this direction may bring down upon oneself unnecessary suffering, such as in a pathological form of the dark night of the soul, in addition to whatever inevitable existential pain one may need to endure.
17. V.S. Iyer, Advanced Commentaries
, ed. Mark Scorelle, 1999.
17a. Wing-tsit Chan, trans., The Platform Scripture
(New York: St. John's University Press, 1963), p. 49
18. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 2, 3.33
19. Ibid, Vol. 2, 1.209
20. anadi, op. cit., p. 194, 16, 6
20a. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part 2, 1.172
21. Ram Alexander, Death Must Die: A Western Woman's Life-Long Spiritual Quest in India with Shree Anandamayee Ma
(Varanasi, India: Indica Books, 2006 (2002),p. 544)
22. Amy Schmidt, Dipa Ma: The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master
(New York: Blue Bridge, 2005), p. 143-144
23. See The Idea of Man
on this website.
24. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, 8:2.29
25. Kyriacos Markides, The Magus of Strovolos
(London, England: ARKANA, 1985), p. 160
26. Paramahansa Yogananda, The Second Coming of Christ
, Vol. 1 (Self-Realization Fellowship, 2004), p. 398
27. David Spangler, Apprentice to Spirit
(Mew York: Riverhead Books, 2011), p. 123-124
28. Iyer, op. cit.
29. Yogi Ramacharaka, Advanced Course in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism
(Chicago, Illinois: The Yogi Publication Society, 1904/1931), p. 16-17, 73
30. Nitya Tripta, ed. Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda
(first edition Trivandrum, India: Reddiar Press; electronically available from http.www.advaita.org.uk/), Note 847
31. James Swartz, Your Soul's Gift
(Whispering Pines Press, www.yoursoulsplan.com, 2012), p. 413
32. Ibid, p. 415
33. Mariana Caplan, The Guru Question
(Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, Inc., 2011), p. 199)
34. Laxmi Narain, ed., Face To Face With Sri Ramana Maharshi
(Hyderabad, India: Sri Ramana Kendram, 2007), p. 311
35. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, op. cit., p. 278
36. Ibid, p. 465
37. Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 243-244
38. Eliot Jay Rosen, Experiencing the Soul
(Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 1998), p. 70
39. In this respect, I was privy to a case such as this while at the feet of a great master, wherein a desperate man took his life after what appeared to be harsh treatment by the latter, upon which a spiritual confidant of mine said that in this instance the master may have felt that the man, whom He had repeatedly called his 'friend', may have had a physical vehicle no longer of use to him in this life. For the complete story and my own intimate confessions, please see The Death of a Dream and a Gift of Truth
on this website.
40. Swartz, op. cit., p. 403-405
41. Ibid, p. 428-429
42. Jane Roberts, Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul
(Co-published by: San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing and Novato, CA: New World Library, 1972/1994), p. 159-160
43. Swartz, op. cit., p.209
44. Shrimad Bhagavatam II.36.37
45. Pamela Kribe, The Jeshua Channelings
(www.jeshua.net/book, 2008), p. 210-211
46. trans. H.A. Giles The Travels of Fa-hsien
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956), p. 52-53
47. Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet
(Boston: Shambhala, 1999), p. 277
48. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 12, 4.8, 5.239
49. Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 457