Thursday, June 25, 2020

What is the Spiritual Fate of One Who Commits Suicide?

I recently responded to this inquiry from a person in India:

Does God sympathize with people who have suffered a lot in their life including those who commit suicide ? Recently an actor Sushant Singh Rajput in India committed suicide. Logically suicide victim should get more sympathy as his/her life is quite bad and hence he/she takes this drastic step.​  [[p.s. see addendum]]

Dear Friend,

The act of suicide surely generates sympathy and sadness. For the gift of human life is the most precious gift of all for with the human body the soul has the potential to achieve the fullness of the divine promise of immortality.

"God is no tyrant" Paramhansa Yogananda has said. Someone once asked Yogananda-ji what would be the fate of one of the world's greatest villains (Hitler, Stalin--I forget now which). The questioner expected to hear that the punishment would be extreme but this was not the response. (Nations, too, have karma and no one individual is responsible for the karma of groups or species.) Yet karma has its consequences and the law of karma is exacting just as are the laws of nature in the material world.

To take one's own life is a greater tragedy, spiritually speaking, than murder. In murder one at least values one's own life, though not the life of another. In suicide, life itself is rejected. While in truth, life can never die because consciousness is the essence of all life and all matter, the suicide does not affirm that reality but seeks oblivion instead. Fortunately, though in seeking self-annihilation, the suicide ultimately must fail. 

It is not that God is merciless but the gift of life and the gift of the use of free will is such that God will not interfere with our karma until such time as we reach out to seek His grace. Then the power of the Infinite, drawn by our love, can no longer resist for God is Love itself. 

So what, then, happens to this unfortunate jiva (soul)? Yogananda-ji was indeed asked this question. In the afterlife (the astral world), the suicide who, by his act, has chosen to cut off his connection with life (with family, with all other realities), will likely feel isolated, surrounded, as it were, in a fog of grey emptiness. And here, I must digress in order to offer some perspective.

No suicide takes place under identical circumstances. Suicide can take place while a person is deranged on drugs, alcohol or suffering from mental illness. Or, suicide can be a ritual exercise owing to disgrace or failure. Suicide can be a reaction to betrayal, misfortune, or love lost. Thus there are varying degrees of conscious intention, semi-rational behaviour or intention, to the act of suicide. [see addendum at the end] 

Thus in the afterlife state, the length of time and the depth of loneliness may vary considerably depending on the consciousness of the jiva himself. The suicide may in fact harbour great love for his friends, family, and this earth but feel he has failed and is no longer worthy to live. My point is that the underlying impulse to value life and goodness may arise within that jiva sooner or later, depending on how and why he committed suicide in the first place. 

Yogananda said that sometimes a baby who is stillborn, or dies in the womb, or dies at an early age might be the soul of a former suicide whose desire to live must be re-awakened by being thwarted (even repeatedly) until the desire to live becomes strong again. This is the action of the law of karma. A suicide is reborn for the simple reason that he has many other unfulfilled desires, notwithstanding that his act of suicide will, itself (karmically), require him to re-discover the gift of life.

So I cannot say from the statements of Yogananda (or Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple and founder of Ananda worldwide) that a particular ray of mercy or compassion is sent to the soul of one who has committed suicide but I know for a fact that there is no sense that divine punishment is meted out. The law of karma is, however, as I said earlier, exacting. 

I can say THIS, however, and it is of vital importance: prayers for the departed, and especially one who has committed suicide, can hasten that soul's reawakening to the beauty and value of life. All great spiritual traditions encourage prayers for those who have left this earth. Why is that?

Because in the astral after death state, the typical decedent soul is generally not very conscious and not, therefore, able to help himself (except to the degree of his spiritual attainment). Remaining in human form, we who have a heart connection and feeling for one who has past on can offer love, peace, and blessings to one who has left us. It is, therefore, we who become a channel to express God's mercy and compassion! It is our heart connection that is the residue of karma that acts to forgive and uplift that soul who, for a time, is no longer able to do so for himself.

We can also pray to enlightened Beings to join us in our prayers: a sat guru, angels, and deities. 

May the divine Light shine within you!

Swami Hrimananda

Addendum: Assisted suicide or refusal of life-saving medical procedures are individual choices that are not a rejection of life but, in fact, the opposite: an affirmation of the gift and quality of life. While a saint or devotee might choose to accept whatever suffering comes as redemptive, this, too, is a choice. I cannot reliably draw from Yogananda's teachings or specifically recall comments by Swami Kriyananda (though Swamiji did comment on these two situations), but common sense and reason applied to the law of karma would surely admit of the distinction in intention. There are those who would condemn assisted suicide and I know there are legal and social issues with it but in principle it can be wholesome, conscious, and uplifting. In the Jain tradition, there are saints and others who simply stopped eating in order to hasten their demise when they felt intuitively it was their "time to go." Only by self-identification with the human body can one insist that this is morally wrong. Identification with the soul or the Infinite Spirit suggests these choices are secondary though, arguably, containing an attachment and aversion to suffering (and thus some identification with the body).