Hinduism and suicide

Dear Editor,
Life in Hinduism is very sacred and precious, as with other religions. We are here to fulfill certain duties that are assigned to us. But while trying to accomplish these duties in life, we are faced with troubles and hardships in the process, which ultimately can lead one to committing suicide. Though suicide is considered a sin in most religions, it has been a common practice for centuries in Hinduism. But in today’s society, it is commonly being committed often as a form of protest for the purposes of achieving goal or goals.
Suicide by definition is an act of “Intentionally taking one’s life”. With respect to this topic, I will focus this article on suicide in Hinduism. Suicide is generally condemned and is considered a violation against Gandhi’s teaching of “Ahimsa” or nonviolence.
The Mahabharata, one of the great epics in Hinduism, Chapter 124, verse 65 and I quote “Nonviolence in thought, word, and deed toward all creatures, compassion, and generosity constitute praiseworthy behavior.”
But despite these teachings, suicide has been a norm in India for centuries, and probably still exists today in certain parts of India. Religious suicides were also condoned in one of the four “Ashrams” in Hinduism; that being the “Sanyaas” or the last stage of the life of a Hindu.
The life of a Hindu as per Hinduism is composed of four “Ashrams” or stages of life. (1. They are the Brahmcharya, which is a student life up to the age of twenty-five (25) years; (2. the Grashsatha, which is serving the family up to the age of fifty (50) years; (3. The Vanaprasta which is up to the age of seventy-five (75) which is no attachment to the family; and (4. the Sanyaas, the last stage, is beyond seventy-five (75) years, which is a total renouncement of life.
In the Sanyaas stage, I will expound further, which is the basis of this article. In this stage, spiritual suicide was permitted in three different ways. The first was “Agnipravesa” which is, sacrificing one’s body to the God of fire. The second was “Prayopavesa”, that is slowly starving oneself to death, and the third is “Sanyasarama”; living a hermitage life in a cave or in isolation, devoid of material necessity, and gradually starving oneself to death.
These practices were exercised and accepted believing that the participants involved in these sacrifices have successfully accomplished their duties and obligations based on the first three fruits in Hinduism which are: Dharma, Artha and Kaam. As per Hinduism, these practices were justified, believing that such practices would lead to the last fruit in Hinduism, which is Moksha or the liberation of the soul.
As per Hinduism, it is believed that one who commits suicide, his/her soul will linger in the earth-consciousness of which we are a part, as an evil spirit. When the spirit’s time is completed in the earth-conscious environment, that spirit enters the transmigration process (Samsara) and takes birth in one of the numerous living species on earth to complete his/her previous Karma, after which, the karmic process restarts once again based on his/her current existence.
Hindus around the world as, with other ethnic and religious groups are becoming to realize that suicide is a tragedy and an abysmal loss for the communities, and one that can magnify future problems down the road. But above all, life is a precious gift given by God. As such, Temples and religious organizations are taking a more proactive approach in curbing suicides.
With the advent of technology and a better educational system, they are establishing extensive outreach programs with the communities at large in sponsoring festivals, providing education in human rights, discrimination, understanding and tolerance to name a few, to prevent the abhorrent act of suicide from occurring.

Mani Jadunauth