Hinduism does not condone suicide. Suicide is an effort to subvert the operation of the Law of Karma. For this reason, our scriptures specifically forbid suicides:
“Those people who kill themselves will enter (the word of) blinding darkness. After experiencing the tortures in a thousand hells, they will be born as a village pig. Therefore, suicide should never be committed by a wise one. Nothing auspicious will befall those who kill themselves, here in this world or in the other worlds.” Skanda Purana IV.i.12.12-13
Souls of those who commit suicide will continue to roam in Bhuloka until their ordained lifetimes are exhausted:
“Those who meet with foul death such committing suicide by hanging from a tree, by poison or weapon become ghosts and roam over the earth.” Garuda Purana II.22.18
Those who commit suicide will not be afforded the normal rites before burial/cremation:
“Those who die through suicide are counted amoung the great sinners. Such sinners do not deserve cremation.
“Just as money thrown in water or sacred fire on the cross roads, similarly rites performed for the sinner bear no fruit at all.” Garuda Purana II.44.1-5
“There are people who commit suicide—for such persons, there is no rite of cremation, no water-libation, no rite of obsequy and no observance of impurity.” Garuda Purana II.40.4-12
Fasting to death, under certain circumstances, is not considered suicide, and is allowed in Hinduism:
“Barring prayopavesa (fasting unto death) no one shall indulge in self-killing.” Skanda Purana IV.i.74
(pgs. 144-145, Hindu Rites of Passage: The Funeral)
- it’s non-violent and uses natural means;
- it’s only used when it’s the right time for this life to end—when this body has served its purpose and become a burden;
- unlike the suddenness of suicide, prayopavesa is a gradual process, giving ample time for the patient to prepare himself and those around him for his death;
- while suicide is often associated with feelings of frustration, depression, or anger, prayopavesa is associated with feelings of serenity
- inability to perform normal bodily purification
- death appears imminent or the condition is so bad that life’s pleasures are nil
- the decision is publicly declared
- the action must be done under community regulation
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a Hindu leader born in California, took his own life by prayopavesa in November 2001.
After finding that he had untreatable intestinal cancer the Satguru meditated for several days and then announced that he would accept pain-killing treatment only and would undertake prayopavesa – taking water, but no food.
He died on the 32nd day of his self-imposed fast.
Swami Sivananda, “An aspirant said, ‘I have not realised the Self though I did meditation for some years. I am going to commit suicide with the Bhava (feeling) I am immortal Atman. I have got full Vairagya. No sin will cling to me, because my motive is pure. I will attain Self realisation.’
“He actually committed the abominable act. Do you think that he realised his Self by this act? Do you find such a statement anywhere in the scriptures?
“Certainly not. This is extreme foolishness. Some aspirants who have no idea of the nature of true Vairagya, who have not lived under the guidance of their masters for some time, commit such ignoble acts. They can never get salvation by taking to wrong Tapas though their Bhava may be pure. They cannot entertain the Bhava ‘I am Atman’ just at the time of committing the act. Horrible thoughts will crowd at the critical juncture. They will have to share obviously the fate of Pretas (ghosts).
“The mind should gradually be weaned off its old habits and cravings. If you cut off all at once its pleasure centres, it will get puzzled. That is the reason why young aspirants who take to too much Vairagya commit the ignoble act of committing suicide. You should train the mind in meditation gradually and make it taste the inner bliss. Gradually it will leave off its old habits and old cravings and you can get yourself established in true Vairagya.”
(An excerpt from “What is True Vairagya?”)
Swami Sivananda, Pleasure and pain in life are respectively the rewards of the good and the bad actions of an individual. If a man suffers, it is a reminder to him to ennoble his life and make his future happy through the performance of good deeds, self-discipline and right effort.
When a person, convicted to a term of imprisonment by the court of law for having committed an offence, escapes from the prison, the law demands that he should be rearrested and given added punishment, because he had not only committed an offence but tried to avoid the punishment therefor. So is the case with trying to escape from one’s suffering by inflicting death on oneself, rather than attempting through self-effort to improve one’s future or accepting philosophically what is beyond all help.
One has, besides, no right to take a life, even though it may be his own, since it is a crime not only in the eyes of God but also in the eyes of social law. The person who commits suicide will suffer more in a spirit-body for a period of time, and then take a lower form of birth, to work out his Karma. So, one will not be benefited in any way by committing suicide.
Is suicide the logical conclusion for a man who has come to believe that life has no meaning for him?
Swami Sivananda, Suicide is not the logical conclusion of a meaningless life, but the illogical conclusion arrived at by the thoughtless and non-discriminating mind which has failed to perceive the meaning that is in life. Suicide does not remove misery or correct defects, but leads to violent reactions later on. And the reactions will be more painful than the present condition of dissatisfactory life. Suicide is pure defeatism.
(pgs. 126, 161, May I Answer That?)