Author Topic: Assisted Suicide?  (Read 3808 times)

Offline AWMGolfer

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Assisted Suicide?
« on: February 27, 2010, 08:22:58 pm »
I was in a discussion earlier with someone about someone that was terminally ill, in constant pain, and stable mental health and wanted to end his life so he could move on. He asked me what was the Buddhist take on this and I honestly have no clue but was quite interested myself. I had trouble finding any info on this so I figured I'd ask here. I know this can be a hot topic so I was mainly looking for just the basic answer from the Buddhist POV. Thanks!

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2010, 09:15:27 pm »
Deepest respects to you and your friend.

There is a precept in Buddhism, which states:  "Cause no harm to sentient beings."  This is variously translated as "Kill no living beings."

Hope this helps.  But, I doubt it.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2010, 12:45:36 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline AWMGolfer

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2010, 09:22:16 pm »
Sorry, didn't mean it to come across as a friend or anything. It was a discussion with a friend of mine about this hypothetical, though often this is not a hypothetical.

I do understand that though. I was curious about the rebirth and that if they decided that they would be at peace and that it was time to start the cycle of rebirth.

Personally the more I question this the more I am finding I'm not sure what I think on all of it..lol.

Offline Sonam Wangchug

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2010, 12:01:01 am »
Killing anyone is off limits.

Offline Optimus Prime

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2010, 12:14:08 am »
Here are some thoughts from Ajahn Amaro:

Suicide Is Not Painless
From a talk given in Diamond Heights, San Francisco, June 1993
Ajahn Amaro
December 23, 2004



Question: "I am curious to know - what is the attitude towards suicide in your Buddhist tradition?"

Answer: This is a question that is asked quite frequently. Every different religious system has its attitudes towards suicide, what it means and how it sits within our consciousness, because in every human society this occurs to a greater or lesser extent. From the Buddhist point of view that I am familiar with, in the Theravada world, the approach is quite pragmatic. There is not any kind of doctrinal line on the fate of someone who commits suicide - instead it looks at the mental state that causes a person to do that. We would not make a blanket statement about what would be the karmic result of committing suicide.

Obviously, if you are moved to take your own life, there has to be a degree of negativity, distress or destructiveness there. In Thailand, which is the country I am most familiar with, when someone takes their own life it is regarded as something tragic and painful. The person was likely to have been in a very confused, upset and negative state of mind and the state of mind in which we die is seen as conditioning the next birth. If we go to sleep at night and we are in a bad mood, generally it is right there on the pillow next to us when we wake up; in the same way, the way that we die, and the state of mind that is there at the time, tends to affect what the mind is going to gravitate towards - at least that is the way it is spoken of.

When someone takes their own life there is not a critical judgement about them, there is no concept of it being a sin or a cause for damnation or anything like that in the Theravadan world. What one tries to do instead is to help that person understand that this has been a violent reaction that is necessarily going to have a painful result. It is recognized that rarely does taking our own life fundamentally solve anything and that, regardless of the causes for it, there is going to be some negative result.

Example 1
For example, there was a woman who was close to our monastery in Thailand who had terminal cancer. She was getting thinner and thinner, her body was wasting away and she was in incredible pain all the time. She had two small children and a husband who loved her very much, and she could see that it was very painful for them to see her wasting away in agony in front of them - she weighed about seventy pounds at the end. So she decided to take her life - she took her husband's pistol and she shot herself.

In Thailand what is always done for people who either kill themselves or die suddenly in any way, is that they do not cremate the body but they keep it intact for at least a year. The idea behind this is that, if someone has died violently or has taken their own life, then there is a period of time where their consciousness has the opportunity to get used to the fact of their death - the transition from the human state. Things have the chance to settle down; destroying the body immediately (apparently) throws the person into a greater state of confusion and disorientation, so they keep the body. The body of this woman was thus interred for a year, then after a year it was taken out of its coffin. In this particular case they kept her skeleton in the monastery because she had donated it to be a contemplation object but the rest of her was cremated in the usual ceremonial way.

In normal circumstances the person would just be cremated after a year; during the time immediately after the death, the family and friends would ask the nuns and monks to do a lot of chanting for the deceased person, more so than for an ordinary death. They would perform a lot of acts of kindness and generosity and dedicate whatever blessings came from that to the person who had died, because for a suicide they see that person is more in need than an average person. There is no blame associated with the person who has killed themselves but much more a sense of, "How can we help them?"

The understanding is that for a person who has died, and who is maybe stuck in some sort of confused realm of being, somehow they are benefited by the loving attention of people that know them and whom they have left behind. Often in the monastery, people would bring a picture of the person who has died and put it on the shrine. Or in your own home you might make a little shrine with a photo and have candles and incense, flowers - to make a sacred space for them and to honour their memory. The family would ask for special funeral chanting to be done every night for a week, then they would bring offerings to the monastery a week after the death, then a hundred days after the death, and then on the anniversary of the death. In this way one is constantly bringing to mind the memory of the person who has died and associating that with things that are creating good karma in their name. Something which is painful and tragic is thus being associated with that which is joyful and restorative. This process not only, in whatever way, benefits the person who has died but it also helps those who remain behind - something which has been heartbreaking then becomes a cause for developing goodness in their own lives. It also becomes a cause to give oneself to the spiritual practice, coming to the monastery and spending time with wise and helpful people. This is the way it is handled in the Theravada tradition in Thailand.

In dealing with the feeling of loss or bereavement, particularly with suicides, there is always the question "Why? What could I have done? How could I have helped?" Particularly for us in the West, we who are heavy-duty thinkers, there is always a million things that we are convinced we could have done. We get so caught up in, "How it could have been. How it should have been. What I might have done. Why does this happen? Why was this person driven to this? Why didn't I see it coming??" and so on and so forth. We become so involved in the sagas and the possibilities we are creating, that we miss the real grief itself. We fend off the grief by worrying, we fill our mind with thought so we do not actually allow ourselves to grieve and digest the experience.

Example 2
Earlier this year the father of a very close friend of the monastery commited suicide. I knew him well because he and his family live very near to where my parents are in Kent, in South-east England, he often drives me from the monastery to visit them. His father had worked for over thirty years for a major industrial company as an engineer and inventor, and it had been his ideas and projects which, for the last 10 or 15 years, had been the major money-spinners for this multinational corporation. At the age of sixty-three he was given three weeks notice that his job was finishing and that he was going to be fired, and this was whilst he had been away on a tour of several different countries, including the USA, setting up the latest deal for a new project. When he got back, after working long hours and travelling thousands and thousands of miles, he was told, "You are going to be laid off in three weeks time - thank you very much." He knew that he was approaching retirement age but this was an incredible shock - there was no explanation, no recognition of what he had done for the company. Naturally he was very upset by this.

He struggled through December and January trying to find things to do, he was involved with a local music-therapy group, but his sense of worthlessness and betrayal and depression just got darker and darker. The day that he finished a particular music project, his wife went out to work in the local school, where she had been teaching for years, and when she came back at lunchtime he was hanging in the hallway - a terrifying expression on his face and no note, nothing left behind.

This happened during our winter retreat, I got a call from this friend saying that his father had committed suicide that morning. I talked with him for a long time and then went to the funeral a few days later. It was very moving to see how the family had handled it: this friend, who had been meditating for many years and was very close to his father, said that it was such a shock that he went totally physically numb. He sat in the spot in the hallway where his father had killed himself, his body became ice cold and he could not move. He just sat in that spot for three hours without moving. They made a shrine in that place in the house, they had candles burning, he and his brother and his mother kept a vigil around the clock. When they brought the father's body back they kept the coffin in the house with the lid open. They surrounded it with flowers, brought all his favourite things into the room and they kept a vigil by the coffin for the whole week. They asked us to do lots of chanting at the monastery, even though this man was not a Buddhist.

Theirs had been a most loving marriage and loving family - it was amazing to see how, in the midst of something so extraordinarily painful that they were just staying with the feeling of grief and allowing themselves to digest it fully. It was also compounded by the fact that, not only did the company that he worked for not even send a representative to the funeral, they did not send flowers or even a note - nothing - so there was plenty of opportunity for rage. But they just stayed with the whole thing and digested the painfulness of it. It was remarkable to see how they did not dwell upon the whys and wherefores and what they could have done, but they just stayed with the reality of:- this has happened, this is the pain of life, this is tragedy. It was very sad and painful to be there, but it was also wonderful to see how human beings can be with a situation like that and can fully embrace it.

These are the kind of reflections I would bring to mind around suicide. Everyone has to work with their own intuition, every situation is slightly different, but basically it is more important to open our heart to that very feeling of the painfulness of it, than to try and justify it or explain it or to do anything with it. Just to feel that quality of loss and to realize that one of the karmic results of loving someone is the painfulness of losing them, especially in such a tragic circumstance. Then, in response to that, to dedicate your acts of kindness and goodness to that person.

The younger son of the family I have been talking about, late one night shortly after his father's death, felt he had to express what he was feeling. He sat down in front of a typewriter and wrote this piece: talking about his father and the events that had occurred. It is a most clear and beautiful expression of the painfulness and yet, strangely, the rightness of what had happened, and the refusal to blame. Through it all, determined to honour the father's decision, regardless of how painful it was for all of them - that is what he chose to do and we are not going to wallow in our own sense of loss or criticism or worry, we accept that this is how it is, this is what we have got and now we go on from here.

Let us, who have respected Don's judgement so much throughout his life, respect it now and let him go with our blessing. Let us be grateful to him for what he has given us and not sorry for what we may feel he has taken away.

With the gentle, kind and non-judgemental spirit of my father, the family forgive all of those who may feel any guilt or sense any failure for not having saved him from his despair, as weforgive ourselves. We would like this spirit to find it's home within you and help to guide and strengthen you as it has us. Let this and not the self-recrimination that so tortured father be his offering to us at this time. He withheld the depths of his suffering from us with love. Now let us in his memory have the same compassion for ourselves.

Let us be sad but not too sad.

Andy Price


Source: http://www.abhayagiri.org/main/article_print/161/

Javamahasattva

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2010, 12:43:23 am »
This is from the website of the Death with Dignity National Center:

Buddhists are not unanimous in their view of assisted suicide, and the teachings of the Buddha don't explicitly deal with it. The Buddha himself showed tolerance of suicide by monks in two cases. The Japanese Buddhist tradition includes many stories of suicide by monks, and suicide was used as a political weapon by Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war. But these were monks, and that makes a difference. In Buddhism, the way life ends has a profound impact on the way the new life will begin. So a person's state of mind at the time of death is important - their thoughts should be selfless and enlightened, free of anger, hate or fear. This suggests that suicide is only approved for people who have achieved enlightenment and that the rest of us should avoid it.

There's also an article by Damien Keown here:

http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma/suicide.html

He's with the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of London and appears to have written extensively on the subject, including an article for the Journal of Law & Religion entitled "Suicide, Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: A Buddhist Perspective":

This article explores Buddhist attitudes towards suicide, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. It considers some of the methodological problems in elaborating a Buddhist perspective, for example the lack of a central religious authority, and the limited amount of discussion of these issues in traditional sources. Drawing mainly on the Pali canon it suggests, contrary to previous scholarly interpretations, that Buddhism is opposed to suicide by those who have attained enlightenment, and, a fortiori by those who have not. It is argued that Buddhism is also opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia by virtue of its adherence to the moral principle of ahimsa (non-harming), and textual evidence from the monastic code (Vinaya) is adduced to illustrate that acts of this kind were condemned. Two "responses" (by Peter Harvey and R.E.Florida) follow the article.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=228833

Offline AWMGolfer

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2010, 07:14:30 am »
Thank you to both of you!! That helps me greatly and thank you for the links!!

Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2010, 09:45:43 am »
I am not able to track down source material right now, but I had researched Buddhist opinions on euthanasia when my 14 year old Rottweiler was in the painful final throws of life. Long story short: different traditions offer different opinions, and there is a precedent for mercy killing but the precedent was very complicated. With that, I asked a monk, and received the guidance I needed.

On another note: Over the years I have heard 5 different clients say that Buddhism is in favor of suicide, as in "I am feeling suicidal, and I understand that Buddhism endorses this behavior." When I investigate where they got this information.... Academic books about Buddhism from Western scholars. So there is a misperception here in the West that Buddhism is all gung-ho about suicide. Strange.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2010, 09:48:47 am by Monkey Mind »

Offline heybai

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2010, 04:35:16 pm »
I am not suggesting this thread is heading toward contention, but the topic of euthanasia is just the sort of thing that sets people off (yes, I'll include myself in that group), which is why we have the Danger Zone up and in operation. 

That's a preface to this statement: I have no problem with assisted suicide in cases where an individual is in obvious agony with no hope of abatement or recovery, and is fully cognizant of his/her situation.  I understand there are difficult ethical issues involved and that euthanasia laws allowing need to be heavily regulated and controlled.   For me there are elemental Dharmic principles involved:  Life is pain; excruciating suffering is a part of life.  Death is inevitable.  Allowing a fellow being to terminate extreme pain is merciful.  I assume that even among Buddhist who oppose euthanasia there exists a high level of empathy for those who have chosen to end their lives or assist others in doing so.

Monkey Mind, I live in a Buddhist culture, and mine is most certainly a minority view.  The next time someone comes to you with the received opinion that Buddhism traditionally sanctions suicide, you might tell that in Taiwan many vets regularly refuse to euthanize animals under any circumstances.  I am sorry to hear about your dog.  We have faced similar dilemmas here.  It is never easy.
 

Offline AWMGolfer

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2010, 05:32:40 pm »
I know this is definitely a hot topic that would qualify for DZ if it goes much farther. I already have some good reading to point me in the right direction and I thank you all for it.  :namaste:

Javamahasattva

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2010, 05:45:12 pm »
So far, so good... just let us know if the natives get restless and start to riot  :lmfao:

Offline heybai

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2010, 05:48:26 pm »
Just to reiterate -- I have no problem with this thread and think everyone has been thoughtful and mature, but this is the one issue were I have had disagreements with committed Buddhists.

Glad you found what you needed, golfer.
 :pray:

Offline Shi Hong Yang

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2010, 10:20:45 pm »
This is a good thread to have. It's very touching to ready about other who have had to face the pain of others suicide. 

If I may, I have personal experience with suicides in my family with my twin sister (hidden multiple attempts over 30 years! one of which resulted in a massive stroke leaving her paralysed on the left side entirely wheel-chair bound-- she still wishes for death), my cousin shot himself in the face, dead, and my remaining family members including my mom feel that suicide is acceptable if your suffering too much; even in my sister's case.   

My dad stroked out after having kidney failure for 4 years or so and chose to go into hospice without dialysis, undergoing suffocation by water and toxins in his body, starvation, dehydration and extreme drying of his mouth and tongue due to stroke paralysis. He couldn't talk only groan and hold our hands.  His was real hard suffering even with doses of morphine and anxiety meds. 

My sister suffered recovery but didn't get all of her body back, my dad suffered a horrible 3 day death and couldn't come back (not a suicide).  Why would anyone want to die, what if you failed and had to suffer coming back?  What if your health was worse then?  What about the consequences to your family who forever have to worry about your next try even if there isn't one; they still remain anxious about it.  I don't share my maternal families attitude for I love my life and treasure each day. 

I look at nature and wonder at it's beauty, I'm  a sunrise person.  I never supported assisted suicide because it's not right to help another die because there seems to be no other way to help them live.  Humans have a high capacity for pain both it's forms and can survive to live a quality of life they can enjoy.

That doesn't mean I condemn the dead who passed of suicide or assisted suicide it means that I would not want to be a cause of loss of life or support those that want it for themselves or for others for personally I feel there are more clever ways to overcome problems than with death.   It's sad to know that some people like in my family do not value their life enough to move beyond fears of their problems or issues continuing and many even consider it as a final option to solve whatever isues they don't want to face.  Our losses from suicides in our family are with us daily as is some of yours. 

Try so hard to be grateful for your human life for I am and I hope you persist in living peaceful and happy and for really lovely long time. Namo Amituofo!
Chinese Buddhism is the oldest form of Buddhism in the USA, in 2013 it is 161 years old.  The first Buddhist temples were built in California in 1952 & 1854. Second oldest is Korean in 1900 and Japanese in 1902 both in Hawaii.

Offline humanitas

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #13 on: March 20, 2010, 11:50:25 am »
I'm still on the fence about this particular thing.  My best friend was 26 years old with a body that was failing, chronic pain, etc.  She'd had a car accident at 21, which left several discs in her vertebrae fractured, she was not treated correctly and for years she suffered in pain till the discs became paralyzing, (medical error).  Then the complication of family (very ugly dynamics with the mother) deciding she wasn't 'earning' her illness and decided to cut her support off their insurance for her medications which made life barely livable.  I was with her a lot in the last year, where everyone stopped visiting, all her friends quit, her husband cheated on her, and all around there was some heavy karma.  I myself have lived a life of intense pain, and I know no matter what you think your threshhold is, at the end of the day you can take a lot more than you ever thought you could when you woke up that morning.  But there are limits to what you can take too.  There is a point where it's too much and you can't live anymore.

In December of 2004 she told me she was going to commit suicide.  We talked for a few hours, I begged her to to wait at least a year or two.  I couldn't tell her, no you have to live in such pain daily where you can't even take yourself to the bathroom.  She used to be sharp as a tack and had a steel trap memory, but the 20 something medications she had to take daily ravaged her waking life, she trembled and sat there in a fog sometimes a medicated catatonia.  I'd watch her smoke her cigarettes shaking, barely able to sit up and I wept so many times that such a beautiful young capable intelligent woman had only a best friend for support.  She said she'd wait, I was going to get us an apartment and help take care of her.  I made enough at the time I could have supported her.  In February of 2005 after Valentine's Day yet another shattered hope with her personal life and her marital problems, I talked to her. She was down but sounded ok.  We talked on a Thursday, I'd usually go up to her place Friday evening or Saturday.  She knew this week I was coming up Saturday, but if I didn't hear back from her by Saturday, I'd assume she was sleeping or incapable of having company.  Not that it ever mattered to me, I loved her dearly.  She could sit there and just be and I was happy to be with her.  

I got a call February 18th in the morning from her father saying they found her body in the SF Bay and that she'd jumped off the Golden Gate bridge.  I think something broke in me that day.  It still hasn't completely repaired.   She'd told me in December she was going to use the bridge because it would be her last flight.  She believed in rebirth, and thought that by committing suicide she would probably return in an animal form, and she had a huge affinity with eagles.  She was the only person I knew who could handle completely wild animals like they were domesticated from skunks to large reptiles like water monitors and such. She had a way with animals that was instinctive and they felt calm around her an no one else.  She always joked she'd come back as an eagle as it was a lower birth, but she told me she had no quality of life left.  She'd try to THINK and she would just feel a fog and she said she was no longer human just a husk of a body decaying and dying.  She played the song that gave her the meaning of life "Shine on you Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd, not a day goes by that I don't miss her.  I even got blamed by her own mother for her suicide, but there were some very ugly conditions where even my hands were tied.  

She had cleaned the whole house top to bottom half paralyzed and all, left her wedding ring neatly on her dresser with the card her husband gave her some time earlier.  He'd written "I love you." and she'd crossed it out and wrote on it, if you'd loved me, you wouldn't have left me.   

 :bigtears:  Every time I write about this I cry.  

I cannot say that she made the wrong choice, she was in SO much pain she could barely talk at times, she may have acted out of impulse, but I don't think so.  We were like twins.  She thought EVERYthing through for a good long while before deciding on a course of action.  The night she jumped, it was 1:52 in the morning, I had this intense feeling of joy and peace for some reason, and I drew her, I had this image of water and beauty and quiet.  I drew her. I had no idea she had jumped off the bridge:
 


The next morning I was the first to receive the call.  

I can't say I agree with it, even though I've committed suicide myself once.  But if you can't live even basic life where you feel you have ANY support, there is little way most people can stay mentally alive or motivated to continue.  

My heart is still broken, I miss her so much.  She is one of many many many friends I've lost to suicide.  Each one of them, I can't say they could have avoided it.  Each had excellent reasons of being unable to function in the basics anymore, tremendous pain or brokenness, and who was I to say NO, YOU MUST LIVE WITH THIS EXCRUCIATING PAIN?  I got it.  I mean I understand why they did it, I just don't know if I accept assisted suicide or not.  

If you've never been to that kind of edge, it's easy to judge and say it's wrong. If you have, it's not so easy anymore.  Your own humanity kicks in and you say, I understand, no one can live indefinitely with this kind of agony.  My desire for them to live is selfish.

So how do we decide?

« Last Edit: March 20, 2010, 11:55:23 am by 0gyen Chodzom »
This post was made with 100% recycled karma

Offline Shi Hong Yang

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Re: Assisted Suicide?
« Reply #14 on: March 20, 2010, 07:16:49 pm »
Ogyen,

I know exactly what you went through and I had the same feelings with my dad who said daily and loudly that he wasn't wanting to live, he hated his dialysis and the weakness, he felt like crap! But as he kept flooding his lungs due to his disgust at the kidney dialysis effects he and I would chat about what just about happened to him each time; and he would talk only so far because really truly he wanted to live but in a better way with all his normal energy back.  He'd walk away around the shop with tears in his eyes crying and I let him go.

The last time it happened the time just before that last awful stroke, we chatted again and I said to him: "Dad! you got to accept that this time your body came back from this and you lived through it but consider this is how you will die the next time! You willed the comeback not us! For we enacted the no-resuscitation order as you wanted and nobody helped you come back but you!  Appreciate the time you got right now so that when it happens again, if you don't make it through on strength you will go with out regret!"

His body wasted away so fast and he knew from then on it was a matter of time, I got through to him.  So that eventful day he stroked out in 3 days he died, horribly but stayed there so he could pass in peace all night calmly waiting and holding his hand, I loved that one gift I got to give him, just being near him until he passed into the next life.

Ogyen, you didn't get that last bit of time with her but you got one better, advance notice and you did as much as you could for her at the time. She chose her way to die and was very aware of her next life to be.  So rare that is, I am happy you had a chance to hear her out and she knew you heard her clearly.  Hardly anyone gets to choose their next life so clearly as she did.  Your gift to her was belief and trust in her mindset and confirmation of her personal belief in rebirth; believe me it's rare, so rare that remarkable Buddhists such as high level rinpoches, tulkus, lamas, high level masters in various Buddhist schools don't often encounter such certainty unless they have attainment.

It doesn't detract from the shock you and others felt, the loss you felt and feel, but it does put it in a way you can accept the circumstances of the time and her needs.  Just don't ever want to do such a thing as suicide to yourself anymore for if how she spoke to you doesn't convince you that you matter more than that awful wish for death as a solution it should.  I hope you embrace the sunrises more.
Chinese Buddhism is the oldest form of Buddhism in the USA, in 2013 it is 161 years old.  The first Buddhist temples were built in California in 1952 & 1854. Second oldest is Korean in 1900 and Japanese in 1902 both in Hawaii.

 


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