Buddhist Views an Death, Past and Present
Based on the essay, Buddhist Views of Suicide and Euthanasia by Carl Becker
Raelene MenesesCulture Requirementfor Black Belt
Death is perceived by many as a terrible event that is inevitable -- an event in whichno being has control over its occurrence. As a Westerner, an American, it is viewed thatno one is permitted to actively and intentionally- take someone's life However, this is not the view for cell people in this world.
In the essay "Buddhist Views of Suicide and Euthanasia," Carl B. Becker arguesthat disallowing suicide or the killing of oneself is inhumane He writes on the Buddhistperspsctive, an antithesis to many American thoughts, Death, for the Buddhists, is not a
terrible event or even an "ending." Rather, death is a bridge or transition from one stageto another -- a separate realm unknown to the incarnate human.
In the first section, Reeker writes in regards to the 39th annual meeting of theJapanese Ethics Association which took place in 1988, entitled "Lif`e and Ethics," Manytopics that were covered were euthanasia and death with dignity. Many held and agreed
to the idea that "brain death should not be ectuated with human death" (p.616L). There asoning was: "if brain death implies human death, then by contraposition, human lifemust imply conscious life" (p,616L). Therefore, it would clearly be incorrect to concludethat a human is dead because he or she lacks consciousness Many of the Japanese at themeeting used this idea as a rejection of the brain death criteria.
By culture, we are separated on views such as death, body, soul, religion, etc.Where does this rejection of brain death onginate f-br the Japanese? Such an idea hasevolved from an idea held in the Clonfilcian period. It is believed that the body or corpus
is a giff from heaven and from his or her parents. With this idea, the body must be buried whole and never cut. Thus, the Japanese have negaive views toward organ transplants.The Japanese feel if malty believed in the brain death- criteria, then organ tfansplantation would be more prevalent, which would be regarded as distasteful. The rejection is strongly associated with the Buddhist ethics or view of life or death.
In the Visuddhimagga, it indicates that the ayus, or life energy, recluires body warmth and conscious faculties to be supported. "If either body heat or reflexes remain, then a person cannot be considered dead" (p.6l6R). They are necessary but not sufficient
indications of death. In def`ense of this argument, it is claimed that the reluctance of declaring death is based on the Buddhist view or belief of the basic components of life and not the fear of personal extinction or annihilation.
Another reason against declaring death goes into the person and his or her possibilities. It is believed that persons are not meaningless "subjects of rights," but personalities -- "faces" embodying possibilities (p.616R). lida argues that people are
possibilities of fulfilling dreams. They are recipients of love and worthy of honor. Because the possibilities or potential of the person are being over-looked, it goes against the brain death criteria.
Mary Anne Warren argued against Iida's view by stating that people should not be treated on their possibility or potential to be something. If that were the case then potential criminals would have to be treated as cnminals, even if they have not committed
any crimes. However, the Japanese feel that Iida's view is very important for the Japanese revelation: "Persons are not subjects with rights and individual free wills, but rather objects of the attention of others" (p.617L).
This idea was further developed by Ohara Nohuo. He argued that a corpse or vegetative human can still give joy to other people because it remains a body and value of meaning. This very thought brings great dilemma with medical ethics. A question arises: "When should a body be treated not as a living person but as a dead body... if a body never stops being a person? This view leaves no guidelines to be followed. Many battle with the failure in distinguishing a. loved one and a dead body resembling the loved one. In the Buddhist view, it is against the teachings of Buddha to unwillingly admit the finality of death and fundamental suffering. This is illustrated in the essay by the mother who begs of Buddha to bring her child back to life. She was then told to beg from the houses in the community that has had no deaths. Obviously, she could find no houses that have not
experienced a death, so from then she realized that death must be accepted. Humans must die and deal with death as a way of gaining enlightenment. In addition, there will be no grieving, but acceptance. Those who do not or cannot accept this idea or behef cannot claim to understand Buddhism. The question now may be: "What is the real issue between brain death opposers
and advocates?" The cluestion is not whether every body he immediately scavenged for parts as soon as the brain has no impulses, but rather whether it is ever acceptable to cease treatment after brain death. For as fortunate or unfortunate as it may be, brain dead individuals can be on life support indefinitely. The question then turns t "May people who desire to follow the criteria be allowed to follow?" With this, the Japanese, among others, fear the selling of parts and piracy (p.618.L).
What might early Buddhist views of death, suicide and euthanasia be? In recent, as well as past beliefs, the impartance of death lies in the manner of dying at the moment of death. In fact, this belief actually predates the Btlddhist view. In any event, the
Buddhist places large importance on holding the proFer thoughts at the moment of death. The PETAVATTHU and IMANAVATTHU are stories of the Therevada canon that are examples of the departed with wholesome thoughts held during death.
What about suicide for the ancient Buddhists? Suicide, unlike present American beliefs, is not perceived as an escape from anything. This is believed because, for Buddhists, death is not an end but a transition from one form of life to another. However,
early community of Buddha fohowers felt suicide was inappropriate unless it were due to irreversible illness and pain. Praise was given to those with selfless or desire-less minds, enlightened at the moment of passing, also known as selfless equanimity (p.620L). In terms of the morality of suicide, only the uncraving mind would be able to move on towards nirvana (enlightenment). Those with desire may achieve nothing. the historical fact of uncraving deaths isn't as important as the idea that suicide cannot be done with hate or anger or fear. Ectuanimity or preparedness of mind is the main importance. As stated
on page 620, Buddhism has recognized a person's right to determine when they should pass on to the next life, but the consideration is not whether the body lives or dies, but whether the mind can remain at peace and in harmony with itself.
Many of the religious suicides and deaths of dignity were under the Zen philosophy. The Japanese were held in two traditions, the Jodo and the Zen. The Jodo stressed continuity of life, and the Zen -- time and manner of dying. Zen valued less the
length of life but more the peace of mind and honor of life. Many committed suicide to preserve dignity while others did so to obtain a better tirture life in the Pure land. An example given in the essay was that of the poor family wishing to move on to a better life, perhaps in their next life on Earth.
However, suicide was not always viewed with laud. Self-suicide is not praised. Sympathy suicide is not commended because the state of mind is not al peace. if a death with a calm mind is possible, it shall then not be condemned, Also, another view,
sometimes much different from the American view; is that one must not resent, reject or grieve but respect the death. They must not cling to what remains of the person, but let the deceased go free. A death is not to be criticized or wished to he different. it must be accepted. In fact, Japanese law does not criminalize suicide. Although death with dignity may be requested, it is a crime to encourage or assist a suicide that does not fall under certain provisions. This goes along with the ideas stated earlier as the body being a gift, etc.
For the Japanese warrior, suicide was used to protect dignity and aid from shame or even to prevent death by the hands of an enemy This ritual suicide was known as seppuku. Seppuku was the way a proud and vancIuished warrior would end his life. The Japanese warrior would have to he willing to die at any moment. With that notion, the
samurai had a creed:
I. being pure, simple and single-minded.
2. full responsibility for doing one's duty
3. unconditionally serving one's master without concern for oneself Although seppuku appeared violent, it was created to help the samurai die with dignity and peace. Tn the ancient Japanese time, samurai suicides were considered the moral equivalent of euthanasia.
Some of the reasons for a samurai suicide are reasons for euthanasia today:
1. Avoid death from others (people, bacteria, illness)
2. Escape a longer period of pain
3. not only the level of physical pain hut prospect of meaningful and productive
interaction with other members of society.
Since euthanasia is such a difficult issue to deal with, the Nagoya High Court was brought
together in 1962 to create sat'cguards. 'I'he h safeguards are.
1. The disease is considered terminal and incurable by present medicine
2 The pain is unhearable -- both for the patient and those around him.
3. The death is for the purpose of his peaceful passing.
4. The person himself has recluested the death, while conscious and sane
5. The killing is done by a doctor.
6. The method of killing is humane.
It is stated in the article that if these safeguards are followed, it could appear that there would be no moral reason that Buddhists should oppose Euthanasia. The purpose of the article was not to question whether the Japanese or Buddhists are less intelligent on these matters or even illogical. l'hey are actually quite capable of making sound decisions but are refused the choices, information and freedom. The facts are needed and the paternalistic model must be relinquished. The feelings in Japan are that
the patients don't want to know, for knowing truth can be harmful to their recovery. It also viewed, that physicians can judge better than the patients. In the west, these ideas were proven incorrect.
To accompany many illnesses, victims have pain. As it is known, pain can be handled in many ways. Tile Buddhist view is for no treatment or, secondly, to administer a treatment that does not shade the mind, Lastly, an option is to administer drugs that blur
or confuse the mind. It is the Buddhist tradition to encourage personal choice in time and manner of death, although, anything to dim the mind or deprive choice is a violation of Buddhist principles. As it was: reiterated by Carl Becker, it would be inhumane to deny a person their right to live or die as they will.
In conclusion, euthanasia and suicide are very complicated issues. Many cultures hold different views. It is important to realize the differences between different opinions and beliefs. For the Japanese, Buddhists, Americans and Dutch, there is a large
discrepancy on this issue. Becker is not writing the article to whole-heartedly side with the Japanese or Buddhists, but rather to help others be more aware of the religious or cultural views associated with the issue. For some, life is not cut and dry and as soon as the brain stops emitting messages it's dead. r;or many, like the Japanese, life is a continuum with various realms of other lives. The main issue argued is that it would be inhumane to deny the right to live or die based on others' beliefs on life. When suicide or euthanasia is disallowed to the Buddhists it means that a preson is deprived of the final act of taking responsibility for his own life.