One of my friends killed himself a few years ago, while another attempted suicide but survived. I have never seriously thought to kill myself, but sometimes I have dark thoughts and feel like there is no way forward. Also, some people say suicide is a sin in Buddhism and we will be punished, but as we are not hurting others I don’t believe that we will be punished. I don’t really have a question, but just want to know Lam’s feelings on the subject. 

TT, Thimphu

Well, TT, Buddhism doesn’t have a concept of sin and punishment. Instead, we believe that everything occurs due to karma. Although it is a complicated subject, perhaps this example will at least give you a basic idea of how karma works.

Think of a tall building. Each floor of the building relies on the floors below to exist – I mean we cannot have a tenth floor if there is no ninth, right? Now, imagine that on one of the floors, say the fifth, the labourers cheated and used cheap and weak material when making the walls. Later, they again used strong material to construct the higher floors. Even though the higher floors are strong, the weakness of the fifth floor affects the entire structure. Then, one day, when there is an earthquake, not only  will the fifth floor collapse, but all the floors above, right to the very top, will crumple and fall down. Do you see how the weakness on the fifth floor affected not only that floor, but all the floors that were built above it?

This is similar to how our action affects the future. Basically, our thoughts, words and deeds leave an imprint in our mind stream that affects the next moment, which then affects the next and the next, right up into the future, until one day an external influence triggers a result (or until we achieve enlightenment and are totally liberated from the illusion of karma).

If we look at our mind stream in relation to the example of the tall building, the strong materials are the thoughts and action that are based on benefitting others and that aim to destroy ego-clinging, while the weak materials are composed of thoughts and action that cause pain to others or ourselves and preserves ego-clinging. As it is a very aggressive act, suicide creates deep imprints in the mind stream, and so it can cause the person to repeat the same action over many life times. This is not a punishment, however, but just a natural consequence of cause and effect (karma).

With regard to painful experiences, it is important to understand that everything in the universe is impermanent and will change. If we think back to our childhood, we will remember moments when we were hurt and very sad. At that time, we thought those times would never end, but they did, right? Today’s problems are the same. Although they seem endless, they will definitely pass with time. The boyfriend or girlfriend who has abandoned you will soon become like a past dream. Your family problems will fade. In a few years, these sad experiences will be like the painful moments you encountered as a child – just vague, distant memories.

When you experience suffering, you can say to yourself, “This, too, shall pass.” This is actually a ‘narcotics anonymous’ slogan but it offers a good reminder of impermanence.

Also, it is helpful to consider that suffering is as much part of life as happiness. Like mountains and valleys, one cannot exist without the other. Basically, from birth until death, there is no-one who does not experience problems with family, relationships, or their career. Even the Buddha encountered opposition and difficulties, and so how can we expect that everyone will be kind to us or that we will pass every exam, get selected at every interview, and never get sick. It has never happened and never will.

Therefore, instead of trying to escape problems, see them as an unavoidable part of life. Know that they are temporary, and face them directly.

Life offers us many options. Suicide is the absolute worst one. Totally delete it from the list. Please trust me on this.

Coping with suicidal thoughts:

Promise yourself not to do anything for at least 48 hours

Avoid taking drugs or alcohol

Remove things that you could use to harm yourself

Take hope – even if the pain is unbearable know that it will pass

Immediately contact someone you trust

Seek professional help if the thoughts persist

Resource website:

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to for any queries


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