What if I told you that I can write one blog post which brings together Buddhism, the TV show M*A*S*H, Hinduism, The Princess Bride, suicide, euthanasia and Star Trek? Would it be worth a look?
I’m going to start this post with the words of Gautama Buddha, from his first public sermon on what are called The Four Noble Truths. “This is the Noble Truth of Suffering: Birth is suffering; decay is suffering; illness is suffering; death is suffering; not to obtain what we desire is suffering. Briefly, the five-fold clinging to existence is suffering.”
Buddha by Otgo Otgonbayar Ershuu – Own work http://www.mongolian-art.de/galerie_buddha_goetter/index.htm, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25335461
Autumn is a time when death is all around us, and it may be appropriate that we think about it during this time of year. According to the character Don Juan in the series of books by Carlos Casteneda, it is necessary that we be aware that death is our constant companion. In fact, we are best served when we make death our friend.
The song Suicide is painless is one of the most recognizable songs from the last 40 years; if you don’t believe me, click this link and listen to it.
I’ll tell you why I like it. The first verse says: “Through early morning fog I see, visions of the things to be, the pains that are withheld for me, I realize and I can see.” This reminds me of the Buddhist doctrine, more succinctly stated by a character named Wesley in the movie The Princess Bride. He said: “Life is pain; anyone who says differently is selling something.”
The premise that life is pain is kind of discomforting, however, if not balanced by the Hindu doctrine that the pain of life is actually an illusion. Thus, through the mental fog of an un-illumined life I see visions of the future filled only with pain. Suicide is a way to avoid that.
The third verse says: “The game of life is hard to play, I’m going to lose it anyway” and the fourth verse of the song tells us that “The only way to win, is cheat.” These lines remind me of one of my favorite things: the Kobayashi Maru test. What is the Kobayashi Maru? It is the final test given to all cadets leaving Star Fleet Academy in the Star Trek series. It is a simulation of a command situation in which there is no winning solution. The only cadet to ever beat the simulation was James Kirk, who broke into the computer the night before the test and reprogrammed it. When asked why he did it, he said that he did it because he did not believe in the no-win scenario.
The game of life is hard to play, I’m going to lose it anyway.
But life is a no-win situation if you look at it as a competition. In the end, the grim reaper will get you. But, if you refuse to look at life as a competition with death, you can win. You can win by looking at life like playing a piece of music. The goal is not to see how many notes you can play before you get to the end, but instead to see if you can get the song just right.
You can win by looking at life like playing a piece of music. The goal is not to see how many notes you can play before you get to the end, but instead to see if you can get the song just right.
I like Suicide is Painless because it is iconoclastic. The very fact that we are not supposed to write songs seeming to advocate suicide is a good enough reason to me to write one. As I mentioned, I believe that suicide is only a good idea if you buy into the “life is a competition” model, and that “winning” is more important than anything else. I don’t agree with either of these ideas, so I don’t find myself thinking of suicide. However, I do believe that we have a right to self-determination, and if that means that I can give good, solid, rational reasons for killing myself, then I should be allowed to do it.
Euthanasia is a different matter, however. If we are talking about euthanasia as assisted suicide, then I think the same arguments hold up. However, if we are speaking about someone else deciding for me that I’d be better off dead, well, some thorny problems arise. I can think of several people who might be able to give good reasons why the world would be better off if I wasn’t around – but frankly, I question their motives.
Finally, though, as the song says: “A brave man once requested me, to answer questions that are key, is it to be or not to be, and I replied: ‘Oh, why ask me?’”