I always try my best to answer any question I’m asked, as directly as I can. But, there are some questions I’d rather not answer. No, not that I don’t have anything to say but because the truth is often discomforting for the questioner.
Last year, during my overseas travels, a couple approached me for a private audience at the end of my discourse. I was extremely pressed for time and wasn’t giving anyone more than five minutes. They weren’t penciled in my diary in advance. Yet, I asked the person who was assisting me to schedule them in.
They were let in and the door was shut behind them. There were no smiles on their faces, they came in, sat down meekly, and kept quiet for the first couple of minutes.
My inner voice said that they needed more time. Theirs was no ordinary problem. I got up and told my timekeeper waiting outside to set aside 20 minutes.
“20 minutes?” He exclaimed.
“Yes. 20 uninterrupted minutes. Maybe 25.”
I took my seat again. Another minute passed and this gentleman began crying. Loudly. Somewhere, I knew this was healing taking place and I let his tears roll for the next little while. All this while, his wife kept looking at me quietly. She too was crying silently. Eventually, he wiped his tears, composed himself and heaved a deep sigh.
“Swami,” he said. “We, we…” And he burst into tears again. They were both crying now. Getting up from my seat, I went up to them and stroked their heads. Like a parent strokes a child’s.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Whatever it is, I’ll help you deal with it. Your loss is irrecoverable but there’s light.”
“Oh, you know, Swami, you know everything.” And they cried even more.
I let my hands remain on their heads and prayed for peace. They calmed down.
“Swami,” the lady spoke. “It’s the first time he’s cried in five years. I had been worried for—”
“No, let me speak,” the man intervened. “Today, I want to tell my story. It was my 50th b’day, Swami. I had two sons and two daughters. We all went out for a family dinner and had a great time. Everything seemed fine, we came back home. The next morning, my eldest son didn’t come out of his room. We got worried after a while and broke open the door. He was resting against the bathtub, in his own blood. He had slit his wrists.”
He began sobbing again. I handed him the tissue box. He shared more details about the suicide note his son had left behind and other things that were going on in his life. They never went out to dine again or celebrate any occasion, he said.
“We are ardent Catholics, Swami,” he added. “He never missed the Sunday service. He knew that suicide is a sin. He was a brave kid, why did he act so cowardly, Swami?”
I felt their pain. There is no grief greater than the grief of a parent who has to see their own child go before them.
“Everyone thinks we are responsible for his death,” he continued. “I feel guilty. Was I a bad father? Why did he do this? He was only 24.”
“Do you want to know the truth as I see it?” I said. “Or, do you want to hear what the holy book says?”
“We believe you, Swami,” they said. “Give us ‘the’ truth.”
It’s true that most religions regard suicide as a sin. It’s considered self-murder in Christianity. Hinduism too calls it atmahatya, self-murder. Scriptures in various religions refer to our body as a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 or Bhagavad Gita, 17.6). All this is fine (even though I disagree with the assertion that suicide is self-murder), the truth is, religions can be so dry and out of place in the face of real grief. This was not the first couple I met who had lost their child to suicide, and like every other such time, I didn’t want to quote books, however holy or godly.
“Your son committed no sin,” I said. “The cause of death can be any. We are all traveling on the same train. Each one of us has to get off at some station. Some disembark earlier. They break their journey sooner. That’s what death is, it’s a break, a pause, albeit a deeply uncomfortable pause.”
“If you believe me then let me tell you,” I continued, “I don’t believe suicide is a sin and I don’t think it’s a cowardly act. Your son is not in hell, he hasn’t been denied heaven. His soul will simply find a new home.
“And you are not responsible for the death of your son. The idea of taking one’s own life arises from deep depression, it’s the most devastating outcome of a mental disorder. Just like a doctor is not responsible for a patient’s cancer, a parent can never be responsible for a child’s death by suicide.”
“Swami,” the father said, “I had an argument with him a week earlier, but I thought we had made up.”
“Was it the first time that you had an argument?” I asked.
“So, the argument wasn’t the trigger or the cause. It was his own state of mind.”
“Your loss is immense,” I added. “The wound is deep. It’ll take a very long time to heal. No one can replace your son. But, by not living your life, don’t you think you are doing injustice to yourselves and your other children?”
The energy in the room changed instantly. It was as if they woke up from a bad dream. Suddenly, they realized that by only mourning their son’s death, they were denying the gift of life to their other children. It was a moment of epiphany.
“Oh Swami,” he said, “I feel a big load is off my chest. You are right. We must live for our other children, for ourselves, for our Savior.”
They both smiled. They looked at each other lovingly and then at me and laughed softly.
I think to call suicide a cowardly act is to severely downplay the illness of the one who left this world. Their pain must have been so great, their despair so colossal, their path so dark that the only way out they saw was to end their own life.
For that matter, I don’t know of anyone who never considered death a reasonable option, however momentarily, to end the endless sufferings of life. Only humans commit suicide. We have all these religious theories and we think we have it figured out, that life is supposed to be a certain way. Life, however, couldn’t care less. Every time it hands us the pink slip, we feel betrayed and lost. We think life is unfair (which it is), and, like the impatient child who wants candy, we are eager to taste its sweetness again, we want to come out of our misery. We crave for an instant solution and hopefully easy too.
The human mind is a strange phenomenon. In its cruel moments, it can make death appear more beautiful than life, more attractive than any dream. That still doesn’t mean death is a choice. Suicide is not a voluntary act, or a conscious selection. No matter how it appears, no one ‘chooses’ to end their life. Given how difficult and miserable life is for most of the seven billion people on our planet, if suicide were a matter of choice, many would have gone for it wholeheartedly by now.
Suicide is a terminal disease. It is the final stage of a mental illness.
If you have persistent thoughts of suicide then you must seek help right away. Feeling suicidal doesn’t mean your life is bad, it means your depressed mind has taken complete control of you. It means that your freedom of thought is under siege by your own mind. There is always a way to restore the beauty in your life and when death seems to be the only door, you are not looking in the right direction then.
A famous preacher was sitting in a park when he overheard a young boy telling his friend that there was no God.
“Come to my sermons,” the preacher said. “I’ll show you the path to God.”
“Why is it, sir,” the young one asked, “that even though horses, cows, and deer eat the same stuff — grass, they evacuate differently? A deer excretes little pellets and a cow turns out a flat patty, whereas a horse produces clumps.”
“Hmm…I’ve no idea,” the preacher said, amused at the question.
“I see,” the young boy replied coolly. “Don’t you think, it’s a bit too much to say that you’ll show me the path to God when you don’t know shit!”
Shed your fears, your theories and your beliefs for a moment. Listen to your inner voice. Nothing or no one should instill fear in you or make you feel guilty. This life, this moment, this is it. This is the truth. Right here. This is the only heaven and hell. Since we are here, we may as well live it. Let’s flow with the river of life. Whatever be your past, put it aside, let it go. Make your present so beautiful, worthwhile and meaningful that even the god of death sits by your feet and begs you to stay a bit longer, because with you around even the god of death enjoys life.
Be grateful. Serve others. Take up a cause greater than yourself. And, I promise, your life will take a whole new meaning, an entirely new dimension.